An Employees’ Guide to Coronavirus
We surveyed 500 employees about the Coronavirus, and whether they feel their employers are prepared
What’s the Coronavirus going to mean for you as an employee? As COVID-19 spreads more widely, the implications of the emerging pandemic are hitting every business, with some workplaces unsure how to adapt.
The following guide is intended as a useful document to empower employees as to their rights and options. We’ve also surveyed over 500 people to ask whether their workplace is prepared.
If your boss insisted you to come in to work during a CoronaVirus pandemic, would you still go?
Many companies are putting in plans to implement home working for employees if the Coronavirus threat becomes severe enough. While the logistics of taking a real world business online has its own challenges, what about those businesses where remote working simply isn’t an option, such as factories, supply chain companies and retail outlets. For these businesses, no workers means no revenue, so you should expect employers to take a tough stance.
We polled 500 people on whether they would comply with an employers order to attend work, even if the Coronavirus was in full swing.
Over 35% of respondents claimed they wouldn’t attend, with a further 6.6% claiming they would be prepared to lose their job over it.
With these statistics in mind, we can be certain COVID-19 is going to create some difficult choices. How can one balance concern for personal well being alongside the primary need to earn an income?
Generally speaking, businesses do have a right to expect employees to attend work, and most will be already planning how to strike the right balance between protecting employees and keeping the company running efficiently.
Stuart Snape, Partner at Graham Coffey & Co. Solicitors explains:
Your contract of employment will outline your working hours. Currently nothing has changed and an employee will be expected to work in accordance with their contract as usual.
Of course, as the government’s approach changes employers will also be expected to adjust. For example, most employers should by now have a firm policy to offer guidance to employees to protect not only individual employees but also the wider workforce. An employer would be expected to recommend that any employee returning from a high-risk area should self-isolate in accordance with the recommendation of Public Health England regardless of whether they are showing signs of illness and anyone who has returned from a lower risk area to self-isolate if they are showing signs of illness.
If you are high risk, pregnant, or particularly afraid of attending work you should air your fears with your HR department. Any responsible employer will take these fears very seriously, and may show some leniency, perhaps finding alternative means for you to get to work if public transport is your concern.
From a legal perspective employers are expected to behave reasonably and not put employees at undue risk. But assuming they can demonstrate they have done so, any claims of unfair dismissal would be very tricky to prove.
The conclusion here is that you need to turn up to work, unless you are a high risk category: older, pregnant, or with a pre-existing medical condition. Keep an open line of communication with your HR department.
If your employer asked you to travel to a city with reported Coronavirus cases would you go?
According to our survey almost 60% of respondents said they wouldn’t go under any circumstance.
But whether you can be required to go or risk losing your job is tricky to answer.
Employers certainly have a statutory responsibility to take precautions on behalf of employees meaning limiting exposure to areas of high risk.
Currently, most countries have official recommendations against their citizens travelling to Hubei Province, China for example. They also advise ‘advise against all but essential travel to the rest of mainland China.’ So it stands to reason that no employer could currently force employees to visit Hubei, without opening themselves up to legal action.
At the same time, if your ordinary work duties involve travel you have a weak legal case for refusing, especially if your employer is sending you to an area not perceived as high risk.
Solicitor Stuart Snape clarifies:
“Employers have a duty of care to their employees and business trips should always be subject to risk assessment.
It would be surprising for any organisation at this stage to insist upon an employee travelling to a quarantined zone. If the employer insisted it would be reasonable for an employee to refuse. In the event the employer took disciplinary action then it is likely you would have a very strong defence to any claim that you failed to follow instruction.
Of course there will always be individual factors to consider. For example, if the employer can be satisfied that the risks can be mitigated to a low level and that the business trip is critical then it would be advisable for the employer to sit down with the employee and explain this.
If you are expected to travel to a city which has simply had cases but about which there have been no warnings then ask to see your employer’s risk assessment and discuss whether the trip is critical at this time. Most organisations are restricting travel even to such locations as part of an effort to avoid exposing employees.
The basic conclusion seems to be that, unless you can offer a very good reason why not, you do have to turn up to work, assuming you are fit and health, or can demonstrate another good reason why not (for example pregnancy).
What You Should Expect of Your Employers During the Coronavirus?
Our data suggests that perhaps 40% of employers have yet to address the potential impact of COVID-19 on the workplace, a situation that will put both employees and the business at risk.
Since this is new territory, it’s little surprise that some businesses simply don’t know what to do. But as an employee you should be aware employers have a duty of care to make sure that, so far as is reasonably practical, your health, safety and welfare are respected.
If your employer has yet to clarify their policies on the matter for employees, it is fair to ask them to do so.
As an employee you should expect your employer to:
- Follow guidance posted by your governments public health service
- Educate workers about hygiene and disease prevention
- Instruct you to stay at home if you are symptomatic
- Be clear about whether lenience can be shown for sick leave policies in the current situation
- Educate you about the infrastructure and protocols for remote working, should that be applicable to your industry
- Ensure you’re informed and regularly updated
To collect the above data we surveyed 500 people using Amazon’s Mechanical Turk service. Mechanical Turk workers come from multiple countries, but approximately 75% of them are from the US, as per this study.
Thanks to Stuart Snape, Partner at Graham Coffey & Co. Solicitors for his assistance with the legal points.