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Coronavirus advice for employers and employees

Workplace expert Acas has offered guidance to fish and chip shop owners and employees worried about how to manage sick pay as the threat of coronavirus spreads.

Yesterday, England’s chief medical officer said four more people tested positive for coronavirus in England, bringing the total number of cases in the UK to 39.

Acas states that the usual sick leave and pay entitlements apply if someone has coronavirus and that employees should let their employer know as soon as possible if they're not able to go to work.

Bosses might need to make allowances if their workplace sickness policy requires evidence from the employee. For example, the employee might not be able to get a sick note if they've been told to self-isolate for 14 days.

If someone is not sick but cannot work because they're in self-isolation or quarantine, Acas says there’s no legal right to pay them. However, it does suggest it’s good practice for an employer to treat it as sick leave and follow their usual sick pay policy or agree for the time to be taken as holiday. Otherwise there's a risk the employee will come to work because they want to get paid. They could then spread the virus if they have it.

The employee must tell their employer as soon as possible if they cannot work. It's helpful to let the employer know the reason and how long they are likely to be off.

If a staff member is not sick but their employer tells them not to come to work, they should get their usual pay. For example, if someone has returned from China or another affected area and their employer asks them not to come in.

Employees are entitled to time off work to help someone who depends on them. There’s no statutory right to pay for this time off, however, some employers might offer pay depending on the contract or workplace policy.

The amount of time off an employee takes to look after someone must be reasonable for the situation. For example, they might take 2 days off to start with, and if more time is needed, they can book holiday.

If employees do not want to go to work because they're afraid of catching coronavirus, the advice from Acas is that the employer should listen to any concerns staff may have and if there are genuine, try to resolve them. For example, if possible, the employer could offer flexible working.

If an employee still does not want to go in, they may be able to arrange with their employer to take the time off as holiday or unpaid leave. The employer does not have to agree to this.

If an employee refuses to attend work, it could result in disciplinary action.

Acas has also offered the following good practice tips for employers:

- Keep everyone updated on actions being taken to reduce risks of exposure in the workplace

- Make sure everyone's contact numbers and emergency contact details are up to date

- Make sure managers know how to spot symptoms of coronavirus and are clear on any relevant processes, for example, sickness reporting and sick pay, and procedures in case someone in the workplace develops the virus

- Make sure there are clean places to wash hands with hot water and soap and encourage everyone to wash their hands regularly

- Provide hand sanitiser and tissues for staff, and encourage them to use them

- Employers must not single anyone out. For example, they must not treat an employee differently because of their race or ethnicity.

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