Employers are reviewing steps they may need to take because of the Coronavirus, given their legal duty to safeguard the health and safety of employees whilst at work.

Relevant steps for an employer to take could include:

  • Carrying out a risk assessment and, depending on the results, taking measures to avoid, prevent or delay work-related travel to areas that are affected, and introduce hygiene procedures at work, and the necessary equipment (such as hand-gel dispensers) and training.
  • Introducing a formal policy in this respect, making sure that either it is not discriminatory and therefore unlawful, or that it can be legally justified.
  • Drawing the attention of employees to the risks of exposure to the virus – for example, through holidaying in risk areas or contact with others who have been there – including by referring them to official guidance.
  • Asking employees to consider whether they may be particularly vulnerable to the Coronavirus – for example, because of an existing illness, their age, etc – and to disclose this.
  • Asking employees to inform them if they believe they have been exposed to the risk of infection, so the employer can decide what it needs to do to protect to others in the workforce.
  • Considering asking an employee at risk, or showing symptoms, to remain at home for at least 14 days (or whichever period is officially advised from time to time) and avoid crowded areas. However, the employer should take into account their right to privacy, and take care not to treat one employee differently from another.
  • Monitoring official information, advice and guidance.

Employers who want employees to take medical tests need to take advice as there are a number of possible legal implications, including the risk of breaching their duty of trust and confidence towards those employees (which could be treated as a ‘constructive dismissal’), and data protection laws. The employee’s consent will certainly be required.

If in doubt, employers should consider taking advice on their statutory duty to safeguard the health and safety of employees whilst at work.

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