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Coronavirus: Bishop's Stortford solicitors Tees Law answer 5 key questions for employers and employees

Rob Whitaker, a partner and head of Bishop's Stortford solicitors Tees’ employment law department, answers 5 key questions for businesses and their workers...


1. Should an employer close the workplace if one of its workers has been confirmed as having coronavirus, or if a risk of contact with the virus has been identified?

Employers should focus on taking appropriate, sensible steps to limit the spread of infection and have legal obligations (for instance, under the Health and Safety at Work Act) to take reasonably practicable steps to protect their workforce.

Under current guidance, the key measure here is to ensure that staff regularly wash their hands. We recommend that employers closely monitor changing guidance, carefully assess the facts and risks, and take appropriate action, and speak to their Public Health England local health protection team.

Further steps may include closing the workplace temporarily, if required in the circumstances, if special control and deep-clean measures need to be put in place after a confirmed case of the virus at work.

We recommend consulting the regularly updated Covid-19 Government guidance for employers.

2. If an employee has been travelling abroad, can an employer prevent them from coming to work?

Ordinarily, an employer’s right to instruct employees to work from home will be governed by the terms of the contract between the parties. However, these are exceptional times, and businesses are prudently seeking to take sensible, careful steps to protect their workforce and customers and enable them to carry on operating. Requiring staff to work from home on a temporary basis, with good reason, is likely to be considered a reasonable instruction in the circumstances.

We recommend routinely checking Government and Public Health England guidance as to the listed high-risk areas and the right steps to take. If workers have returned from particular high-risk areas, they may need to self-isolate for up to 14 days.

There may be other circumstances where it will be appropriate for staff to self-isolate, for example if they have knowingly come into contact with someone suffering with Covid-19 on their travels. We recommend that businesses work with their employees to put in place contingency plans for home and flexible working where such arrangements might be required and in line with official guidance.


1. My employer has asked me to stay at home – will I still get paid?

Depending on the circumstances, yes. If you are not able to do your job due to sickness or disease, then you will receive Statutory Sick Pay if eligible (i.e. earning more than £118 a week). If you are instructed to work from home, you will be paid for the work undertaken in the usual way.

2. I travel a lot for my job – can I refuse to in the current circumstances?

If you fail to follow a reasonable instruction, you could technically be in breach of your obligations to your employer and liable to disciplinary action. We recommend that you speak with your employer about any concerns you might have and seek to agree arrangements after assessing and discussing all the risks and issues. For instance, you may have underlying health conditions or need reasonable adjustments to be made. That might include temporarily limiting your foreign travel to high-risk areas.

3. Do I need a medical certificate if I’m displaying symptoms of the virus and want to self-isolate at home?

You can normally self-certify up to seven days’ absence. In light of the Covid-19 issues, you may not be able to attend a GP to obtain a medical certificate for ongoing illness. We recommend working with your employer as to what information and evidence is needed in these circumstances.

* Rob Whitaker is a partner and head of Tees’ employment law department. Rob can be contacted on 01245 293197 or at robert.whitaker@teeslaw.com. Visit www.teeslaw.com.

** Tees Law was established in Bishop’s Stortford in 1913 by Herbert Stanley Tee. Today it is a major regional legal and wealth management firm, with 30 partners, 325 staff and a turnover of more than £22m. Its HQ is at Tees House in London Road, Bishop’s Stortford, and it is one of the town’s major employers. It also has offices in Cambridge, Chelmsford, Brentwood, Saffron Walden and Royston.

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