A leading Scottish employment lawyer has advised companies to continue to pay staff if they are quarantined by a Coronavirus outbreak.
Recent government advice to people returning from 11 affected towns in Northern Italy is to self-isolate for 14 days, if they have symptoms. This has raised questions about eligibility for sick pay and what employee’s rights might be more generally. Equally, employers are wondering how they can keep their organisations going where key employees are in self-imposed quarantine.
Chris Phillips of Thorntons advised that, while employees are only legally entitled to statutory sick pay (or contractual sick pay if that applies) if they are unwell, the consequences of potentially-infected staff coming in to work far outweighs any concerns about pay.
He said: “The responsible thing to do is to pay staff if having identified a possible risk of infection, it makes sense for them to remain at home for a period even if they seem well. The potential consequences of not doing so are far worse if a highly contagious condition like coronavirus then spreads throughout the workforce through a worker who cannot afford to stay away if they aren’t paid.
“Of course, if staff can work from home then this makes sense as they can remain both quarantined and productive. But that isn’t going to work for everyone, particularly if they are involved in manufacturing or service industries where a physical presence is part and parcel of the job.
“If an employer instructs staff not to attend work for whatever reason, then they should normally continue to pay wages if they are otherwise willing and able to attend work. If you choose to follow government advice having been in a risk area, you should talk to your employer and agree a sensible plan of action. If everyone acts responsibly, this situation should remain contained and will not have a significant impact for most employers.”