What claims can an employer face over their management of Covid-19?

Over the last two years, Europe in particular, has seen significant increases in Covid-19 infections during the winter months. As we enter our first winter without restrictions, we must be prepared for potential future waves of Covid-19 and other illnesses. Health officials are already claiming that there will be increased Covid-19 infections from socialising, and hospitalisation rates will likely increase due to Covid-19, but also to other infectious respiratory diseases such as influenza and pneumonia.

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Forecasters studying data from countries such as Australia and New Zealand, where their winter typically runs from June to August, found that Australia had its worst flu season in five years, with three times the number of influenza-like illnesses compared with the average figures for that period.

Forecasters believe that the UK is likely to see a significant spike in Covid-19 cases, as well as other cold or flu viruses. So, what can employers do to manage this?

Health and Safety

Whilst there is currently no specific Covid-19 related legislation in force, employers are still obliged to comply with their legal duties relating to health and safety, employment and equality. Under this duty of care, employers need to provide a safe working environment for all employees, and, therefore, must consider the problems that Covid-19 and other illnesses can cause and also any absences.

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How can employers manage Covid-19

Employers can take a number of steps to reduce the risk of Covid-19. Fresh air should be allowed to circulate and workplaces should be kept clean. Employers should keep their employees informed about any changes they have made, and staff should be encouraged to voice their concerns. Extra consideration should be given to employees who are at particularly higher risk of severe illness from Covid-19, or those that are facing mental and physical health difficulties.

People who contract Covid-19 are no longer legally required to self-isolate or even test. However, anyone who displays the main symptoms of Covid-19, or has a positive test result, should follow the public health advice – stay at home and avoid contact with others. Employers have a responsibility to ensure that their employees do not attend the workplace in these circumstances. If employees are unable to work from home, statutory sick pay may be an option if they meet the necessary eligibility criteria, or flexible working to minimise the risk to others. Wearing a face covering and gloves, and ensuring that hands and work surface areas are regularly sanitised, should also be considered.

Potential claims that employers could face

Employees can bring various potential claims against their employer with regards to the management of Covid-19 in the workplace. Such claims will depend on the circumstances, but can include grounds for discrimination, either namely, indirect discrimination, discrimination arising and a failure to make reasonable adjustments. Not only that, but an unfair dismissal and a constructive dismissal claim, may also be brought against an employer. An employee can make a constructive dismissal claim if they are forced to leave their job. To avoid potential claims, employers should deal with any Covid-19 issues effectively and in a timely manner.

If you’re threatened with dismissal or have been dismissed from your job due to concerns over Covid-19, you must always seek advice.

Jeffrey Bowman

Jeffrey Bowman