Allianz Legal Protection: Coronavirus and business continuity planning

Allianz-Legal-Protection-explore-the-issues-surrounding-coronavirus-and-business-continuity-planning

Coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, has received a vast amount of media attention and 60% of the UK perceives it as a major or moderate threat to the country. There are stories of people being isolated for two weeks to avoid spreading the disease, but where is the line drawn in prevention when it comes to running a business?

What we know so far

Coronavirus is relatively new and was first detected in December 2019 in Wuhan City, China.

Over 80,000 people have been affected and over 2,600 have died, with the majority of these cases being in China.

At the time of writing, 15 people in the UK have been tested positive for coronavirus, so it is possible that this number could increase. 

Gov.uk advice states that anyone who has returned from China, Thailand, Japan, Republic of Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, Macau, Italy (Lombardy and Veneto regions), Iran, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar in the last 14 days and has developed even minor symptoms should stay indoors and avoid contact with others.

Impact on business

Given coronavirus’s infancy, it’s been common for employees, their family, friends or partners to have travelled to, stopped over or have holidays booked in the affected countries. Therefore UK businesses are taking action to prevent coronavirus spreading and reduce risk of an epidemic in their business, which as well as business interruption could lead to reputational damage given the media attention on even the smallest updates.

Businesses are able to set their own protocols around coronavirus as those provided by Gov.uk are advisory only. However, it would be expected that these are taken into account.

Grey areas

There are a number of grey areas in relation to travelling to affected countries:

  • Can an employer ask an employee to cancel a booked trip?
  • Can an employer require an employee who is suspected of having coronavirus to stay away from work?
  • What happens if an employee can’t work from home after returning?
  • Should a stop-over in an affected country still carry the same weight of concern?
  • Should employees avoid contact with family and friends who have recently travelled?
  • How can businesses regulate contact with clients who have recently travelled?
  • Can an employer ask an employee to cancel a booked trip?

Employers can refuse annual leave. Under the Working Time Regulations of 1998 an employer can ask a worker not to take leave that’s already been booked. However, the notice period they have to give is the same number of days as the leave that’s been booked. So, if the leave booked was 14 days, the employer would have to give notice at least 14 days prior to the first day of leave. Employers should exercise caution when doing this as it’s not a positive step in employee relations. And the employee could look to the employer to reimburse any losses they incur as a result – such as holiday cancellation fees. If the employer is deemed to be unreasonable in cancelling the leave, it could be a breach of the implied term of mutual trust and confidence that exists in the employment relationship.

Can an employer require an employee who is suspected of having coronavirus to stay away from work?

If there’s the option to do so, an employer can require an employee to work from home. Employers have the option to suspend an employee, but this carries as a risk as it could be viewed as a breach of contract. If the employee is well but there’s an identifiable risk of exposure, i.e. they’ve been to one of the affected countries, this may outweigh the risk of suspending the employee. In these circumstances the employer would have to pay the employee full pay. The only time the employer would not have to pay the employee is if there’s an express right in the contract to require the employee to not come to work, without pay, however such a clause is rare. If an employee is actually sick then an employer can require them to stay at home and can pay Statutory Sick Pay or Contractual Sick Pay.

When it comes to family and friends, it can only be advised to employees who they can and can’t come into contact with outside work. But protocols can be put in place so that if, for example, an employee’s partner recently returned from an affected country, the employee should work from home for a set period of time. In addition, contact with clients and external people will pose some risk but, depending on the circumstances it can be managed by asking whether they’ve travelled to any of the affected countries in the last 14 days.

Planning for the unexpected

In times like this it’s important that companies have a business continuity plan in place for potential scenarios surrounding coronavirus. Insurance policies can include access to business continuity advice lines to offer support so it’s worth checking and making use of. There should also be a clear protocol in place to provide clarity to employees. Ultimately businesses need to ensure that they provide a safe working environment and they should regularly check for updates from reliable sources such as Gov.uk.

Disclaimer – all information in this blog was correct at the time of publishing and is for informative purposes only.

Authored by Allianz Legal Protection

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