Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, rules for businesses have changed. You need to be aware of exactly how, or else you could be in trouble. The same goes for your employees. There’s a whole new set of rules they need to know, and it is vital employers continue to support staff members as we transition into this new way of life. Keeping them up to date with the things they need to comply with is essential if you want to keep your workforce healthy, happy, and mentally well.
If your employee breaks COVID-19 rules, it could have an impact on you and your business. It might also impact public health and safety. These are strange times, and we’re all learning, so it’s important you’re clear on the rules, and that you inform your employees of the consequences of breaking them.
So, if you know your employee has broken COVID-19 rules, what should you do?
Before we start, we should make it clear that this article is dealing with England only. Guidelines for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland may differ, so please visit the relevant government websites if you’re looking for information about these areas.
Advice from the government is to work from home if possible. But what if this is not possible? What measures should you take to make your working environment safe?
The government also advises that some people should self-isolate, such as those who are seriously at risk of death if they catch the virus, as well as those who are showing symptoms, or people who have been around others who have been diagnosed with COVID-19. You should make it clear that you expect these people to follow these rules. They should not attend the workplace, even if they need to in order to complete their duties.
If they are in the office, your employees must have the room to socially distance. They must wear a mask. They must comply with all other rules in place at that time for public safety, even if they’re at work. And you must make it possible for them to comply, or they have the right to refuse to attend.
What if my employee breaks a COVID-19 rule?
If an employee breaks a government imposed rule to protect the public from COVID-19 whilst at work, this could amount to gross misconduct. Any breaking of rules could impact the safety of colleagues, or lead to reputational damage, so it’s a really serious matter, and should be treated as such.
For example, if your employee has been advised to isolate and they don’t, you have the right to subject them to disciplinary action if they come into the office. That’s because not complying with the rules poses a serious risk to the public, and being caught could damage your businesses reputation. They’re also a danger to other staff members. If you’ve made it clear you expected them to comply with government advice at this time and they don’t, it’s a very serious matter.
That being said, you must make sure your employees know they are expected to comply with the rules. You should offer them as much guidance and support as they need to make sure they understand what you expect them to do, so that there can be no doubt if they’re caught compromising advice that this was not with your blessing.
What constitutes a COVID-19 rule break for an employee?
So, what if your employee does something in their spare time that constitutes a rule break? Do you have the right to discipline them if they travelled to another region, for example, and were in a group setting exceeding the golden number six?
Not really. Not unless it could affect the employee when he is completing his designated duties to you, the employer. However, you could employ disciplinary action if the employees rule breaking falls into any of the following points:
- Inability to come to work, thereby negatively impacting the employers’ business.
- The employee physically attends a workplace and risks the health and safety of others when you asked them not to do so.
- They posted content where they are in a large group – or breaking COVID-19 rules – and in some way highlighted they are an employee of your business.
These are seriously misjudged actions and grounds for disciplinary action.
The art of avoidance
It’s best if you can to try to avoid a situation in which you need to discipline a member of staff for their conduct, and the best way of doing this is to make sure your employee knows how seriously you take the rules, and how ardently you expect them to follow them.
You should communicate regularly with your staff – whether they work from home or not – and remind them of the government guidance, and your intention to follow it. If they’re working in the office, you should make it clear what procedures and practices you have put in place, and how you expect them to comply. Finally, you should make clear the consequences if they do break the rules, so that disciplinary action comes as no surprise if someone is caught behaving inappropriately.
Contact JMR Solicitors for Employment Law matters
If you find yourself struggling with an employee law matter, no matter whether that is covid-19 related or otherwise, feel free to contact JMR Solicitors Employment law team on 0161 491 3933 or email firstname.lastname@example.org