Coronavirus: back to the office FAQs

Should staff be encouraged to wear facemasks in the office? And how can employers help staff with childcare needs? Kate Palmer of Peninsula answers some of the most important questions employers may have about staff returning to the office.

Coronavirus COVID Back to Office Guidance UK

Should employers be encouraging staff to return to the office?

Though in England the government has given employers the freedom to decide where an employee should work, they are currently asking businesses to encourage as many employees as practicably possible to return to a COVID-secure office. This is because the government believes that returning employees to the workplace will help smaller businesses in the surrounding areas of office blocks who rely on the foot-traffic that the workplace provides.

Ultimately though, the decision of whether employers should be encouraging staff to return to the office remains solely with the employer, and it’s worth considering the advantages and disadvantage of home working for your business before any decision is made.

If an employee is advised to self-isolate, are they entitled to sick pay?

If an employee is advised to self-isolate due to the coronavirus (COVID-19), they are entitled to sick pay. Employees will be entitled to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) from day one if they are:

  • experiencing coronavirus symptoms
  • self-isolating because they have, or someone they live with has, tested positive for coronavirus
  • contacted by the NHS Test and Trace system and told that they have been in contact with someone who has tested positive

The current rate of SSP is £95.85 per week and is payable to eligible employees who fall within the qualifying criteria. SSP is not payable, however, for the purposes of quarantine-related self-isolation periods.

Since 28 August, SSP has also become available to people who have received a pre-surgery notification and have been advised to stay at home for a period of up to 14 days before the procedure date.

How can employers help staff with childcare needs?

Given the unpredictable nature of the coronavirus pandemic, employers are being urged to continue to be flexible when managing their staff and consider all options available in helping to support their employees with childcare needs. There many ways in which employers can support workers without childcare, including:

  • If such an employee has previously been furloughed, the employer can either keep them on full furlough or put them on flexible furlough and have them work part-time, bearing in mind that the furlough scheme will come to an end on 31 October 2020.
  • Employers may also offer homeworking to affected employees, or other flexible working measures such as flexitime (flexible starting and finishing times).
  • Employers could also permit the taking up of annual leave.

Should staff be encouraged to wear facemasks in the office?

There is currently no sign that wearing facemasks will be required in UK offices. Unless the place of work does require forms of personal protective equipment (PPE), there is no legal requirement for staff to be asked to wear a facemask in the office. It is, therefore, up to the employer if they wish to enforce/encourage this.

In deciding if masks should be encouraged, employers should first read the government guidance. They should carefully consider if masks are necessary, especially if the workplace is already following all other rules surrounding social distancing, or if the employee in question is particularly vulnerable and may feel more comfortable wearing one.

How should an employer deal with annual leave requests where the employee would need to quarantine after travelling abroad?

Employers should consider allowing the taking up of annual leave requests for self-isolating upon returning to the UK from a country not on the travel corridor list. If it’s possible for employees to work from home during quarantine, this could also be an option. However, an employer can reasonably refuse holiday requests if their business is affected by the taking up of the leave or the quarantine period.

If more than one member of staff is requesting annual leave around the same time, it’s advisable for employers to either have other staff members within the team take up the absent employees’ workload if possible, or talk with the employees and let them know that they may have to reschedule their holiday plans as too many staff members will be off at the same time.

What should employers do if someone in the workplace had coronavirus?

Employers should draw up risk assessments and health and safety measures and policies before returning staff to the workplace. Therefore, if someone in the workplace contracts coronavirus employers should follow this policy. This can include:

  • asking the affected employee to go home
  • tracing who they may have been in contact with and asking them to also go home to self-isolate
  • cleaning the areas used by the affected employee and those in their vicinity

About the author

Kate Palmer is Associate Director of Advisory at global employment law consultancy at Peninsula.

See also

Working from home: what are the pros and cons for your business?

NHS Test and Trace - what do employers need to know?

How to support workers without childcare

What you need to know about the new flexible furlough rules

Could a four-day work week ever be introduced in the UK?

Find out more

Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) (GOV.UK)

Working safely during coronavirus (COVID-19) (GOV.UK)

Coronavirus (COVID-19): travel corridors (GOV.UK)

Image: Getty Images

Publication date: 2 September 2020

Any opinion expressed in this article is that of the author and the author alone and does not necessarily represent that of The Gazette.