HR Dilemma of the Day: Can I force my staff to work if they are showing Covid symptoms?

Almost 1 million Brits are self-isolating right now, leaving a lot of businesses short-staffed and struggling to keep up with their workload.

Whether testing positive for Covid or being identified as a close contact in the case of someone who is unvaccinated, current self-isolation rules mean at least five full days of staying at home.

The Government recognises the issues for businesses across the country right now and so has reduced the self-isolation period from 10 days, firstly to seven days and now to five days.

However, businesses continue to feel the pinch with loss of productivity, unfulfilled orders, reduced opening hours and in some cases, even closures.

This is devastating at any time for a business, but particularly so given the turbulence and uncertainly faced over the last two years.

Picture this: You have a very small team, and half your workforce is isolating. You simply don’t have the manpower to operate, and it looks like you’ll be forced to halt production. Can you expect your employees to come in, despite showing COVID symptoms?

Research by Peninsula showed an overwhelming majority agreed that employees should only return to work after a negative test and, even then, only when they feel well enough. Rather worryingly though, 5% of employers would insist that symptomatic employees still come into work.

Whilst businesses may feel as though they have no option but to require their staff to come to work, this is not legal.

Kate Palmer, HR Advice & Consultancy Director at Peninsula, has this advice.

“Asking your employees to go into work despite showing COVID symptoms is absolutely against Government guidance.

“No matter the reason for the Covid related absence – whether it’s someone who has been identified as a close contact of a Covid-positive case and is not vaccinated, or whether a person tests positive, asymptomatic or not – it is their legal duty to self-isolate for at least five full days.

Not only is it an obligation by law, it is also not in the best interest of the public’s health for them to follow these rules.

“You’ll find that forcing who is showing symptoms or has tested positive to come in could have even more dire impacts on your workforce – not least the damage to employee relations. There is a very real possibility that they could they transmit Covid to the rest of your team, leading to more absences. Plus, they could get fined for breaking the law if found to not be following self-isolation rules – and you could get reported to the Health & Safety Executive.

“If your staff member is experiencing Covid symptoms – like a high temperature, a new, continuous cough and / or a loss or change to their sense of smell or taste – you must send them home immediately and wait for them to take a PCR test. Only when they can confirm a negative test are they allowed to return to the workplace – but only if they are feeling well enough. You must bear in mind that if they are still feeling ill, you should follow the usual sickness procedures.

“The recent reduction in isolation time to five full days will go some way in alleviating staff shortages as they are able to return to the workplace once they have returned a negative lateral flow on both days five and six.”

Author: Editorial Team

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