The spread of swine flu is reported to be on the increase and it is important that employers are aware of their health and safety duties and how to deal appropriately with staff absences.
Employers should check advice from the government (available on the internet) for information about swine flu. They should keep employees updated with information and ensure that there is good hygiene in the workplace. This may include encouraging staff to wash their hands with soap, carry tissues, and ensure the cleaning of phones, door handles etc. There is information and guidance available from the Department of Health leaflets (available on the internet.).
Employers should carry out a risk assessment and consider alternative ways of working should there be an incidence of flu in the workplace or if the flu becomes pandemic. Staff with flu-like symptoms should be advised to stay away from the work place. Consider whether it is possible for staff to work from home if necessary (employers cannot force this upon employees as to do so would be a unilateral variation to their contract if such arrangements are not provided for in the contract.) Employers may already have a home working policy in place. Any arrangements should be agreed between the employer and employee.
Employers should have their own health and safety and absence policies in place dealing with reporting procedures and sick pay entitlements. They may also have policies dealing with time off for dependents (allowing employees reasonable time off to care for dependents.) Contracts of employment may provide for employers to exercise their discretion in respect of sick pay entitlements. Any such action by the employer (for example, deciding to pay full salary which is not a contractual entitlement) should be applied fairly and consistently amongst staff.
When deciding to take any course of action, employers must always check the employees contracts of employment and ensure that any action they wish to take would not breach the contract. If employers are unsure, they should seek legal advice.
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