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COVID-19: Key Issues for Employers

The BCR Law employment team have considered the key matters that employers in Jersey should be considering in response to global COVID-19 pandemic. COVID-19, was first positively tested in Jersey on 10th March 2020 and since then, the numbers of positive cases has increased significantly, with no current sign of a decline.

Employers will no doubt be worried about the effects COVID-19 will have on the continuity of their business both short and long term. However, employers will also be concerned for the welfare of their employees, clients and customers who are critical to any successful business. It is important that, in a time of uncertainty, we all keep a clear and transparent focus on the key objectives that will allow businesses to operate as close as possible to business as usual.

We have set out below some high level guidance on the key employment law issues employers need to consider.

Staying up-to-date

The information and guidance issued by the Government of Jersey is changing regularly and it is important that employers stay up-to-date. Having a designated individual with responsibility for monitoring the updates to information and guidance issued by the Government is a very useful way to make sure that you keep on top of it. However, it is equally as important to make sure that the information is relayed, where appropriate, to your employees.

Communicating with your employees

Employers should have clear and accessible policies and procedures relevant to the coronavirus pandemic. Employer policies and procedures should be compliant with both the Discrimination Law and the Employment Law. Any decisions made regarding the employment of your employees or certain groups of employees should be applied consistently where this is possible to try limit the potential for any employment- related claims being raised against the employer. However, as no two employees will be in the same circumstances when it comes to how COVID-19 will affect them, we would encourage employers to keep this in mind and consider if any issues stem from personal, family circumstances, responsibilities or arrangements.

Signpost your employees to the most relevant policies e.g. homeworking policy. Also make sure you tell employees where they may seek appropriate support. If you have mental health first aiders within your organisation it is worth reminding employees who these individuals are.

What health and safety measures should employers consider?

Health and safety measures will vary according to different working environments. As no vaccination is currently available, preventative measures to limit the spread of infection should be employer’s ultimate objective.

If a place of business remains open, whilst most employers will have adjusted their existing hygiene arrangements (such as the provision of extra cleaning wipes, hand sanitizers and tissues), further measures may include enhanced cleaning of your premises and limiting all but essential access to premises.

The impact that COVID-19 is having on the mental health of staff should not be underestimated. As an employer, providing consistent and clear communication about health risks, preventative measures, and available resources is the best way to keep employees safe and try prevent stress and anxiety issues. Offering guidance on mindfulness, webinars on resilience, or merely suggesting employees go for a walk is especially beneficial to their health and wellbeing. In turn, being open and transparent in your interactions with employees also lets them know they are not alone.

Variations to employment terms

Particular consideration should be given to remote working, and the equipment or systems required for employees to do this effectively.

Where remote working is not possible, consideration should be given to other resourcing options, such as split shifts or operating with skeleton staff only. Employers may also consider exploring flexible working or the option to take paid or unpaid leave if employees are temporarily unable (or unwilling) to work. This should be dealt with in accordance with your policies and procedures which are already in place and following any legal advice you have received. By way of general guidance, however, an employer cannot unilaterally vary an employee’s contract, hours or pay.

Handling your employees personal data

Personal data relating to health is special category data and should not be shared. In the event that one of your employees tests positive for coronavirus, the relevant information which should be shared is the fact that an employee has tested positive for the virus, but it is essential that the identity of the employee is not revealed to other employees or any other third party.

Shared responsibilities

Employers should remind employees of the levels of behaviour expected of them, including basic hygiene, reporting requirements if they are unwell, and the notification obligation if they have travelled or have been in contact with someone with COVID-19.

Training

The BCR Law employment team is continuing to provide training during the COVID-19 pandemic by way of Zoom. If you are interested in hearing more about our training sessions please do not hesitate to contact us.

To download this briefing please click here.

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