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During our recent Employment Law update event, we covered how to handle an employee who will not come into the workplace for fear of catching COVID-19 and all the challenges that brings employers.

It’s a real anxiety for people and one an employer should be careful handling especially if they decide to dismiss.

What does this mean legally?

It is automatically unfair to dismiss or subject an employee to a detriment, if the employee reasonably believes they are in serious and imminent danger if they come into work. The key words are “reasonably believe”.

In practice, from a HR perspective, the first thing to do is make sure you can justify that the role has to be carried out in the workplace. If you can do that, we’d recommend that you undertake risk assessments of the workplace and share these with your team members in an open forum. Give them an opportunity to ask questions, show them the PPE provision you have in place and reassure them that their safety is paramount.

You could also get an occupational health assessment done for the employee to identify specific risks to them and put in place steps to deal with those. Perhaps you could offer a mix of sick leave and annual leave options for employees to take to reduce the time in work?

Help, none of the above has worked…

If you reach the stage where you think you need to terminate the employee’s employment, then there MUST be a robust process followed. This includes writing to the employee to confirm they are at risk of dismissal, and why, and inviting them to a meeting to discuss this. Listen to their representations and then make your decision. You’ll have to be satisfied the employee hasn’t shown they reasonably felt they were in danger being at work and there are no adjustments you can make. If you dismiss ensure you offer the employee the right of appeal.

ACAS are regularly publishing information and guidance, you can access their information here Coronavirus (COVID-19): advice for employers and employees | Acas

If you need any guidance or support in respect of this issue please get in touch with Lisa Lenton, lisa.lenton@precepthr.com, or by phone 07469 153048.