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People and Employment – other considerations

At Ward Hadaway we want to play our part by helping UK businesses, organisations and people successfully navigate the current disrupted environment and get us all back to business. To do that we have developed a series of FAQs where we try to provide clear answers to commonly asked questions.

Self-isolation

Can I require my staff to inform me should their circumstances be such that they need to self-isolate?

Yes.

Workers (and agency workers) who are aware of the requirement to self-isolate and are due to work during their isolation period at a place other than their designated place (see below) must, as soon as reasonably practicable and in any event before they are next due to start work within the isolation period, tell their employer that they are self-isolating, and set out the start and end dates of their isolation period.

Clear communication to all workers about their obligation to do this is strongly recommended.

Can I be fined for failing to take steps to try to ensure that my staff comply with the requirements to self-isolate?

Yes.

An employer which is aware that a worker or agency worker is or ought to be self-isolating, should not knowingly allow that worker or agency worker to leave the place that they are self-isolating in (“the designated place”).  To do so without reasonable excuse would amount to an offence which could result in the employer being issued with a fixed penalty notice.

The value of the fixed penalty varies depending on if it is the first or subsequent fixed penalty notice to be issued:

First fixed penalty notice £1,000
Second fixed penalty notice £2,000
Third fixed penalty notice £4,000
Fourth, and any subsequent fixed penalty notice £10,000
If a member of staff does not inform me that they ought to be self-isolating will I still be liable for a fine?

Potentially no.

If an employer is not put on notice that the circumstances of a worker or agency worker are such that they ought to be self-isolating, by either the worker or agency worker themselves or another member of staff, then there ought to be a reasonable excuse, and potentially, no fixed penalty notice will be issued.

Face masks

What are the new rules about wearing face masks in the workplace?

The new rules for wearing face masks/face coverings in the workplace introduced on 23 September 2020 are as follows:

  • Staff in retail, including shops, supermarkets and shopping centres, will now have to wear a face covering
  • Staff in hospitality will now have to wear a face covering
  • Guidance stating that face coverings and visors should be worn in close contact services, such as hairdressers and beauticians, will now become law
  • Staff working on public transport and taxi drivers will continue to be advised to wear face coverings

You can take off your mask if:

  • You who need to eat, drink, or take medication
  • A police officer or other official asks you to
Who is liable to pay the fine for not wearing a face mask at work, the employer or the employee?

If an employee is required under government guidance to wear a face mask during the course of their employment and there is no applicable exemption, any fine issued would be payable by the employee, not the employer.

Who is exempt from wearing a face mask at work?

Those individuals who are already exempt from the existing face covering obligations, will continue to be exempt from the new rules. These include:

  • Those unable to put on or wear a face covering because of a physical or mental illness or disability
  • People for whom wearing or removing a face covering will cause severe distress
  • Anyone assisting someone who relies on lip reading to communicate
As an employer, can I force employees to wear face masks at work?

An employer has a duty of care to its workforce and must take reasonable precautions to protect the health and safety of employees. Employers also have a duty of care towards anyone entering or using their place of business, such as visiting clients or customers.

This means that if an employer reasonably believes that wearing face masks at work is appropriate and necessary, it can issue an instruction to employees to this effect and employees should abide by this as far as possible.

However employers should be cautious about introducing and enforcing a policy across its business which requires its staff to wear face masks as there is the risk of unlawfully discriminating against people who are exempt from wearing face coverings or have legitimate reasons for not doing so. An employer should also consider the duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled employees and discuss any concerns raised by employees who do not want to or feel unable to wear a mask.

If an employee refuses to come into work is their absence unauthorised and do I have to pay them?

This would depend on the reason as to why the employee is refusing to come into work. An unauthorised absence is where an employee fails to attend work and they do not have a statutory or contractual right, or their employer’s permission, to do so. An employer will not be obliged to pay employees their normal pay for periods of unauthorised absence.

There are some absences which may be viewed as authorised which would entitle the employee to their full pay. For instance, employees who believe that they are in serious and imminent danger by coming to work would be entitled to stay at home and receive pay if their belief is deemed reasonable.

An employer should always try to discuss any unauthorised absences with an employee. They may then consider whether to take disciplinary action against the employee.

Can an employee in a public facing role refuse to interact with a customer who is not wearing a face mask?

In some circumstances, visitors and customers are required to wear face coverings, such as those travelling on public transport, shoppers and museum visitors. The government guidance states that:

  • businesses must remind people to wear face coverings where mandated; and
  • premises where face coverings are required should take reasonable steps to promote compliance with the law.

As part of their duty of care to employees and to uphold a relationship of mutual trust and confidence, employers should consider how employees can ensure that visitors and customers comply with the rules and provide their staff with guidance. They must also seek ways to protect their employees both from the risks of those customers not wearing face masks and potential abuse from customers or visitors who decline to wear a face covering. This may include having signs in place requiring customers and visitors to wear a mask and allowing staff to refuse to serve customers if they do not follow the rules.

However, it is ultimately the responsibility of the police, security and public transport officials to remove customers from premises where they are not complying with the rules on face coverings.

The police and Transport for London have been given greater powers by the government to take measures if the public do not comply with the law relating to face coverings without a valid exemption, such as refusing to wear a face covering. This includes issuing fines which have now been increased to £200 for the first offence (and £100 if paid within 14 days). Transport operators can also deny access to their public transport services if a passenger is not wearing a face covering, or direct them to wear one or leave a service.

Other considerations

If an employee works with vulnerable people who are at high risk of catching coronavirus, can the employer require them to limit their activities outside of work?

It is unlikely that an employer can place such a requirement on staff without infringing the employee’s privacy. If the employee is acting in accordance with the rules, limiting their activity would likely be considered unreasonable.

If an employee has had a coronavirus test, can we require them to disclose evidence of their test results?

Obtaining an employee’s Covid-19 test result will amount to processing personal data for the purposes of the General Data Protection Regulation 2016/679 (GDPR) and information about an employee’s health is a special category of data (sensitive personal data under the Data Processing Act 2018 (DPA)).

In accordance with the GDPR and DPA, there must be lawful grounds for processing such information. Most employers rely on employees’ consent to obtain medical information and process sensitive personal data and if the employee is unwilling to give consent, you will not normally be entitled to the information.

Special category data can be processed lawfully if it is necessary for the performance of a task carried out in the public interest or in the exercise of official authority vested in the data controller. Employers may be able to require an employee to disclose their Covid-19 test if there is a substantial public interest, such as ensuring that the employee self-isolate if they have a positive test. However, there is a risk that this measure could be considered disproportionate particularly if it is enforced on all employees as a blanket measure.

Please note that this briefing is designed to be informative, not advisory and represents our understanding of English law and practice as at the date indicated. We would always recommend that you should seek specific guidance on any particular legal issue.

This page may contain links that direct you to third party websites. We have no control over and are not responsible for the content, use by you or availability of those third party websites, for any products or services you buy through those sites or for the treatment of any personal information you provide to the third party.

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Paul Scope

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+44 (0)754 055 6295

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Gillian Chinhengo

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+44 (0)759 024 5298

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