Worried About Coronavirus At Work? Here’s How Your Employer Can Help
Tackling the pandemic anxiety at work. (Source: Pixabay)

Worried About Coronavirus At Work? Here’s How Your Employer Can Help

The novel coronavirus outbreak has sent the world into a frenzy with new cases climbing every day, stock markets crashing across the globe and economies on the verge of being upended.

Social distancing is being touted as one of the most effective ways to battle the spread of the virus which has infected over 1.27 lakh globally and left nearly more than 4,700 dead. The World Health Organisation, which has classified the outbreak as a pandemic, has urged businesses and employers to take an active role and attempt to curb the spread of the disease.

Amid this, going to work could become a cause of anxiety for many. There are several questions that may cross the minds of employees, especially with the lack of labour laws specifically catering to such an outbreak.

Two of the top legal firms in India—Khaitan & Co. and Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas—have put out advisories for employers on how to tackle these workplace issues in the time of a pandemic.

Here’s what they say:

Will You Get Paid For Sick Leave?

Both Khaitan and Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas have said that since the disease is contagious, it’s advisable for employers to allow affected employees to avail sick leaves.

Besides, employers can also consider revising their leave policies by introducing additional paid sick or medical leave to accommodate any affected employee.

Khaitan has also said that the employers should encourage any affected employee to utilise their sick leaves towards time off for treatment. And in case they need more time to fully recover, then employers should let the employee stay on leave till it’s medically certified that they are out of danger.

For such period, however, the employer should ensure payment of full wages and continuity of all other benefits.
Khaitan & Co. Advisory On Covid-19

Can You Be Forced To Get Tested?

That depends on the agreement entered into by the employee at the time of appointment, according to Khaitan. If the agreement provides for such a provision, then the employer will be legally entitled to enforce a medical test.

However, even if that is the case, the employer must ensure that there are systems in place to keep medical records of employees confidential and secure. The employer must assess compliance with the Information Technology (Reasonable Security Practices and Procedures and Sensitive Personal Data or Information) Rules 2011, Khaitan noted.

Companies also need to be mindful of the fact that discrimination risk could arise if employees are singled out on the basis of nationality, religion, race or ethnicity.

An official uses a thermal screening device on an employee at an office in New Delhi (Source: PTI)
An official uses a thermal screening device on an employee at an office in New Delhi (Source: PTI)

Can You Be Forced To Stay Away From Office?

Yes. An employer has a legal right and obligation to prevent an employee suffering from communicable diseases, like Covid-19, from entering the workplace, according to Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas. This can be done for the protection of other employees.

Can You Be Allowed To Work From Home?

Yes. Companies have been urged to frame an accommodative flexi-work policy that allows people to work remotely and avert the risk of contagion.

The employer can first check if the employee has robust hardware and software to ensure that they can work from home smoothly. And if not, then the companies should close any gaps.

According to Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas, companies also need to see if there are data security issues to consider and how best to address them.

Also read: Yes, You Should Work From Home to Help Fight Coronavirus Spread

What About Travel For Work?

In keeping with guidelines from the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, employees may be directed to cancel their business trips and refrain from otherwise travelling to affected countries, Khaitan said. “To the extent possible, face time with clients or personnel located abroad should be limited, and employers may employ technology (video conferencing, for instance) for necessary communications.”

Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas has said companies should review how best to protect their staff that’s travelling for business. It should also consider measures that are in place to deal with the staff being quarantined or falling ill when travelling for work.

What Your Company Should Do

Companies are obligated to ensure a safe and healthy work environment for their employees.

To this extent, your employer should:

  • Inform employees, clearly, about the measures to be taken. This should also include certain hygiene guidelines.
  • Make sure that keyboards, telephones and frequently used objects are regularly wiped with disinfectants.
  • Employees should be encouraged to wash their hands regularly.
  • Workplaces should make the provisions of specific items like hand sanitiser and face masks if the risk becomes real.
  • Another important thing to do is to spread awareness among employees and use all channels of communication to regularly share updated accurate information from reliable sources.
  • Employees should also be encouraged to self-report if they’ve been to an affected destination, been in contact with someone who may be a suspect case or if they’re feeling ill themselves.
  • It is also advisable to have a clear chain of reporting line to prevent any action from being delayed due to procedure.
  • In the event of a detected case, companies should carry out sanitation at the workplace and direct employees to stay at home for some time.

“The key need for employers is to plan ahead and behave proportionately, reasonably and consistently,” Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas said. “A failure to do so will not only risk legal claims, it may also impact adversely on staff morale and damage future employee relations.”

Also read: There Is a ‘Tipping Point’ Before Coronavirus Kills

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