Expert comment: What can employers do about coronavirus?

Hayley Trovato, Senior Associate in the Employment department has commented on the points that employers need to be aware of around coronavirus:

There are a number of issues that may arise for employers in connection with the coronavirus outbreak. In order to prepare for this, there are a number of things employers may wish to consider.

Refusal to Attend Work

You may be faced with a situation where you have employees that are afraid of catching the coronavirus and do not want to come into work.

It is important to listen to any concerns and if you believe them to be genuine then you should try and protect the health and safety of staff where possible – such as offering remote working. If an employee is still refusing to come in or if remote working is not possible, another option may be that they could take this time off as holiday or as unpaid leave. However, as an employer, you don’t have to agree to this. Any total refusal by an employee to attend work could result in disciplinary action. However, If the employee who is refusing to come to work is pregnant or at high risk, it is wise to be even more flexible. Refusals to allow employees to stay at home or disciplining them for not attending could result in them bringing legal claims such as constructive unfair dismissal if there is a genuine health and safety risk in being at work. The best practice Is to act reasonably to ensure employees are not at any unnecessary risk.

Employers have a duty to take steps that are reasonably necessary to ensure the health, safety and welfare of all their employees, including those who are particularly at risk. Employees also have a duty to take reasonable care of their own health and safety and that of people they work with. They must cooperate with their employer to enable it to comply with its duties under health and safety laws Employees who refuse to cooperate, or who recklessly risk their own health or that of colleagues or customers, could be disciplined.

If an employee is not actually sick but you tell them not to come to work then they should receive their usual pay.

Race discrimination

There have been recent reports of the increase in instances of discrimination and harassment towards people of Chinese ethnic origin and employers need to be vigilant to the risk of direct and indirect race discrimination claims. Employers could be vicariously liable if employees racially harass other colleges, even if they don’t know about and would not approve. In order to avoid liability employers will have to show they took all “reasonable steps” to prevent their employees behaving in this way. This means they should have a clear and easily accessible diversity and anti-harassment policy, ensuring staff are all trained on equality issues. There should be a zero-tolerance policy on any negative or hostile comments.

Practical Steps

In the event of the coronavirus spreading more widely in the UK then ACAS recommend some simple steps to help protect the health and safety of their staff

Employers should:

  • keep everyone updated on actions being taken to reduce risks of exposure in the workplace
  • make sure everyone’s contact numbers and emergency contact details are up to date
  • make sure managers know how to spot symptoms of coronavirus and are clear on any relevant processes, for example, sickness reporting and sick pay, and procedures in case someone in the workplace develops the virus
  • make sure there are clean places to wash hands with hot water and soap, and encourage everyone to wash their hands regularly
  • give out hand sanitisers and tissues to staff, and encourage them to use them
  • consider if protective face masks might help for people working in particularly vulnerable situations
  • consider if any travel planned to affected areas is essential
  • If the employer takes measures such as asking staff to wear protective face masks, they must not single anyone out, for example, based on their race or ethnicity.

This article is for information only and does not constitute legal advice. For professional legal advice on employment matters around coronavirus, please contact Hayley Trovato. 

Cyclist who lost costs ruling after equal blame crash with pedestrian settles for £30,000

A cyclist who was involved in a collision with a pedestrian who was crossing the road while looking at her phone in an incident a judge ruled they were equally to blame for, but where he was responsible for the legal costs of both parties, has settled for £30,000.

The cyclist, Robert Hazeldean, and the pedestrian, Gemma Brushett, were both left unconscious following the July 2015 collision.

While Brushett sought compensation from Hazeldean, who had no insurance in place, he did not counter-claim, meaning he was deemed responsible for the legal costs of both parties on top of damages of £4,300 to be paid to Brushett.

Under the qualified one-way cost shifting system that was introduced in 2013, people involved in an accident who do not counter-claim can be liable for their own and the other party’s legal costs.

The lawyers acting for Brushett initially claimed costs totalling £112,000, but have now settled with Hazeldean for £30,000.

In addition to covering Brushett’s lawyers’ costs and her £4,300 compensation, Hazeldean also had to cover his own legal fees of £25,000.

Following the initial ruling, a GoFundMe appeal was set up by friends of Hazeldean, which ultimately raised more than £59,000 towards his costs. After costs, interests, damages and GoFundMe’s fees were taken into account, Hazeldean was left £2,979 out of pocket.

Speaking to The Guardian, Hazeldean said: “It’s not the result I was hoping for, but everything was spiralling and the risk of being bankrupted regardless of the outcome was too high. I felt I didn’t really have a choice.”

Annual legacy income predicted to exceed £3.9 billion by 2024

Legacy research firm, Legacy Foresight, has issued revised forecasts that predict legacy income will rise by 3.6 per cent annually between now and 2024, representing a rise from £3.2 billion to £3.9 billion in 2024.

The revised forecast was issued after the Office for National Statistics (ONS) published official data predicting the number of deaths in the UK will rise from the current level of 600,000 a year to 645,000 a year in 2024.

Legacy Foresight expects that this will mean an increase in the number of legacy gifts of 10,000 from 120,000 to 130,000 between now and 2024.

The forecasts also factor in predicted rises in UK GDP and house prices over the coming years.

Jon Franklin, Economist at Legacy Forecast said: “For now, legacy market growth will not return to the levels seen in the run-up to Brexit when incomes were growing at 4.1 per cent per year.

“However, at a time when many charities are reporting flat or falling donations, these forecasts are welcome news for fundraising teams across the UK.”

Richard Hill, Programme Manager at Legacy Foresight, added: “We believe that come unusually large bequests bolstered income growth in early 2019.

“We saw total bequest numbers down nine per cent or 2018 figures. We estimate that three per cent of this fall was due to a short-term reduction in deaths after the unusually severe winter of 2018/19. The remaining six per cent drop was caused by the widely reported delays at probate courts.

“These delays now appear to be lessening, with a backlog of around 3,200 bequests to be processed over the coming months. Legacy notifications should return to ‘normal’ levels during 2020.”

Good Work Plan to be phased in from April 2020

Described as one of the most significant overhauls of the UK’s employment law in 20 years, the implementation of the Good Work Plan is just weeks away. 

Businesses will be expected to familiarise themselves with the wide-reaching changes and take steps to prepare for the new rules, which are due to come into force from on 6 April 2020.

To help you get to grips with the key changes, here is a brief rundown of what the Good Work Plan will mean for employers.

Written contracts of employment

The plan introduces several changes to the rights to receive a written Statement of Main Terms (SMT).

This document will need to include an employee’s key terms of employment, including pay and annual leave entitlement. Employers currently have two months to provide it to a new employee. Importantly, this document will now need to be provided on day one to all workers.

Holiday Pay

The mandatory reference period for calculating holiday pay will increase and employers will have to use a reference period of 52 weeks, (instead of the current 12 weeks) when calculating holiday pay for staff whose pay varies, including the zero-hours workforce.

This calculation method will result in a payment which balances out any peaks and troughs of working hours throughout the year.

Employment status

The Government has confirmed that the tests used to determine who is an employee, worker or self-employed will be adjusted.

The results of this are likely to be that many self-employed individuals will be re-classed as workers.

Agency Workers

‘Swedish derogation model’ contracts for agency workers will be banned. These contracts proceed based on a legal loophole to avoid the requirement to pay agency workers the same basic pay as direct recruits at the hirer organisation after 12 weeks of an assignment. 

Those who are currently engaged on these contracts will be entitled to a statement to explain the effect of the ban on their pay. As a separate measure, all agency workers will be entitled to a key facts sheet explaining the details of their payment.

Employers must consider the impact of these changes on their business and how employees are paid. 

OGR Stock Denton Paralegal shortlisted for pair of prestigious awards

Mahsa Tavakol, a Paralegal in our Litigation team has been shortlisted for a pair of prestigious awards at the National Paralegal Awards 2020.

Mahsa has been shortlisted in both the Civil Litigation Paralegal of the Year and the overall Paralegal of the Year (South) categories at the awards, which celebrate the contribution of paralegals within the legal profession.

The rigorous judging process for the awards has already seen OGR Stock Denton make a detailed written submission setting out Mahsa’s achievements and qualities in supporting the litigation team and assisting clients.

Stephen Silverman, Partner and Head of the Litigation team, said: “Mahsa has been tenacious in working on behalf of our clients to secure the best possible outcome and so she very much deserves to be in contention for these awards. It is no surprise to us that the judges have recognised her in this way.

“We all wish her well as she waits to find out whether she will be named as the overall winner.”

Mahsa added: “I am delighted to have been shortlisted and I am looking forward to the awards evening and discovering whether I have won.”

The winners of the National Paralegal Awards 2020 will be announced at a glittering ceremony on Friday 27 March 2020 at the Grand Connaught Rooms in the West End.

Dispute over cat leads to four-year legal battle

A dispute between neighbours over the feeding of a cat has reached a conclusion after a four-year legal battle.

The dispute saw Jackie and John Hall commence proceedings against their neighbour, Nicola Lesbirel, accusing her of the theft of Maine Coon, Ozzy.

The couple accused Ms Lesbirel of repeatedly removing the cat’s collar and replacing it with one marked with her phone number alongside the words ‘my home’.

After fitting Ozzy with a GPS collar, the couple says that they discovered that he was entering their neighbour’s home on a regular basis.

The couple had been seeking an injunction that would prevent Ms Lesbirel of taking Ozzy into her home or feeding him and the case was due to be heard at Central London County Court.

However, Ms Lesbirel agreed out of court to make legally binding promises that she would restrict her interaction with Ozzy, which include not feeding him, letting him into her home, or putting him in a box or basket.

The Cats Protection League said: “We have never come across a case in which the courts have granted an injunction to prevent someone from feeding their neighbours’ cats.

“We have been contacted from time to time by people who want to know what to do when neighbours feed their cats and, in effect, encourage the cats to relocate.

“In practice, most people who feed other peoples’ cats do so in the well-meaning and honest belief that the cats are strays, have no owners and are hungry.

“From a legal point of view, cats are regarded as property and an offence would be committed under the Theft Act 1968 if the ‘feeder’ dishonestly appropriated the cats with the intention of permanently depriving the owners of their cat.”

Link: Couple sue neighbour for feeding their cat in four-year £20,000 legal battle

Survey reveals increased willingness to challenge Wills

A survey that was carried out by Direct Line Life Insurance has found that people in the UK are increasingly willing to challenge the contents of a Will.

The insurer found that more than 12.6 million people in the UK would be prepared to instigate court proceedings to a challenge a Will if they thought that the way assets were divided would be inappropriate.

The findings are backed up by official figures, which show that in 2017 the number of contested probate cases increased by six per cent in 12 months.

Wills can be challenged on a number of grounds:

  • Lack of testamentary capacity
  • Lack of valid execution
  • Lack of knowledge and approval
  • Lack of financial provision
  • Undue influence
  • Fraud

Challenges on the grounds of undue influence are thought to be the most common, but also the least successful because of the inherent difficulty of demonstrating that this was the case.

Jane Morgan, Business Manager at Direct Line Life Insurance, said: “While people are increasingly contesting Wills, everyone has the right to choose how they’d like to distribute their assets, even if it seems unusual or excludes even the closest family members.”

Link: Millions of Britons would dispute an inheritance if unhappy with result, says poll

Bereaved parents will be entitled to two week’s paid leave from April

The Government has announced that from April 2020, parents who suffer the loss of a child under the age of 18, or a stillbirth, will be entitled to two week’s paid leave at the rate of statutory bereavement pay.

The change is expected to help around 10,000 families a year and, according to ministers, will be the most generous parental bereavement pay in the world. 

It follows a campaign instigated by Lucy Herd, whose son, Jack, died in an accident aged 23 months. Jack’s father was only allowed three days of work, which included one day to attend his son’s funeral.

Lucy Herd said: “In the immediate aftermath of a child dying, parents have to cope with their own loss, the grief of the wider family, including other children, as well as a vast amount of administrative paperwork and other arrangements. A sudden or accidental death may require a post-mortem or inquest, there is a funeral to arrange and there are many other organisations to contact, from schools to benefit offices.

“When I started this campaign 10 years ago, after the death of my son Jack, I always hoped that a positive change would happen in his memory. Knowing that nearly 10 years of campaigning has helped create Jack’s law is the most wonderful feeling, but it is bittersweet at the same time.”

Business Secretary, Andrea Leadsom MP, said: “There can be few worse experiences in life than the loss of a child and I am proud that this government is delivering Jack’s law, making us the first country in the world to do so. When it takes effect, Jack’s law will be a fitting testament to the tireless efforts of Lucy Herd, alongside many charities, to give parents greater support.”

Link: Bereaved parents to be entitled to two weeks’ paid leave from work