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Swine flu- Guidance for Employers

There is concern regarding the rising number of swine flu cases in the United Kingdom in recent months. In the employment context, this is of particular interest to employers as more recent cases of swine flu have occurred in individuals between the ages of 15-64 years of age who are not regarded as ‘at risk’.

There are three primary areas of concern for employers during a pandemic such as this which include:

1. Duty of care toward employees

This includes the duty to protect the health and safety of employees in both how the employer informs its employees about the health risks of swine flu and also in taking steps to ensure good hygiene in the workplace. In order to achieve this, it is advisable that the employer carry out a risk assessment of the work place.

2. Staff absence either due to:

i.  an employee having swine flu; or

ii. an employee’s child or relative is suffering from swine flu.

It is recognised that employers have a balancing act- to manage the concerns of the business and its employees as well as continuing to run a business effectively. In order to ensure an employer is not affected by high levels of employee absence, it will be beneficial to identify which employees possess the most interchangeable skills and utilise this wherever possible and perhaps arranging external support.

3. Review of existing policies

Sickness Absence, Return to Work and Dependants Leave policies, which employers may already have in place, may need to be relaxed in instances of high sickness absence. For instance, in the event an employee has been absent with swine flu and is now claiming they are well enough to return to work, the employer should not do so until their GP has verified this. Furthermore the employer will need to consider whether such absences are paid or unpaid.

It is advisable that, during periods of swine flu related absences, the employer should suggest alternative working methods to those employees affected such as:

i. Flexible working

ii. Parental leave;

iii. Special leave;

iv. Time off for dependants (employees have a legal entitlement to unpaid leave);

v. Working from home (provided that IT systems and the employees job cater for this); or

vi. Alternative working locations in the event this is an option.

In conjunction with the points above, the best course of action an employer can take in dealing effectively with the implications of swine flu and the affect this has on the business, is to communicate as much as they reasonably can with all employees and trade union representatives.

Date: 13.01.11

For more information on employers obligations in relation to swine flu please contact Jane Sinnamon (jane.sinnamon@collingwoodlegal.com.)

The information given in this article is up to date at the time of preparation. However, Collingwood Legal can accept no liability or responsibility for any loss incurred as a consequence of actions taken based on this report. We would recommend that you take legal advice. We would be happy to help.

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