SARS epidemic could create legal minefield

are worried that efforts to protect their workforces from the worldwide severe
acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) epidemic could create a legal minefield.

employment experts can’t agree what action organisations should take to protect
staff after the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared Hong Kong, Toronto,
Beijing and parts of China no go areas.

UK Government wants staff returning from affected areas to spend two weeks off
work in quarantine to stop the spread of the disease – which has already killed
more than 200 people globally. 

while employment experts are urging HR directors to implement SARS policies
immediately, they disagree whether the enforced two-week absence should be paid
or unpaid.

experts believe that employers could face unfair dismissal claims if staff are
not on full paid leave.

Nickson, head of employment at law firm Hammonds Suddards Edge, said: “It would
be unreasonable for employers to do anything but pay staff in full for their
incubation period. Otherwise staff would have possible unfair dismissal

the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) believes
organisations are within their rights to force staff returning from regions
affected by SARS to take their quarantine time as unpaid leave.

Sinclair, lead adviser on public policy at the CIPD, said: “With staff going to
affected countries employers could argue that staff are breaching their
contract because they know they will not be able to work on their return.”

Bloom, partner in the employment team at law firm Dickinson Dees, claims
employers could introduce a policy that forces staff to take the extra time off
as holiday. 

is reasonable to introduce a policy which states that staff must take the extra
time off as holiday if they are aware before they go that they will be ignoring
WHO advice.”

employers should do:

Communicate with staff on the company policy, as well as Government and WHO

Make sure all staff returning from affected area stay away from work for up to
two weeks and see their GP immediately

Poll staff on planned business and personal travel

is your organisation doing to deal with the SARS epidemic?


By Paul Nelson

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