As a general rule, an employer can require employees concerned about contracting coronavirus (COVID-19) to attend work. However, the employer should check current government guidance about self-isolation and take the employee’s own circumstances into account when deciding whether there are grounds for the employee to stay at home.
Where there are no grounds for self-isolation, the fear of contracting the illness would not generally be sufficient reason for failing to attend work, and an employer faced with an employee refusing to come to work will be entitled to take disciplinary action for unauthorised absence. An employer could also stop paying an employee who refuses to attend work on the basis that the employee is failing to perform their part of the contract.
However, where business needs allow, an employer may wish to take a more flexible approach and allow employees to work from home, or to take periods of annual or unpaid leave. This is particularly advisable when the employer is dealing with vulnerable employees, ie those at high risk of developing more severe symptoms from the coronavirus, such as employees with asthma, diabetes or heart disease.