Newspaper article Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)

A 'What If?' That You Need to Be Ready For

Newspaper article Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)

A 'What If?' That You Need to Be Ready For

Article excerpt

Byline: Paul Cowie

The recent publicity surrounding the SARS virus has raised many issues for employers and employees alike, but has mostly focused on those who have to work in the countries affected.

However, an employer's responsibility to its employees is potentially much more wide-ranging.

Every employment contract contains an implied term that an employer must take reasonable care for an employee's health and safety at work.

This duty imposed on employers means that a place of work must be without foreseeable risk to health.

This is why any employer considering sending an employee to work in an infected country faces the more immediate problem of potentially being held liable if that employee subsequently contracts the illness.

However, this duty is capable of being breached even if the employer owns a solitary factory or office situated in the North-east of England.

This predicament arises from the possibility of an employee contracting the illness while on holiday and then spreading it upon their return to work.

Currently both the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the World Health Organisation (WHO) are advising against non-essential travel to Hong Kong, Beijing and the surrounding areas.

Despite this, it is still possible to travel to these countries.

Therefore, if an employee chooses to holiday in one of these regions, what, if anything, should an employer do?

At this point it is worth noting that the employer's duty of care is based upon what is reasonable in the circumstances and therefore the legislation is only relevant where an employer is aware of an employee's holiday destination.

However, as an employer's conduct must be proportionate to the potential risk, quizzing every member of staff about their travel arrangements, or indeed the rest of their domestic life, is not feasible and in any event would probably be seen as an invasion of privacy.

So how then does an employer deal with such situations? …

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