Whilst many employers and employees have been faced with the everyday technological and logistical issues posed by remote working at short notice, there are many who simply must continue to work as “normal” in key frontline services. From the doctors and nurses in the hospitals, to the care workers in homes and community settings, to all the “blue light” staff, delivery drivers, shop assistants and beyond, all contributions are invaluable.
Employers will, of course, be familiar with their duties to report certain work-place accidents and incidents under the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013 (“RIDDOR”) before the current pandemic. However, as well as dealing with the unprecedented demands on services provided by their key workers, employers must also now consider their obligations as to when to report issues relating to Covid-19.
To their credit, the HSE have recently published guidance in respect of this issue. In summary, an incident must only be reported in the following circumstances:
- An unintended incident at work has led to someone’s possible or actual exposure to coronavirus e.g. a lab worker accidentally smashes a glass vial containing the COVID-19 virus, leading to people being exposed.
Cases of Disease: Exposure to a Biological Agent
- A worker has been diagnosed as having COVID-19 and there is reasonable evidence that they were exposed because of their work e.g. a healthcare professional is diagnosed with COVID-19 after treating patients with the disease.
Whilst the examples provided by the HSE are helpful, they do tend to over-simplify the situation. Unfortunately there is no specific guidance, as yet, in terms of how those employers and employees who cannot easily distinguish when, where or how individuals might have contracted the disease should deal with matters. For example, teachers, couriers and shop workers who are, thankfully for the rest of us, still putting themselves front and centre to keep the nation moving.
There are the added considerations that people are being discouraged from going to their GP or hospital. Moreover, not all carriers will show symptoms. This poses the question: are employers now expected (to a certain extent) to also diagnose illnesses, or are employees expected to self-diagnose, but with what degree of caution and based on what information? Unfortunatley there are no specific answers at this time.
With this in mind, businesses should establish whether there has been a formal diagnosis, rather than a mere suspicion of the virus, and what evidence supports it being caused by exposure at work. We are learning more and more about the virus on a daily basis, including its transmissibility. Therefore, employers may be justifiably cautious or indeed uncertain as to how they should deal with suspected cases. The advice in this regard is simple – if in doubt get in touch with the team at Markel Law, especially when one considers that a failure to report under RIDDOR, where required to do so, is a criminal offence which can lead to an unlimited fine.