In light of the spread of Ebola and the daily media coverage, we thought it would be useful to provide a short briefing on what clients need to be aware of in terms of Ebola in the employment context.  The issue could be live in one of two ways: employees who have travelled to affected countries, and employees who come into contact with people who have travelled from affected countries.  How far does an employer’s duty of care extend?

The basic information about the current Ebola outbreak is well-known.  The affected countries are Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia.  Ebola is transmitted by direct contact with the blood or body fluids of an infected person; it is not transmitted through ordinary social contact, such as shaking hands or travelling on public transport.  The incubation period is 2 – 21 days and Ebola is only transmitted by someone who is symptomatic.

Employers have a duty to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health safety and welfare of employees.  As yet, there is no published Ebola guidance from the Health & Safety Executive or Public Health England for employers in general.  Public Health England’s guidance remains that the overall risk of Ebola to the UK remains low.

How might Ebola affect your organisation?

Some employees may be in contact with individuals who have travelled from affected countries, for example those involved in the provision and management of university student accommodation.  Alternatively, employees may have travelled to affected countries for personal reasons.  Drawing on the official guidance that is available, employers should be mindful of the following:-

Employee contact with clients who have travelled from an affected country

• Exit screening is in place to try and ensure that individuals who are unwell do not board flights.
• Employees who have contact with, for example, international students should be aware of Ebola’s symptoms and what they should do if they identify someone who has travelled from an affected country in the past 21 days and who demonstrates those symptoms.

Employees who have visited an affected country

• You can ask employees who are requesting leave to tell you if they are travelling to affected countries – this should be asked of all employees, not just those who you think are most likely to visit West Africa.
• The purpose of asking is to enable you to ensure that employees who have recently returned from one of the affected countries are fully aware of the symptoms of Ebola and what to do if they experience any of them.
• An employee should not be excluded from the workplace simply because they have travelled from an affected country.  To do so could give rise to a complaint of indirect discrimination on grounds of nationality and, based on current guidance, it would be difficult to demonstrate that excluding the employee from the workplace as a precaution was a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.

In any steps taken, employers will not want to cause unnecessary alarm or stigma amongst the workforce.  As is often the case, communication will be key.

For further information please contact Kirsty Thompson or your usual contact in the Employment Team at Devonshires.

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