Is the breaking of rules my problem?

25th February 2021

The hot topic of conversation this week is surely the PM’s announcement on Monday and the ‘roadmap’ out of lockdown and a return to ‘normal’ life (whatever normal now is).

Holiday companies are reporting an exponential surge in bookings since plans were unveiled and people are booking haircuts, manicures and (outside) tables at their local hostelries in their droves.

The ability to start ‘living’ again, we are told, is fully dependent upon the population abiding by the rules and not pushing the boundaries sooner than is permitted and the majority of us will do exactly that. But there are always the minority who, for whatever reason, believe they know better.

So, is this my problem? Has it got anything to do with me – as long as I am doing the ‘right’ thing? And what about employers – do they have any control over their employees when it comes to following the government guidelines and lockdown regulations?

Employer problems

 It was recently reported that a police officer in South Wales is facing a misconduct hearing after breaching coronavirus regulations and attending a house party – and then later being caught drink driving.

This follows another report that 31 police officers were fined and several of them are being investigated for misconduct after breaking lockdown rules by having their hair cut in a police station in East London.

Employers have a duty of care to protect the health, safety and welfare of their staff and customers, and therefore they should do what is reasonably practicable to try and achieve this. If you have an employee who breaks Covid-19 rules, this could have a very real impact on your business, not least because of the potential risk to your workforce, and the public, generally.

There is also clear advice about self-isolation but there have been situations when this advice has not been followed.

So how do you, as an employer, address a situation where an employee is not following the guidelines inside or outside of work?

The most important thing is to ensure your employees know exactly what is expected of them and the rules to which they should be complying. Do as much as you need to do so that you are confident they understand everything and that there is no ambiguity in what is expected.

An employee may argue that what they do in their private life is their business alone – which is true for the most part, unless of course it affects what they do in their working life. For example, if a healthcare worker is told to self-isolate but fails to do so, they are putting colleagues and (potentially) vulnerable people at risk – so their personal life crosses over into their working life. A further example would be an employee who has attended a gathering prohibited by Covid-19 rules and then posts about it on their social media. Their social media profile also contains details of where they work – and then continues to go to work as normal thereby endangering of the health and safety of work colleagues as well as potentially damaging the employer’s reputation. Discipline therefore would be justified.


How to deal with coronavirus rule breaches at work

  1. Ensure your risk assessments are up to date and relevant – and that all employees have had sight of them.
  2. Clearly communicate to your employees just how seriously you are taking the rules, and what the consequences might be if they are broken (including disciplinary action).
  3. Repeat your message – reminding them of your expectations and the government guidelines.
  4. Highlight to your employees that they also have responsibility for their own health and safety and that of their colleagues, including following health and safety guidance given by the Government.
  5. If you are confident you have done everything correctly then, if you have grounds to suspect a breach has occurred, have a conversation with the employee in question. It is well worth taking time to be absolutely certain of the facts and not relying on hearsay or third party ‘evidence.’
  6. Following this, if you consider it appropriate to proceed to a formal disciplinary, make sure you follow correct procedure – failure to do so could lead to a claim of unfair dismissal if the employee has in excess of two years’ service.
  7. Health and Safety is important at all time, but even more so during this pandemic, so deal with any issues that arise quickly. Treat each case with the seriousness it deserves and you will (hopefully) stop repeat offences.

Remember that as an employer you have a duty of care to protect your staff from reasonably foreseeable harm and you can be vicariously liable for your employees’ actions or failures.

Get in touch

If you would like to discuss any issues raised in this article, or if you would like our support with your policy stance or any specific situation related to vicarious liability, disciplinaries or the effect of Coronavirus has had on your company, our Employment Law and HR team would be delighted to hear from you.


Melanie Rowe (Senior Associate)

07854 029922