Last week, retailer Wilko apologised for sending a memo to staff advising that they could come into work if they had Covid, which drew criticism from the GMB union and employees, who called the advice ‘reckless’.

We spoke to lawyer Martin Williams, Partner and Head of Employment at leading law firm Mayo Wynne Baxter to ask whether the retailer had interpreted the ‘living with Covid’ guidance correctly.

Martin Williams told Employer News:

“The idea of “living with Covid” seems to be open to interpretation. To most right-thinking people it means being fully aware of a highly infectious virus and doing what is reasonably possible to avoid contracting it. That could mean wearing a mask, avoiding close contact with colleagues or limiting attendance at public events.

“What it should never mean as an employer, is acting as if the workplace is some big chickenpox party. Wilko’s encouragement for those with Covid to attend work if they felt fine was ridiculous and should not have reached the stage of being able to be “miscommunicated”.

“Employers have a responsibility for the health and welfare of their employees while at work. Encouraging those diagnosed with an easily communicable disease, that can result in serious illness and death, to attend work is the precise opposite of looking after the health of employees.

“The numbers of cases will continue rise if people take no precautions whatsoever. To live with a virus that is still regarded as being in the pandemic stage we all must be careful.

“Wishing a problem away will not work and if employees are diagnosed, they should not be at work.”

The GMB Union have since confirmed in a statement that they have continued to discuss the issue with the retailer and that Wilko employees who are absent due to Covid will continue to be paid, and absences for COVID will be disregarded for absence management purposes.