During a flu pandemic, can an employer require its employees to take on different roles to cover absence due to flu?
An employer can require its employees to undertake different roles within the business where the contract of employment allows for this. The employer should consider the relevant job descriptions to see if they encompass the proposed changes, or if the contract contains a flexibility clause that allows the employer to vary the employees' roles and/or duties. Where this is not the case, employers must remain conscious of the difficulties of unilaterally imposing contractual changes, which may result in claims for constructive unfair dismissal. Any changes should therefore be undertaken with early consultation and with a view to reaching agreement with employees. An employee may be taken to have agreed to contractual changes by carrying out the varied role without complaint.
An employer should also ensure that appropriate training is given to any employees who may be required to carry out unfamiliar tasks. Young and pregnant workers should be borne in mind in any temporary reorganisation and should not be substituted into inappropriate work.