- Stay up to date with the latest guidance.
The situation is obviously changing quite quickly, so employers should ensure they stay up to date with the latest government guidance and advice from public health agencies. See below for the list of useful contacts and sign up to receive email updates from the Government.
Consider if any travel planned to affected areas is essential.
- Communicate – keep your staff informed.
ACAS have produced some useful guidance for employers which we recommend you read and circulate to staff. https://www.acas.org.uk/coronavirus.
Ensure you have up to date contact and emergency contact details for your team.
Implement a reporting procedure for individuals who have recently visited “high-risk” areas, such as China, Northern Italy, Iran, etc. See specified areas and countries for further details.
Ensure Managers are fully briefed on how to spot symptoms of coronavirus and are clear on any relevant processes, such as absence reporting and if someone in the workplace develops the virus.
Have a contingency plan in place – It would be sensible to review your business continuity plan to ensure you know what to do if the threat level increases. Consider what you can do in advance to facilitate home working and to maintain key trading functions.
- Health, Safety and Wellbeing
Employers have a duty to ensure the health and safety of their employees and non-employees (contractors, members of the public, etc.) so far as is reasonably practicable. This would include taking reasonable steps to control the spread of the coronavirus at sites under the control of the employer.
Make sure there are facilities to wash hands with hot water and soap and encourage everyone to wash their hands regularly.
Public Health England are recommending that you wash your hands more often than usual, for 20 seconds each time with soap and water or hand sanitiser, especially on the following occasions when you:
- Get home or into work
- Blow your nose, sneeze or cough
- Eat or handle food
Provide hand sanitiser and tissues for staff and encourage them to use them.
Consider if protective face masks might help for people working in particularly vulnerable situations.
- If an employee is diagnosed?
- Your normal absence reporting and sick pay entitlements will apply.
- If an employee is advised by a medical professional or NHS 111 to self-isolate for up to two weeks?
- Your normal absence reporting and sick pay entitlement will apply.
- Employers might need to be flexible if they require evidence from the employee or worker. For example, someone might not be able to provide a sick note if told to self-isolate for up to two weeks.
3. If the employer advises the employee not to attend the workplace?
- You will be required to pay the employee as normal.
- If the employee decides they do not wish to attend the workplace due to fears about the Coronavirus?
You will not be required to pay sick pay. However, you should:
- listen to any concerns the employee may have.
- if there are genuine concerns, you must try to resolve them to protect the health and safety of the staff. For example, if possible, the employer could offer flexible working or work from home.
- if an employee still does not want to go in, they may be able to arrange with their employer to take the time off as holiday or unpaid leave. The employer does not have to agree to this.
- if an employee refuses to attend work, it could result in disciplinary action.
- BUT …… we recommend you talk to us before following this course of action.
Payment of Statutory Sick Pay Update
Under new measures announced at the Budget on 11 March 2020:
1. Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) will be extended to all of those who are eligible and asked to self-isolate, even if they are not showing symptoms.
- The payment, which is £94.25 per week, will be available from day one of quarantine.
- In an attempt to keep people away from GP surgeries, employees can now obtain a sick note through NHS 111.
- Under the new measures, the Government will meet the cost for businesses with fewer than 250 employees of providing SSP for 14 days.
- For those working in gig economy who are not entitled to SSP, changes will be made to the benefits system to ensure support is accessible.
- A new tax helpline has been opened to support businesses who are affected by the COVID-19 virus
What Employers should do if the employee has recently attended the workplace and has been diagnosed with the coronavirus.
The current advice from the government is that, in such circumstances, the employer should contact the Public Health England local health protection team to discuss the situation, identify people who have been in contact with the individual and discuss any actions or precautions that should be taken.
- A risk assessment will be undertaken by the health protection team and advice to the company will be based on this assessment.
- The government says that closure of the workplace is not recommended.
What Employers should do if an employee has recently returned from an area affected by coronavirus and becomes unwell:
- keep at least 2 metres (7 feet) away from other people.
- go to a room or area behind a closed door, such as a sick bay or staff office.
- avoid touching anything.
- cough or sneeze into a tissue and put it in a bin, or if they do not have tissues, cough and sneeze into the crook of their elbow.
- use a separate bathroom from others, if possible.
- You should ask the employee to use their own mobile phone to call either 111, for NHS advice or 999, if they’re seriously ill or injured or their life is at risk.
- They should tell the operator their symptoms and which country they’ve returned from in the last 14 days.
- Government’s Guidance: latest information and advice
- Government’s Guidance: guidance for employers and businesses
- Government: Foreign Travel Advice
- ACAS Guidance: Coronavirus: advice for employers and employees
- NHS Guidance: Overview
- Public Health England: Public Information Materials
What next …. Can it be contained? Could it mutate? Is it like the flu?
The coronavirus outbreak is still in its early stages, scientists and experts just do not know what will happen next, and it will take at least a year to develop a vaccine. The World Health Organisation has said a vaccine ‘cannot be made overnight’.
We recommend that you regularly check the UK government’s coronavirus (Covid-19) guidance for important updates, as medical officers may introduce new safety rules that employers and citizens need to meet and keep your employees updated. This will mean your business is in a better position should the virus become a greater threat in the future.