Coronavirus Advice for EmployersNatalie Lewis
Updated [5th March 2020]
I am very aware that employers are getting increasingly concerned by the spread of Coronavirus. Read this coronavirus advice for employers and avoid disruption in your business.
One diagnosis in your business or in a shared office space could impact your entire business. Any outbreak may well create a variety of employment law issues including questions surrounding travel, health and safety concerns and sickness absence.
It’s unlikely that you’ve ever had to deal with anything like this before and so I’ve put together a blog outlining the most important things employers need to be aware of.
Coronavirus Advice for Employers
I’ve included information on:
- Managing the risk
- How to manage absence in the event of a diagnosis
- What to do if an employee refuses to come to work
- How to communicate with your employees on this topic
- Putting together a disaster recovery plan in order to ensure business continuity
- Additional actions to take and good practice to encourage in your workplace
Covid-19 or more commonly known in the press as Coronavirus has been declared a global health emergency by the World Health Organisation in January. Whilst the risk is moderate, this could change if the virus continues to spread and it could in turn pose a threat to your business.
Managing the risk
In the next few weeks and months, you will need to monitor employees returning from holiday, sporting events and national travel. Any of those employees returning from risk areas will need to follow the relevant advice at the time which may include self-isolating for 14 days, certainly if they are unwell or showing symptoms. Employees returning from abroad and especially the high risk areas that feel unwell should not come into work or go to their GP or A&E, instead they should ring NHS 111.
Your office and working environment should be cleaned daily with products suitable for killing viruses (not just antibacterial!) and you should aim to provide tissues and hand sanitizer (60% alcohol content minimum). Staff should be encouraged to wash their hands frequently and avoid touching their faces.
It may be advised to reduce handshaking but this has not been a proven prevention method.
In the coming weeks or months, it may be advised that workers carry out their work from home where possible. You should have contingency plans in place (read the rest of the article).
How to manage absence in the event of a diagnosis
In the event that one of your employees is diagnosed or is showing symptoms, your normal sickness policies and procedures should be followed. It’s recommended that you schedule regular telephone or video calls to maintain communication if they are well enough to do so.
Any payment of sick pay will be governed by their contract of employment. Additional discretionary sick pay may be considered if your company pays Statutory Sick Pay.
UPDATE: There may be a statutory obligation on an employer to pay someone SSP where they have been given a written notice from a medical practitioner or the emergency services to self-isolate.
The Prime Minister announced on 4 March 2020 that as part of the Government’s emergency Coronavirus legislation, the Health Secretary would be bringing forward temporary measures to provide for payment of SSP from the first day of related sickness absence rather than the fourth as it normally is. Further details of this intended rule change are yet to be revealed. I will update this article when they are.
If you have asked an employee to stay away from work because, for example, they’ve just returned from travelling to China, they should be paid as usual. If a medical practitioner or the emergency services have told someone to self-isolate, SSP should be paid as above.
You should be clear on your intentions when an employee is asked to self-isolate. In many office based businesses, you may be able to agree that the employee works from wherever they’ve been isolated and therefore they would be paid as normal.
Where this is not possible, individual and professional advice should be sought to prevent your business from unwanted claims.
If someone needs time off work to care for a dependant…
Those employees who are required to look after dependents may need to take ‘time off for dependents’ (or emergency leave). This is normally a limited amount of time for arrangements to be made for others to care for the dependent but in these circumstances, the time off may be extended. Any time taken would normally be unpaid, however, the Company may want to provide some financial support if they can.
What if an employee refuses to come to work?
Ok, so no one knows how this situation will unfold over the coming weeks and months and should the virus become more prevalent in the UK, clearly employees are going to be nervous. The press is unhelpful in scaremongering and so it is likely we will encounter employees who are reluctant to attend work for fear of picking up the infection.
These sorts of situations are unprecedented but we can take guidance from similar situations such as inclement weather; refusing to allow an employee to stay at home may result in legal claims so I’d recommend that you consider the following:
- Whether the employee is classed as high risk
- Regularly assess the risk by keeping up to date with the most recent information (from reputable sources!) and make decisions based on the latest advice
- Consider your employee’s concerns and work with them to alleviate their fears
- Discuss changing their working location, hours or allow them to work from home if relevant
If you are in a situation where an employee is refusing to come to work then always get professional advice.
Communicating with employees about Coronavirus
You will need to keep your staff updated on the latest advice regarding the virus. The aim is to avoid causing panic. It is advised that you educate them using the facts that you have available using reputable sources of information. It is recommended that you use your normal methods of communication such as email, noticeboards, posters or team apps like Slack and use multiple channels so that the messages are accessible to everyone.
You must ensure that if a member of staff develops symptoms or has concerns they feel comfortable coming to you without fear of reprisal. This is important for the safety of themselves and for the protection of others in your business.
Ensuring business continuity – having a disaster recovery plan
It’s one of those things that I bet you’ve been meaning to put in place (!) but a disaster recovery plan is worth its weight in gold if things go wrong. Here are some elements to consider:
- If your business trades outside the UK or you rely on foreign suppliers, have a contingency
- Follow public health guidance on how to best contain the virus
- Keep up to date with government advice regarding travel and operations and be ready to adapt business plans to reflect these changes
- Look at options for people to work remotely and from home to prevent spread of infection
- If you have a customer facing element to your business, consider using telephone or video calling services to reduce face to face interaction
- Actively communicate your plans with your customers, suppliers, employees and other stakeholders
- Increase your office and personal hygiene practices including educating staff in the basics of hand washing and keeping themselves healthy (provide tissues and hand sanitiser gel around the office)
- Limit global travel
- If you have an office pet or allow dogs in your offices, be aware that dogs may be a carrier of coronaviruses in general. Consider alternative care for pets during any outbreak.
Whether the Coronavirus goes global or not, I’d urge you to have a disaster recovery plan in place anyway!
It’s impossible to accurately predict what the Coronavirus will do in the next number of weeks but as an employer it is your responsibility to be as prepared as possible not only for the health and safety of your team but also to ensure business continuity.
Keep calm, carry on but do please have a plan in place, just in case!