The World Health Organisation has declared the Coronavirus as a global pandemic due to the spread of the disease in multiple countries around the world at the same time.
Organisations are encouraged to have a management plan for dealing with the coronavirus to adhere to their statutory duty of care for health and safety of their employees and to ensure they can cope with potential business risks that may arise due to absences within the organisation but also within the supply chain.
The government have announced more stringent action to try and reduce the spread of Covid-19 and reduce the risk to those most at risk. This includes, avoiding social gatherings, avoiding unnecessary travel, working from home where possible.
How businesses should be managing absence
Employers will need a contingency plan in place in order to manage absences, particularly with the general advice being for those with symptoms to stay at home and avoid contact with others.
This may include:
- Having an up to date policy and procedure on reporting health issues – such as what and how staff must report certain health concerns and symptoms. Ensure managers know about spotting symptoms (cough/fever/breathing difficulties).
- Support with hygiene at work, such as encouraging staff to wash their hands regularly, providing hand sanitizer, sufficient breaks and facilities
- Identifying anyone potentially vulnerable (those with weakened immune system or pregnant)
- Having open communications with employees, customers and suppliers.
- Ensure emergency contact numbers are up to date.
- Identifying key roles within the business that must be covered in the event of staff absences
- Identifying those with transferable skills to cover others
- Flexible working options such as working from home to prevent the spread of the virus or if staff have self-quarantined following advice
- Review the use of technology to reduce face to face contact with others to help reduce the spread of the virus.
- Consider if travel to affected areas is essential.
What are employees entitled to in regard to Sick Pay
Where an employee has been advised to self-isolate or has returned from an affected area or showing symptoms of coronavirus, it is recommended that they will now be entitled to Statutory sick pay from day one of their absence. Therefore, we would recommend that your normal sick pay policy is followed in these circumstances or instil the SSP from day 1.
It has been advised that if one person in any household suffers symptoms (new continuous cough or fever) then everyone living there must self-isolate for 14 days. Should a household member develop coronavirus symptoms late in the 14-day household isolation period, then the isolation period does not need to be extended, but the person with the new symptoms will need to remain home for 7 days.
The government has agreed that businesses with fewer than 250 employees will be able to claim back payments of statutory sick pay for those off work due to the coronavirus for a period of up to 14 days.
Where an employee is adamant that they are fit to attend work, you may decide to suspend the employee on medical grounds, as you have a duty of care towards all employees. This should be on full contractual pay.
We would therefore advise that sick pay as a minimum is paid to those who are self-isolating in order reduce the risk of employees wanting to attend work.
Employers may also want to consider adjusting their absence recording methods and managing absences related to this virus on an individual basis to take account of potential increased absences due to this. Allowances may have to be made for staff unable to obtain a fit note due to being in quarantine; an alternative to the fit note is now available at https://111.nhs.uk/isolation-note.
Suspected cases of Coronavirus in your workplace
If an employee is taken ill at work and has travelled to an affected country then they should be moved to an area at least two metres from other people, or where possible be isolated in a well-ventilated room. 111 should be called for NHS advice.
At this point, there is no need for the workplace to be closed, or other employees sent home. You should wait for the outcome of the test results before any workplace action is taken.
Confirmed cases of Coronavirus in your workplace
This does not mean instant closure of the workplace.
The organisation will be contacted by the PHE local Health Protection Team who will conduct a risk assessment and advise on the management of staff based on this assessment. They will also contact the person directly to advice on isolation and identifying other contacts.
We would recommend that businesses follow their Business Continuity / Disaster Recovery plan where possible in the event of closure.
In some circumstances it may be that a business needs to close, this should be planned and communicated carefully, considering all the advice available. Some businesses may have contractual rights to lay off employees off for a period of time or utilise the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme which is supporting businesses furloughing workers. However, we would advise where possible that alternative options are considered:
- Annual Leave – consider asking employees if they wish to take holiday or consider unpaid annual leave.
- Allow home working where possible
- Arrange for Skype or Team meetings rather than face to face where possible.
Supporting Employee Well-being
Many employees may not be used to prolonged periods of time on their own; those that have to self-isolate or work from home may find themselves frustrated and lonely.
As an employer you still have a duty of care to support their well-being, this could be to:
- Remain in contact with them on a daily basis
- Encourage them to have regular contact (via phone) with their friends and family
- Encourage them to keep themselves busy where possible which could include, reading, cooking, completing some online learning, or doing some light exercise in the home or garden.
The risk to individuals is low, and it is advised that employers reassure their employees of this via frequent communication.
- Support for those affected b COVID-19 guidance is available at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/support-for-those-affected-by-covid-19/support-for-those-affected-by-covid-19
- Guidance on Social Distancing and for Vulnerable People is availabale at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-guidance-on-social-distancing-and-for-vulnerable-people/guidance-on-social-distancing-for-everyone-in-the-uk-and-protecting-older-people-and-vulnerable-adults
- The Foreign and Commonwealth Office are updating their advice as things progress and the latest information on travel can be found at www.gov.uk/guidance/travel-advice-novel-coronavirus.
- COVID-19: guidance for employers and businesses is produced by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and Public Health England.
- The public health information regarding Coronavirus (Covid-19) is also updated daily.
- Public Health England have issued Advice for home isolation.
- WHO are regularly updating on Covid-19 daily https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/events-as-they-happen.
Frequently Asked Questions
HR Solutions answer employers’ questions regarding: self isolating due to coronavirus, statutory sick pay (SSP), guaranteed pay, holiday pay, cancelled flights, employment contracts, short time working, forced shut down, lay off clauses and zero hour contracts; for more information visit www.hrsolutions-uk.com/coronavirus-faq.
HR Guidance and Support
For coronavirus articles and links to our webinar recording visit our dedicated page, ‘Coronavirus Advice and Guidance for Employers’. HR Solutions are here to provide you with support and advice on any employment related issues; to find out more call call us on 0844 324 5840 or contact us online.
This Coronavirus guidance article was updated on 23rd March 2020.