Coronavirus (COVID-19)

There is mounting concern over the spread of the coronavirus that has become a worldwide issue over the past few months.

As this is a developing issue, employers are recommended to follow the latest government advice, which can be found here government advice on COVID-19.

The website updates at 2pm each day with the latest information and advice.

Currently, the advice is that anyone returning from Iran, lockdown areas of Italy and South Korea or Hubei province in China, should remain at home even if they have no symptoms of a respiratory condition.

Employees who have returned from mainland China, Thailand, Japan, Republic of Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, Macau, anywhere in Italy, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos or Myanmar should remain at home if they show any symptoms such as cough, fever or shortness of breath, however mild.

If this is the case for any employee then they should call NHS 111.

As a basic precaution, employees should be reminded that good hygiene is always important and the World Health Organisation recommends the following measures to protect yourself from a virus:

  • Wash your hands – soap or hand gel can kill the virus;
  • Cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing – ideally with a tissue – and wash your hands afterwards, to prevent the virus spreading;
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth – if your hands touch a surface contaminated by the virus, this could transfer it into your body;
  • Don’t get too close to people coughing, sneezing or with a fever – they can propel small droplets containing the virus into the air – ideally, keep 1m (3ft) away.

Employees travelling overseas from the UK, should monitor the advice from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office or the World Health Organisation.

The FCO is currently advising against all travel to Hubei Province and the city of Daegu in South Korea, and against all but essential travel to the rest of mainland China, the city Cheongdo, in South Korea and Italy.

Employers should consider other options if travel to these regions is planned such as Skype Calls or other video conferencing resources.

Travel advice can be found by clicking the links below:

WORLD HEALTH ORGANISATION

FOREIGN AND COMMONWEALTH TRAVEL OFFICE

What do I do with employees who are quarantined or in self-isolation?

You may be able to agree to homeworking.

If not then employees are entitled to receive statutory sick pay.

On the 4th March, the Government announced that for individuals who have been advised to self-isolate or are quarantined, statutory sick pay rules will be changed to allow statutory sick pay (SSP) to come into force on the first day of absence, rather than the current fourth day.

This is taking into consideration the public health recommendations to prevent the spread of the virus.

Employees can self certify as normal for the first seven days of a self-isolation/quarantined period.

Patients with suspected Coronavirus (Covid-19) who self-isolate can request a confirmation email from NHS 111 instead of a sick note from their GP.

Whether you pay contractual sick pay is entirely at your discretion although it is recommended that usual Company sick pay rules are maintained.

What about employees who state that they do not want to come to work?

You may find that an employee is refusing to work because they’re worried about contracting the virus.

In this situation:

  • Listen to the employee’s concerns carefully to understand why they are in fear.
  • Reassure and share government guidance.
  • If you can offer to work from home then do so.
  • You can look at unpaid or annual leave if this is an option.
  • If they still refuse to come in, we may need to consider a formal process but this is a last resort and we need to be mindful of their reasons including underlying family health or mental ill health.

What if I send employees home?

In this situation, you would be liable to pay employees full pay.

What should I do if an employee is tested positive for Coronavirus?

Ask the affected employee to self-isolate and communicate calmly with co-workers.

The relevant local authority health protection team should be notified and their advice followed.

Communication with colleagues should be calm and the advice of the authorities followed which could include self-isolation for all or some staff.

The confidentiality of an employee with confirmed Coronavirus must be maintained.

What should I do if schools are closed?

Assess whether employees can work from home or whether holiday entitlement can be taken.

Employees may, however, require immediate emergency leave or a period of unpaid parental leave.

Employees are entitled to a reasonable amount of unpaid emergency leave to enable them to deal with an emergency involving a child or other dependant.

This is likely to be the case immediately if a school closes.

After 1 years’ service, employees with children are entitled to take unpaid parental leave.

The maximum entitlement is eighteen weeks’ unpaid leave for each child, which may be taken in blocks of one week at any time up to the child’s eighteenth birthday.

You may experience an increased number of requests for this type of leave.

Also, explore other options of taking holiday entitlement or unpaid leave, perhaps combined so there is an ease on cash flow without the employee being without any pay.

Employee Conduct

A number of reports in the media have shown increased hostility and/or harassment towards those who are of Asian origin or, perceived to be from an affected area.

Employers are best to remind employees, that whist you will do everything you can to keep people informed, they are still bound by dignity at work policies and inappropriate comments or ‘banter’ will not be tolerated.

Do I need to minimise UK travel?

Whilst there is no current Government advice, a common sense approach should be taken in an attempt to minimise risk and potential spread.

Encourage phone or remote meetings.

Industry downturn in work

If there is a downturn in work due to the virus, you may need to consider some short time working or layoffs.

Check your contracts for the contractual right to lay people off.

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