What does your business need to do about Coronavirus?
Please note that this guidance is correct at the date stated and may be subject to change as the progression of coronavirus – and plans to tackle it – develop.
You are advised to monitor guidance from the government and news networks in order to remain up to date and to take advice from us in the event of staff matters.
The NHS advises that the symptoms of Coronavirus are a cough, a high temperature and a shortness of breath.
Unfortunately, these symptoms could indicate a number of common health conditions such as cold and flu. If an employee has these symptoms and is worried, you should advise them to call 111.
If you have any reason to believe that their symptoms may be Coronavirus – for example due to recent travel to an at risk area or contact with another affected person – then you should either send them home or ask them to stay in a separate area such as a private office, and to use a separate toilet facility if possible, while they call 111 for advice.
The NHS does not know exactly how Coronavirus is passed on, but it seems likely that it is through coughing and sneezing, in the same way as other viruses.
Practical steps for businesses
It is recommended that you take the following practical steps to reduce the risks of Coronavirus spreading in your workplace and to demonstrate to staff that you are taking reasonable measures to protect them:
- Raise awareness of the symptoms of Coronavirus and what staff should look out for.
- Advise staff of the need to wash their hands. About a third of people don’t wash their hands regularly e.g. after using the toilet. You may wish to source posters about the importance of handwashing and correct handwashing technique to display in the workplace.
- Advise staff of the need to catch any sneezes in a tissue and to dispose of them quickly, and to cover their mouth with a tissue or their sleeve when coughing. If they cover their mouth with their hand they will need to wash their hands straight away.
- Provide tissues and hand sanitiser, and make sure that they’re easily accessible and available.
- You may also wish to provide face masks – these are not a guaranteed protection against Coronavirus as the virus can still transmit through the eyes and tiny viral particles that can get through the mask, however they are effective at capturing sneeze/cough droplets and so it may help stop someone with Coronvirus from passing it on.
- Consider whether any members of the workforce can work from home, and make preparations in case you need to implement that. Some employees will be able to take a laptop home and continue working almost as normal. Others may be able to carry out some paper-based work or perhaps some online or paper-based training or forward planning that may have been put off during busy times.
- Keep staff updated on at-risk areas, if they’re likely to be travelling for work or personal reasons and communicate what you will do in terms of pay in connection with travel to at-risk areas – see below.
- Make sure that you have up-to-date contact details for all staff members, and up-to-date emergency contact information for family members or friends of employees.
- Have a plan for communicating a need to close the business for a period of time, including an alternative telephone number for staff to contact the management team on.
In addition to the above, you should make sure that you can identify any high-risk employees – for example, pregnant women, or staff with respiratory or lung conditions (e.g. COPD chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). You may need to take extra measures to protect them.
If there is any reason to believe that one of these high-risk staff might be at risk in the workplace, for example if other employees have returned from at-risk areas and are in work, then you should consider sending the high-risk staff member home for their own health.
If they can work from home that should be considered – failing that, you will need to pay them for the time off.
Guidance on business travel
The list of at-risk areas is being regularly updated and is available here:
If your staff members travel for work, consider whether they need to go to an at-risk area and rearrange travel wherever possible.
If a trip is unavoidable, you will need to agree with the employee what steps you will take to maintain communication, and ensure that any travel insurance will cover costs associated with Coronavirus, such as:
- Medical treatment
- Accommodation and food if required to remain in the at-risk area longer than anticipated
- Payment of salary and benefits if required to remain in the at-risk area longer than anticipated
- Return travel.
If your staff need to travel to an area that is not currently designated as at-risk, it is recommended that you still have an agreement on the above, in case the situation changes whilst the staff member is overseas.
Staff absence and pay
Staff may be absent from work for a variety of reasons. For example, if they have undertaken personal travel and are delayed in returning home, if they have been put in quarantine or advised to self-isolate, if they are feeling unwell, or if they are simply worried about coming in to work.
There may also be circumstances in which staff wish to attend work, but you prefer them to be absent. For example, if they have been to an at-risk area, are displaying symptoms of Coronavirus or you’re considering a temporary business closure.
Whether you are obliged to pay staff for absence – and whether that pay is full pay, sick pay or statutory guarantee pay – depends on the circumstances and the status of guidance at the time of absence.
If you are facing a staff absence and would like guidance on what you’re obliged to pay, please contact us for up to date advice.
For help with this or any other employment law or HR matter, please get in touch!