I’ve avoided jumping on to the panic bandwagon surrounding Coronavirus over the last few weeks, but as the UK sees more and more cases daily and as I’ve started to receive some queries from employers, I think it’s time to address this.
As it stands, the UK still only has 51 cases of Coronavirus (Covid-19) however the government has said that it is ‘highly likely’ that we will see further infection over the next few weeks, even months, and that we may see up to a fifth of the workforce off sick at the same time.
What should you be doing now
Naturally, some of your employees may be feeling a little nervous at this time, especially those that are dealing with members of the public, so as an employer what should you be doing?
Remember you have a duty of care to protect the health and safety of your staff which means not placing any member of staff at unnecessary or avoidable risk. You can minimise risk with the following actions:
Remind everyone to wash their hands regularly – a quick tickle with some water won’t get rid of the virus so think about displaying this poster on how to properly wash your hands.
Consider providing hand sanitisers for any person working away from the office without ready access to handwashing facilities or for those who may be required to shake hands with people throughout the day. (*Amazon still have some multipacks available but supplies are running low!)
Ensure that there are sufficient anti-bacterial cleaning materials available for wiping down surfaces and remind people that keyboards, mouses and cars are some of the grubbiest places so they should be given a clean as well.
Consider replacing hand towels in kitchens and bathrooms with single use paper towels for a short time. I wouldn’t normally advocate this on environmental grounds but it’s a temporary measure to help reduce the spread.
Currently the only individuals who need to self-isolate are:
those who have been to a Category 1 area (currently Wuhan, Hubei in China, Iran, Daegu or Cheongdo in Republic of Korea and certain areas in Northern Italy);
those who have been to a Category 2 area and have any symptoms, however mild, of a cough, high temperature or shortness of breath;
those who have been in contact with an infected person (within 2 metres of someone with the virus is judged to be a sufficient risk)
those are symptomatic and have been advised by the health service to self-isolate.
Your normal rules for sickness absence will apply during this time but self-isolation has understandably raised questions about whether individuals are eligible to be paid. The latest information from the government and ACAS is and that if NHS 111 or a doctor has told someone to self-isolate they are entitled to statutory sick pay. If you offer contractual sick pay it’s not mandatory, but it’s good practice to provide this in line with your normal terms.
Update: 4th March 2020 - The government have announced today that SSP will be payable for those suffering from the virus, or self-isolating due to the virus, from the first day of absence, rather than the fourth day as for all other absences.
You will need to be realistic about certifying absences at this time. Individuals who are self-isolating for 2 weeks are unlikely to be able to get a GP certificate. We are reviewing whether the NHS will be issuing certificates for people who have isolated.
If you tell someone not to come to work, even if they’re not sick or symptomatic, you should pay them their normal pay. (For example this may apply if they’ve come from an affected area but are not symptomatic).
If someone needs time to look after someone who is affected, either with the virus or as a result of the virus (i.e. school closures or to assist someone in isolation), the normal rules on Time Off for Dependants will apply and there is no right to pay for this time off but you might consider offering them some holiday to help with this.
There’s lots of information out there if you want to read more on this but if the advice changes significantly we will update you.
Please note our blog posts contain general information and are intended as guidance only and should not be taken as an authoritative or current interpretation of the law. Please ensure that you obtain advice tailored to your individual situation before taking action. These posts apply to the UK only.