The situation with the coronavirus is changing rapidly.
Now officially named Covid-19, the virus was declared a global health emergency by the World Health Organization in January 2020. Although the UK risk level is ‘moderate’, this may well change in the not too distant future, and as the virus continues to spread, it could pose a threat to some organisations.
As an employer, we know the coronavirus is a concern, and one diagnosis could impact the entire business. The coronavirus outbreak could also begin to throw up a variety of employment law issues including questions surrounding travel, health and safety concerns and sickness and absence.
We know this can be a daunting time for employers and we want to support you to be confident and informed in dealing with any issues, questions or challenges that arise during the next few months during these uncertain times.
How to manage absence in the event of a diagnosis
If an employee is diagnosed or has suspected symptoms and is off work, your standard absence procedures should be used, and employees should ensure they adhere to these. You should schedule telephone catch-ups to keep the lines of communication open with your employee at reasonable intervals and at a time that is agreeable to both parties.
With regards to pay, any entitlement to company sick pay will be governed by the contract of employment. You may wish to consider offering discretionary sick pay if staff would otherwise try to return to work while sick for financial reasons.
If you have requested that an employee remain away from work (for example if they have travelled to China), they should be paid as usual.
What if an employee refuses to come to work?
Nobody knows how the situation may unfold over the coming weeks or months, and you may, as an employer, be faced with situations you have never had to deal with before such as employees being reluctant to attend work because of the fear of infection.
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This can be a grey area and refusing to allow employees to stay at home could potentially lead to legal claims. Things to consider in this situation may be:
- Consider if that employee is classed as high risk
- Remain informed with the most up to date (reliable) information and regularly re-assess the risk
- Acknowledge your employee’s concerns and try to find a way to alleviate their worries, perhaps changing their working hours or allowing them to work from home may be a more suitable and flexible solution
Communication to staff about the coronavirus
It is vital during this time that you keep the lines of communication with your staff open. As an employer, you can try and educate your staff without causing panic by keeping them up to date with factual and accurate information from a reliable source. Information could be communicated by email, in team meetings or on posters and advice notices around the office where they are accessible to everyone.
It is important to communicate to staff that they must be open and honest with you about any concerns. If they feel they may have symptoms they need to know that they can come to you or be away from work without fear of reprimand for the safety of themselves and in relation to protecting others within the business.
You must be beginning to consider business continuity plans if your organisation trades or relies on suppliers from outside of the UK.
With the number of cases accelerating by the day and the number of countries affected continuing to rise, the outbreak could quickly bring global business to a standstill, so you must be prepared and have longer-term plans in place.
The CIPD has provided these fantastic tips to support you and your business through his global public health emergency:
- Follow public health agency advice on efficient ways to contain the virus
- Keep up to date with government advice and adapt business plans to reflect changes
- Actively communicate these plans with your people, customers and suppliers
- Look at options for people to work remotely to prevent the spread of infection
- For customer-facing organisations consider using self-serve customer options such as telephone and online services to minimise face to face interaction
- Review your policies and procedures on health reporting, office and personal hygiene protective equipment, social distancing and working hours
- Consider providing additional training to your people working in critical areas, so others have the skills to fill in for absent colleges
Additional action to take
As well as looking at your procedures, policies and business plan/disaster recovery plan, there are also some simple actions you can take to help protect your employees and your business:
- Provide tissues and hand sanitiser and encourage use around the office
- Ensure office equipment such as phones and keyboards are being cleaned down and sanitised regularly
- Encourage staff to be vigilant and keep themselves up to date and informed about the situation
- Limited any global travel unless necessary
At the moment, it is impossible to second guess what will happen in the coming weeks due to the uncertainty around the exact characteristics of the coronavirus. It is essential, however, that as an employer, you are as prepared as you can be to ensure the health and safety of your employees and business continuity as far as possible for your business. Our advice would be to remain flexible and keep the situation under review. Ensure you are keeping up to date with changes and taking heed of the government advice.
Although as a business, you must ensure security and that things stay as normal as possible, it is essential to remember that employees may be feeling fearful, worried and uncertain at this time. As an employer, it is within your duty to ensure you are doing as much as possible to support them while ensuring you are using your business policies to guide your decision making.
Any further questions? Get in touch we’d love to hear from you.