How should employers be responding to coronavirus?

26 February 2020

As businesses take action to stem the spread of coronavirus and protect employees, our employment solicitor Tom martin offers the latest advice for employers

How should employers be planning for coronavirus?

Following the increasing number of confirmed coronavirus cases, businesses are busy putting people management plans in place. With all the confusion out there, I suggest addressing the following priorities if you're an employer:

Business Travel – If employees are required to travel abroad, such travel should be restricted to affected areas on a “needs must” basis. Only necessary travel should be undertaken, particularly to China, Italy and other affected areas. Of course, many countries have themselves imposed stringent travel restrictions.

Personal Travel – Make sure your business is fully up to speed with where your employees are going during any time off. If they're travelling to affected areas, then you discuss if it would be prudent for them to self-isolate on their return for a period of time (usually 14 days).

If they can work from home, this would make the decision easier. Ultimately, if it is the decision of the business that the employee should self-isolate, then the employee should be receiving full pay during their isolation regardless of whether they work from home (subject to the terms of their contract). If they take the decision to self-isolate themselves, against the recommendation of the company, then the usual sickness absence procedure should be applied. This is subject to the government extending the self-certification period to 14 days and agreeing to cover Statutory Sick Pay for that period for any employers with less than 250 staff.

Symptoms – Those who show symptoms of coronavirus, having come back from an affected area, should be encouraged to self-isolate. Such employees would be entitled to their relevant sick pay entitlements (as a minimum) during this period. They can confirm this by a phone call to 111, as the advice is to avoid going to the doctors or hospital if you have suspected symptoms.

Possible closures – If it does spread further into the UK, you might consider the closure of the workplace on a temporary basis. Where this happens, you should arrange for them to work from home, but in any event, employees should be paid. This is subject to any relevant contractual provisions to the contrary.

Workplace hygiene – This opportunity should be taken to remind staff to maintain hygiene standards within an office or workplace. You may also wish to review any cleaning services you have in place.

Generally, businesses should be making sure everyone is aware of whatever procedure(s) are being rolled out, and how to spot symptoms. There is no hard-and-fast rule here. It's likely that plans may have to be reactive to the fast-changing landscape surrounding coronavirus, and that contingencies are put in place to prepare for the worst-case scenario.

The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas), has also issued detailed guidance on the subject, which can be found on their website (www.acas.org.uk). If you need further information, please don't hesitate to contact one of our employment experts.


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