As the number of cases of people infected with coronavirus (COVID-19) rises globally, there are a number of factors which employers and employees should consider.
The Government have issued guidelines for steps which employers should take to help protect the health and safety of staff. There are also certain legal obligations which employers must observe.
So what can your business do to minimise risks and what legal obligations do employers have?
Good Practice Advice
- Stay up to date with current advice from the Government and public health advice
- Give consideration to any travel plans that may impact your business
- Communicate advice and actions being taken to all employees
- Ensure that all your employees contact details and emergency contact information is up to date
- Educate managers on how to spot the symptoms and are clear on what processes are in place i.e. sickness reporting and sick pay
- Promote good hand hygiene and provide a clean place with hot water and soap to wash hands as well as disposable towels and tissues
If you feel your workplace is at risk, consideration could be given to allow employees to work remotely from home, if this is applicable for their job. In these circumstances, staff would continue to be eligible for their usual pay.
Employers may also want to develop a contingency plan which takes into account current and potential impacts to the day to day operations of your business and any likely disruptions. The contingency plan should identify key people who have responsibilities for the implementation of the plan.
Statutory Sick Pay (SSP)
All employees should observe and adhere to their company’s normal policy on sick leave and sick pay entitlements.
In line with your policy, employees should let their employer know as soon as possible if they are not fit for work. They should also advise of the reason for sick leave and if possible, the timescales of when they are likely to be off.
If an employee has been advised by NHS 111 or a doctor that they should self-isolate, the Government has stated that they should receive Statutory Sick Pay (SSP). If an employer offers contractual sick pay, then it would be considered good practice to pay this as normal.
Flexibility from the employer may be needed for staff to provide any evidence associated with this as it may not be possible for the employee to provide a sick note in the usual time frame if they have been advised to self-isolate for a specific period of time.
Further information from the Government has confirmed that in the case of coronavirus, SSP will be paid from the first day of sickness as opposed to the fourth day which is the usual SSP policy. This will hopefully avoid people who are infected, coming into work due to financial strain and worries of not being paid.
So how do you determine if someone is eligible for SSP?
Employee chooses to self-isolate
If an employee chooses to self-isolate and has not been advised to do so or does not have written notice or medical advice that they must do so, they will not be entitled to SSP.
An employer chooses to send staff home or stay at home, even if they are not ill.
If an employer chooses to send staff home perhaps to self-isolate, they are entitled to their usual pay.
An employee needs to provide care for someone else affected
Employees are entitled to time off to help look after someone who depends on them (dependant) in an emergency or unexpected event. This would apply in this instance i.e. children who are infected or their school has closed or perhaps has been isolated or receiving medical attention. Employees are not automatically entitled to be paid for this time however companies can use their discretion or ask an employee to take holiday.
An employee refuses to come to work but is not ill
Some staff may have genuine concerns or are frightened by the situation therefore it would be good practice to have a discussion with your employees. The employer should try to alleviate their concerns. They may be able to use holiday or take time off, unpaid, however the employer does not need to agree to this.
Bear in mind that if an employee still refuses to come to work, they are not entitled to be paid and could also face disciplinary action.
If it is possible, employees may be able to work remotely, from home.
If an employee becomes unwell in work
If someone becomes unwell at work and has recently travelled to an area known to be affected by the virus the following advice applies:
- Get at least 2 metres away from other people
- Go to a separate room or behind a closed door.
- Avoid touching anything
- If coughing and sneezing, use tissues and dispose of them
- If possible, use a separate bathroom.
The employee should then call NHS 111 or 999 if they are seriously ill and should not visit their GP or local hospital in the first instance.
Government Advice for Employers (SSP)
Today the Government have now advised that they will fully meet the cost of providing Statutory Sick Pay for workers who are self isolating for up to 14 days, for businesses with up to 250 employees.
Advice for Employees travelling or returning from travel
There are a number of countries and areas where people are at a higher risk of coming into contact with the virus or someone with the virus.
Employers should consider whether it is necessary to travel to those areas given the risk and should follow advice from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO).
The NHS travel Advice lists a number of countries and areas where it may be necessary to get medical advice for travellers.
There are also posters to display in your workplace, available to download from the NHS website.
We will continue to keep you updated as the situation and advice changes however if you need advice for your business or your employees, contact us today.