How will Coronavirus (COVID-19) affect Workplaces?

Posted on March 3, 2020
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If you’re concerned about how the intensifying Coronavirus outbreak situation will affect workplaces, we have the latest guidance to help employers and employees stay safe and stop the spread at work.

Latest information from the World Health Organisation suggests Coronavirus, or COVID-19, could be set to reach most, if not all countries, and it’s already affecting business in a big way: stock markets across the globe have just suffered their worst week since the 2008 financial crisis.

Limiting the chance of the virus spreading in public places is key to minimising the scale of the pandemic, so it’s best to be prepared and well-informed should coronavirus spread more widely in the UK.

What can employers do about Coronavirus?

There are three main ways employers can protect their workforce:

  • Communication– make sure all staff contact numbers and emergency contact details are up to date, and that employees know what to do in the event of a Coronavirus case in your area
  • Policies and procedures – ensure managers are clear on sickness reporting, sick pay, absence policy and health & safety procedures
  • Hygiene – provide and encourage the use of clean areas for staff to wash hands, hand sanitiser and tissues

What should you do if someone at work contracts Coronavirus?

If someone becomes unwell at work and it is suspected that they may have been exposed to Coronavirus, they should:

  • Get at least 2 metres (7 feet) away from other people
  • Go to a different room or behind a closed door
  • Avoid touching surfaces or objects
  • Only cough or sneeze into a tissue, which should be placed into a bin afterward (if no tissues are to hand, they should sneeze into the crook of their elbow)
  • Use a separate bathroom if possible

The unwell person should then call 111 for NHS advice, or if they are extremely unwell call 999. They should tell the operator their symptoms, and which country they’ve returned from in the last 14 days.

Should a workplace close if an employee has contracted Coronavirus?

Current advice does not indicate the likelihood of workplaces needing to close if an employee contracts Coronavirus. In this instance, the local Public Health England (PHE) health protection team will get in contact with the employer to discuss the case, identify those who have been in contact with the affected person, carry out a risk assessment and offer advice on actions or precautions to take.

If the need should arise to close workplaces temporarily, it’s important that employers and staff have good lines of communication in place and flexible working arrangements. For instance, staff with work laptops or mobile phones could carry out their duties from home, or employers could provide paperwork tasks for staff who do not work on computers to complete away from the workplace. In the event that it becomes necessary for an employer to close down a workplace temporarily, they will need to pay their employees for this time unless otherwise specified in their contract.

How does Coronavirus affect pay procedures?

The usual sick leave and pay entitlements apply if someone has Coronavirus. Staff should let their employers know as soon as possible if they are not able to go to work. If the workplace sickness policy requires evidence from staff of their illness, such as obtaining a sick note, employers may need to be more flexible to allow for quarantine situations.

The government has announced emergency Coronavirus legislation regarding Statutory Sick Pay, which will now be paid from day one of illness rather than on the fourth day. This is intended to prevent employees from feeling obliged to attend work despite being ill, so as not to spread infection.

SSP will be paid to all those who choose to self-isolate, even if they don’t have any symptoms. Rather than requiring a sick note from a doctor, those in self-isolation will be able to get a sick note by calling 111. Plus, those on employment contributory Support Allowance can claim from day one rather than after a week.

Employees are also entitled to time off work to help a dependant in an emergency. For example, if their child’s school was closed due to Coronavirus or their child or other dependant became ill or needed to go into quarantine. There would be no statutory right to pay in these circumstances, but employers may offer pay depending on their individual workplace policies and contracts.

To ease the burden on small businesses, the cost of providing SSP for up to 14 days will be refunded in full by the Government for businesses with fewer than 250 employees.

How will Coronavirus affect employees who travel for work?

Employers would be wise to reconsider planned international travel to affected areas, and should check the latest travel information. Where employees have recently returned from affected areas, employers can recommend they work remotely to help limit the chances of infection spreading and pay them as normal in this instance.

What if staff don’t want to come into work because of Coronavirus?

If employees have genuine concerns about the spread of Coronavirus, employers should try to resolve them and protect the health and safety of their staff. It may be possible for example, to offer flexible working arrangements to the workforce.

Alternatively, employers may choose to allow staff to take the time off as holiday or unpaid leave, although the employer is not obliged to agree to this, and employees who refuse to attend work could be subject to disciplinary action.

Learn more about our Employment Law services. For further support or advice from our Employment Law experts, please get in touch with our team via email or call 01702 332 311.

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