What can I do to help prevent the potential spread of Coronavirus in the workplace?
The World Health Organisation have issued guidance setting out basic protective measures, which is available here: https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/advice-for-public. Employers can share this guidance with staff (there are posters that can be put up in bathroom facilities, staff kitchens, etc.), and ensure that adequate supplies of handwash, tissues, etc. are available.
Also, if your workplace has a culture of ridiculing people for taking time off when they have a cold, this risks encouraging people to come in when they are not well, and could contribute to the spread of any infection, be it Coronavirus or the common cold, and so it may be appropriate to review how managers react to staff calling in sick.
Non-essential business travel should also be considered carefully, particularly to restricted areas, and Foreign Office guidance should be checked prior to undertaking any travel (https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice).
What if I have an employee who is fine, but has been told to self-quarantine, as they have returned from an affected area and/or have had contact with somebody affected. What do I do?
The nature of the employee’s job is key here, as if they are able to work from home, they should do so and receive their normal pay. Regular contact via phone, email, video calls, etc. should be maintained during that time. However, if they work in a hands-on or face-to-face role, working from home may not be possible. Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, and ACAS (the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) have advised that employers may view time off for such employees as sick leave, or may offer employees the opportunity to take the time as holiday.
Employees who are deemed as being off sick should receive Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) as a minimum; the current guidelines for this are here: https://www.gov.uk/statutory-sick-pay. However, employers should check their sickness absence policies and contracts, as they may have made provision for unwell employees to receive occupational sick pay.
One of my employees has symptoms following a recent trip to an affected area, and/or has been diagnosed. What do I do?
This employee should not attend work as they are unwell, and so for pay purposes, will be treated as any other employee who is off sick (see above). Given patients suspected of having Coronavirus are being told not to attend medical centres, but to call the NHS 111 service, employers should bear in mind that affected employees may not be able to produce a note from their doctor.
Other employees are likely to be concerned about this, and the basic protective measures set out by the World Health Organisation (see above) should be emphasized in the first instance. The question of whether or not you should tell staff to not come to work or take other measures such as advising staff to self-isolate will very much depend on the circumstances. Government advice is under constant review, and so official advice specific to the situation should be sought at that time.
One of my employees has asked to take time off to look after their children, as the school has been closed/the child has been told to self-isolate following a school trip to an affected area. What do I do?
Parents and other people who care for children have statutory entitlements to time off to look after the children in various circumstances. Guidance on this, and how this should be addressed from a pay perspective, is available here: https://www.gov.uk/time-off-for-dependants.
It may also be appropriate to explore if the employee is able to undertake work from home, or if they wish to use some of their holiday allowance (although you cannot force them to take holiday).
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