Coronavirus - Guidance for the Workplace

With the recent outbreak of Coronavirus, here is some guidance for you in relation to managing the work environment

General Hygiene
Based on the guidance ACAS issued very recently, at this stage it is deemed the risk of catching Coronavirus (COVID-19) in workplaces is currently low. It is still good practice to make sure everyone follows simple hygiene rules of washing hands with hot water and soap and using tissues when sneezing and coughing and disposing of these in the bin.

If employees do not want to go to work
Some people may not want to go to work if they are afraid of catching the virus. It is advised that employers should listen to concerns and if they are genuine, try to resolve them, e.g. offer homeworking. If the employee still does not want to go into work the company can offer the employee the option to take this time off as holiday or unpaid leave, but the employer does not have to agree to this. If an employee refuses to attend work it could result in formal action.

Sick pay
If an individual has Coronavirus the company’s normal sick pay arrangements would apply.
If the employee is not sick but you as the employer tell them not to come to work, employees should receive their normal pay, e.g. if an individual has been away in an affected area and you ask them not to come in just in case.

If an individual cannot work because they have either been told by a medical expert to self-isolate or they have had to go into quarantine there is no legal right for this time to be paid. However, it may be considered good practice to treat it as sick leave and follow your usual sick pay policy or agree for the time to be taken as holiday.

At present Public Health England are asking those that have travelled to certain places to self-isolate as follows:

If individuals have returned from the following areas since February 19th, 2020, they should call NHS 111 and stay indoors and avoid contact with other people even if they do not have symptoms:

• Iran
• Specific lockdown areas in Northern Italy as designated by the Government of Italy
• Special care zones in South Korea as designated by the Government of the Republic of South Korea
• Hubei province (returned in the past 14 days)

If individuals have returned from these areas since February 19th, 2020 and develop symptoms, however mild, you should stay indoors at home and avoid contact with other people immediately and call NHS 111:

• Northern Italy (defined by a line above, and not including, Pisa, Florence and Rimini),
• Vietnam
• Cambodia
• Laos
• Myanmar

If individuals have a cough, or fever or shortness of breath and have visited any of the following areas in the last 14 days they should stay indoors and call NHS 111 informing them of your recent travel to the city.

• China
• Thailand
• Japan
• Republic of Korea
• Hong Kong
• Taiwan
• Singapore
• Malaysia
• Macau

If the company needs to close the workplace
Whilst we are not at this stage yet (and hopefully won’t be), you may want to consider a plan in case you need to close the workplace temporarily. For example:

• asking staff who have work laptops or mobile phones to take them home so they can work from home
• arranging paperwork tasks that can be completed at home for staff who do not work on computers
• making sure staff have a way to communicate with the employer and other people they work with

Unless clearly stated otherwise in your contract, companies would need to pay employees during the close down. The clause that may be relevant in contracts is lay off and short time working clauses. If you would like to know more about this please contact us and we will be happy to assist you.

For individuals who have had close contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19, Public Health England ask for that individual to self-isolate at home. Under these circumstances, if you as a company are requesting this, it is likely you would need to pay the individual. According to Public Health England, it is recommended that people limit the number of people they come into contact with for 14 days. Should the need for self-isolation arise there is a really useful article on Public Health England which explains more about self-isolation, the restrictions and some practicalities about how to facilitate this.

Steps for Employers
Some practical steps that you might like to consider in case Coronavirus spreads more widely in the UK workplace are:
• keep everyone updated on actions being taken to reduce risks of exposure in the workplace
• make sure everyone’s contact numbers and emergency contact details are up to date
• make sure managers know how to spot symptoms of Coronavirus and are clear on any relevant processes, for example sickness reporting and sick pay, and procedures in case someone in the workplace develops the virus
• make sure there are clean places to wash hands with hot water and soap, and encourage everyone to wash their hands regularly
• give out hand sanitisers and tissues to staff, and encourage them to use them
• consider if protective face masks might help for people working in particularly vulnerable situations
• consider if any travel planned to affected areas is essential

Please remember that if you decide take measures such as asking staff to wear protective face masks, you must not single anyone out, for example based on their race or ethnicity.

Please note this is guidance for the workplace, this is not medical advice.

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