Reports on COVID-19, a virus which has become a global health emergency and has the potential to spread extensively throughout the UK has been reported throughout the media now since November 2019. The impact of the virus is wide reaching, none more so to businesses.
We know the virus is highly contagious and difficult to contain. Symptoms include fever, coughing and shortness of breath requiring an incubation period of 2 – 14 days.
What does an Employer need to know?
Operational concerns will vary from employer to employer depending on their business model, however staffing issues will remain consistent. Toni Robinson, Managing Director of NucleusHR has taken time to provide some helpful hints and tips for employers to assist and support them in handling all things Corona:
Firstly, keep up to date with government and public health advice through https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/public-health-england. If in doubt, advice is available through the helpline and has been able to assist many of NucleusHR clients that have been unsure on how best to address situations.
Remember that as employers that you have a statutory duty of care in that you are required to provide a safe space to work and therefore should remain proactive and minimise the risk of the virus spreading by ensure that your workplace is clean, promote regular handwashing and where possible provide alcohol hand-rub, encourage the use of tissues and the bin!
Try and provide reassurance wherever possible, employees will naturally be concerned about them and their family, communicate clearly with employees and promote the basic hygiene standards and any Employee Assistance Programs available for those with any anxiety.
Where employees have been medically advised to self-isolate, employers have a duty to pay SSP or contractual sick pay where entitled (whichever is the greater). The 2020 budget announced that businesses with less than 250 employees will be given an SSP refund for any employees that have to self-isolate due to Corona for a maximum of 14 days. In addition, the SSP will be paid from day 1 rather than the current 3 day waiting period.
If as an employer you wish to send an employee home as a precaution, remember that you are obliged to pay the employee their normal pay.
If employees have chosen to self-isolate but have not been medically advised and experience no symptoms, as an employer, you could require them to attend work. Although, please be mindful as to their reasons to wish to remain isolated, such as underlying health conditions.
If children are sent home, for school closures etc … then employers are encouraged to think flexibly and consider permitting employees to work from home where possible, permitting a short term flexible hours pattern, permitting a split shift pattern (if possible) if none of those are possible, consider approving holidays, parental leave or emergency time off for dependants – both of which are typically unpaid.
We would encourage employers to develop a contingency plan assess your own level of exposure;
Assess the risk of staff shortages, understand which areas have skills shortages and would be further impacted if employees are affected and look to train staff to cover those areas if possible;
Look at possible having a pool of employees that are willing to work additional hours should the needs arise (taking into account the Working Time Directive), offering incentives, time off in lieu to encourage their commitment throughout the difficult time;
Review how flexible working arrangements could assist you throughout the period of difficulty, work with a contingency team, supported by your HR team, to understand how you could implement differing ways of working to protect your business;
Review how technology could assist your business, limiting the amount of contact and travel by utilising video conferencing if possible.
If your business is impacted adversely through supply chain issues or a downturn in business and have an oversupply of employees, work with your employees to encourage annual leave, asking employees to volunteer to reduce their hours, take unpaid leave or in the event that none of these are possible, implementing a statutory lay off period (where contractually possible).
Remain up to date with the countries and areas where there is a higher risk of coming into contact with COVID-19. Stay up to date with NHS travel advice through their website https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/advice-for-travellers/