23rd March 2020
The measures being taken in an effort to overcome the current outbreak of the coronavirus COVID-19 are continuously being reviewed to ensure that the best practices are in place at all times. This post covers the advice available as of today.
Current government advice is for everyone to stop all unnecessary contact with other people to prevent the spread of COVID-19. This ‘social distancing’ includes:
- Working from home wherever possible.
- Avoiding public transport or, where necessary, travelling only during less busy commuting times if you cannot avoid buses or trains altogether.
- Avoiding gatherings of people, whether in public, at work or at home.
Employers are being urged to support their staff to take these steps by:
- Agreeing to more flexible ways of working, for example changing start and finish times to avoid busier commuting times.
- Allowing staff to work from home wherever possible.
- Cancelling face-to-face events and meetings and rearranging to remote calling where possible, for example using video or conference calling technology.
People who are at a higher risk of catching coronavirus to take strict social distancing measures and employers must be especially careful, taking extra steps for anyone in their workforce who is in a vulnerable group. They include but are not limited to, those who:
- Have a long-term health condition, for example, asthma, diabetes or heart disease, or a weakened immune system as the result of medicines such as steroid tablets or chemotherapy.
- Are pregnant.
- Are aged 70 or over
- Care for someone with a health condition that might put them at a greater risk.
Working from Home
Companies should allow staff to work from home wherever possible and can do the following to support staff in this scenario:
- Ask staff who have work laptops or mobile phones to take them home so they can carry on working.
- Arrange paperwork tasks that can be done at home for staff who do not work on computers.
If an employer and employee agree to work from home, the employer should:
- Pay the employee as usual.
- Keep in regular contact.
- Check on the employee’s health and wellbeing on a regular basis, with a particular focus on mental health.
What if an Employee Does Not Want to Come into Work?
Unsurprisingly, some people may not want to go into work if they are scared of catching coronavirus or putting vulnerable people they come into contact with at risk. This could particularly be the case for those who are at higher risk.
In this circumstance, employers should listen to any concerns staff have and take steps to protect everyone to the best of their abilities. For example, they could offer extra car parking where possible so that people can avoid using public transport.
If an employee still does not want to go in, they may be able to arrange with their employer to take the time off as holiday or unpaid leave. However, the employer does not have to agree to this.
NB: Employees can refuse to attend work without, however, if this is done so without a valid reason, it could result in disciplinary action.
Self-Isolation and Sick Pay
Employees must receive any Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) from the first day of absence due to them if they need to self-isolate for any of the following reasons:
- They have coronavirus.
- They have coronavirus symptoms, for example a high temperature or new continuous cough.
- Someone in their household has coronavirus symptoms.
- They have been told to self-isolate by a doctor or NHS 111.
Employers may decide to provide additional ‘contractual’ sick pay to their staff, but this is up to the company and its sick pay policies.
The guidance for self-isolation is as follows:
- If someone has symptoms and lives alone, they must self-isolate for 7 days.
- If someone lives in a household and is the first to have symptoms, they must self-isolate for 7 days. Everyone else in their household must self-isolate for 14 days.
- If anyone else in the household starts displaying symptoms, the person with the new symptoms must self-isolate for 7 days. This is regardless of where they are in the 14-day isolation period.
If an employee or worker cannot work, they should tell their employer as soon as possible, including the reason for their absence and how long they are likely to be off for to allow the employer to appropriately prepare.
Proof of Sickness
Staff in self-isolation must follow their employer’s usual sickness reporting process. Employees can ‘self-certify’ for the first 7 days off work. This means following their workplace process but not having to get a note from a doctor or NHS 111.
Closing the Workplace
It is advisable for employers to plan ahead in case they need to close the workplace temporarily. Some employers have been instructed to close by the government. This includes:
- Leisure Centres.
This will undoubtedly be a difficult time for both employers and staff and so it’s a good idea to make sure staff have a way to communicate with the employer and other people they work with. This is an unprecedented and worrying time, so people need to know that they have someone to talk to.
The government announced new financial support for employers on 20th March. This will cover 80% of staff wages who have been temporarily sent home because there is no work.
Lay-Offs and Short-Time Working
In some situations, an employer might need to close down their business for a short time or ask staff to reduce their contracted hours. If the employer thinks they’ll need to do this, it’s important to talk with staff as early as possible and throughout the closure. Unless it says in the contract or is agreed otherwise, employers still need to pay their staff for this time.
Employees who are laid off and are not entitled to their usual pay might be entitled to a ‘statutory guarantee payment’ of up to £29 a day from their employer. This is limited to a maximum of 5 days in any period of 3 months. On days when a guarantee payment is not payable, employees might be able to claim Jobseekers Allowance from JobCenter Plus.
Employers have the right to tell employees and workers when to take holiday if they need to. For example, they can decide to shut for a week and everyone has to use their holiday entitlement. If the employer does decide to do this, they must tell staff at least twice as many days before as the number of days they need people to take. For example, if they want to close for 5 days, they should tell everyone at least 10 days before.
This could affect holiday staff have already booked or planned. For this reason, employers should:
- Explain clearly why they need to close.
- Try and resolve anyone’s worries about how it will affect their holiday entitlement or plans.
Time Off to Care for Someone
Employees are entitled to time off work to help a dependent in an unexpected event or emergency. The same applies to situations to do with coronavirus. There’s no statutory right to pay for this time off, but some employers might offer pay depending on the contract or workplace policy.
There is no specific amount of time allowed off to look after someone, however, the time taken must be reasonable for the situation. It might be the case that they might take the first 2 days off and if more time is needed, they can book holiday.
Best Practice Steps for Employers
Employers should consider some simple steps to help protect the health and safety of everyone during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
It’s good practice for employers to:
- Be especially careful and take extra steps for vulnerable groups, including those who are pregnant, aged 70 or over, or who have a long-term health condition.
- Hold meetings such as remote calls and avoid travel as much as possible.
- Make sure managers know how to spot symptoms of coronavirus and are clear on any relevant processes, for example, sickness reporting, sick pay and procedures in case someone in the workplace shows symptoms of the virus.
- Make sure there are clean places to wash hands with hot water and soap and encourage everyone to wash their hands regularly.
- Provide hand sanitiser and tissues for staff and encourage them to use them.
- Make sure everyone’s contact numbers and emergency contact details are up to date.
- Keep everyone updated on actions being taken to reduce risks of exposure in the workplace.
- Keep up to date with the latest government coronavirus advice on GOV.UK
More coronavirus advice
Please be advised that the information provided in this post is up to date as of the day it has been posted, however, this guidance is subject to change and so you should stay on top of the advice being given on a regular basis. Below are some useful links.
Guidance for employers:
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