04 Mar 2020

Employment

Coronavirus – Employers must undertake a ‘sensible, risk-based approach’!

Coronavirus (COVID-19) is causing havoc with global stock markets as outbreaks of the virus are occurring throughout the World. With a growing number of cases both in Europe, particularly, in Northern Italy and well publicised cases in the UK employers need to take a sensible risk based approach to the problem.

What do we currently know?

At this stage Government advice is not suggesting that employers need to take anything other than some modest sensible precautions, but with new cases growing daily and the threat level recently having been upgraded from low to moderate employers should be taking heed of Government guidance. The government publishes daily updates at 2pm with the latest advice and statistics about the threat of coronavirus so it is worth keeping an eye on any developments on this website.

How can I reduce the risk to my employees?

Similar to when concerns were raised with the SAR’s outbreak you should send round an email/guidance encouraging good hand hygiene, encouraging employees to be extra-vigilant with hand washing and using and disposing of tissues. Ensure that plenty of soap and hand sanitiser is available to staff.

Engage with your workforce in relation to identifying risks e.g. has an employee recently travelled to a country particularly affected? If your business involves significant foreign travel, then assess whether business travel needs to be curtailed.

Think about whether you want to alter your normal working practices, such as asking sick employees displaying cold and flu symptoms to remain at home until they have had medical advice that they are not infections.

Symptoms appear to range in severity. Where some people suffer mild flu symptoms, others have contracted viral pneumonia, which is difficult to treat. Practically, it is difficult to differentiate coronavirus from cold and flu symptoms so employers should encourage staff to remain away from work rather than struggling in if exhibiting cold and fever symptoms.

What’s happens if an employee is not sick but in quarantine/self-isolation?

Based on current advice if an individual is returning to the UK from a high risk area (as outlined on the gov.uk website) then they are required to self-isolate for a period of time, which is currently set at 14 days. If an employee is returning from a high risk area, an employer has no general right to require the employee not to come in to work. If an employer applies such a policy and the employee wants to attend work, then the employer has to pay the employee.

If an employee is required to self-isolate as they have been in contact with a confirmed case of Coronavirus, then the employer’s sick pay provisions will apply. Normally after 7 days’ absence, a GP’s note is required, but of course with this condition, individuals are advised not to attend their GP’s surgery so some common sense may need to be applied.

If more stringent public health measures are applied, employers may need to review policies and procedures and apply flexibility, if for example, schools are closed and employees have to take urgent time off to care for their children.

Employers should:

  • Keep employees informed and up-to-date with any developments or government advice;
  • Be flexible in response to any public measures introduced;
  • Update staff contact details to ensure employers can keep in touch when they are travelling, if staff are required to travel abroad;
  • Be prepared, to deal with the possibility of employees refusing to come into work or travel for work out of fear of contracting the virus if members of staff have travelled to a particularly significantly affected area;
  • Continuously review whether certain business trips are necessary or whether meetings could take place via telephone or video conference;
  • Ensure employees of a particular racial background are not discriminated against, for example, Chinese ethnic background employees returning from the Far East.

Coronavirus is affecting my business what can I do?

If you have any questions about the effect of coronavirus on your business, please contact our Head of Employment Daniel Wilde on 01633 244233, who can provide bespoke advice tailored to the needs of your business.

 

 

 

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