With the recent upgrade of the threat of the Coronavirus on the UK being upgraded from low to moderate, we are finding that our clients are coming to us for advice on what is best to do in the workplace. The government will be holding a press conference at some point today (3rd March 2020), so it may be that advice will change once that has occurred, but for now we have put this blog together to summarise what is currently being advised:
- Keep up to date with Government and public health advice: Employers should keep up to date with the situation as it develops and refer employees who are concerned about infection to official and expert medical sources such as GOV.UK and the National Health Service.
- Develop a contingency plan: Every organisation will need to assess its own level of exposure to business disruption caused by the virus. If it has a site, conducts business or has supply chains in China or an affected region, there will be a direct impact to the company’s day-to-day operations. The plan will need to take account of current and potential impacts and manage the specific business risks associated with the disruption, including service delivery and workforce issues. Communicate the plan to key teams and individuals across the business.
- Build a contingency team: Identify a person, or small group of people, that would take responsibility for operating the contingency plan should a pandemic occur and allocate clear responsibilities for its implementation.
- If a pandemic does occur: Those responsible for the contingency plan should meet regularly to review the preparations and ensure they are still fit for purpose. It’s important to act early, even if planned contingencies are not then needed.
Look after people’s health, well-being and safety
- Employees’ health, safety and well-being during a global health emergency like the coronavirus outbreak should be paramount. Employers have a statutory duty of care for people’s health and safety and to provide a safe place to work, but there’s also a strong moral responsibility to ensure that employees feel safe and secure in their employment.
- Communicate clearly to employees that they need to take precautions, avoiding travel to affected areas and/or coming into contact with infected or potentially infected people or animals. Advise them on what to do if they think they may have caught the virus. Immediate advice for employees returning from travel
Wider health and well-being concerns
- Keep up to date and follow official medical advice as it’s updated. Keep employees informed, particularly in relation to the specific guidelines for employees who have returned from Wuhan or Hubei province, other parts of China and other affected areas, or have been in contact with an infected person, or with an individual who has returned from affected areas. Actively communicate this advice with your people, customers and suppliers.
- Implement an internal communication strategy so that employees are aware of measures that are being taken to manage the situation in your organisation. Understand that some people may have real concerns about catching the virus, while others may have worries about family or friends stranded in an affected area, or returning from China or another affected area. Ensure that line managers are regularly informed about the organisation’s contingency plans and how to discuss the situation with any concerned employees, and where to signpost people to for further advice or support.
Promote the resources you have available to support people’s health and well-being generally, including those through an employee assistance programme.
- If the virus spreads and/or becomes a pandemic and the risk of infection is heightened, be prepared to step up the level of support you provide to staff and adjust your resourcing plans accordingly. Keep in mind anyone who may be more vulnerable due to a pre-existing health conditions, age,or pregnancy.
- If employees need to self-isolate or are sent home as a precaution, this should be done on full pay. Some employment contracts contain a right to suspend employees briefly without pay. However, this right usually only applies in limited circumstances and a suspected illness is unlikely to be covered. Unless there is a clear contractual right to suspend employees without pay or benefits, then employers who insist on this could potentially face claims for breach of contract, unlawful deduction of wages and constructive unfair dismissal.
Develop flexible resourcing plans
- As part of your organisation’s contingency plan, explore more flexible resourcing strategies in case your business suffers staffing shortages.
- Develop strategies to maximise the amount of home working to prevent the spread of infection if necessary.
- Investigate ways of harnessing the use of technology to limit the amount of face-to-face contact, for example, video conferencing to facilitate remote meetings. For customer facing organisations, consider introducing or maximising the use of self-service options and online services.
- Increased sickness absence may create a need for other employees, if willing, to work longer hours to keep your business going. If this happens, you will need to comply with the Working Time Regulations 1998 to ensure appropriate length of daytime working hours, night shifts and rest breaks.
- Have in place plans that will enable the organisation to operate on a skeleton staff if necessary. Identify key services and roles that are essential and can’t be put on hold, as well as projects or roles that could be temporarily stood down. Identify those individuals and managers who have transferrable skills, who can fulfil more than one function and could be allocated to more essential roles.
- Carry out a resourcing risk assessment of the organisation, identifying essential areas of the business where few employees have the required skills. Training additional employees in these skills should be considered. Ensure that procedures are developed to ensure smooth handovers for employees who are filling in for colleagues in unfamiliar roles. It may be necessary to provide additional training and a risk assessment if individuals are moving to roles where there may be a healthy and safety risk.
- If your operations are severely affected, consider introducing a voluntary special leave policy on a temporary basis whereby individuals can opt to take paid or unpaid leave. Be mindful that there could be some employees who are willing to take additional time off and welcome a break, but others may struggle financially if they lose pay. Consider offering a shorter working week or other flexible resourcing arrangements and communicate the business reasons to employees.
In case coronavirus (COVID-19) spreads more widely in the UK, employers should consider some simple steps to help protect the health and safety of staff.
- It’s good practice for employers to: keep everyone updated on actions being taken to reduce risks of exposure in the workplac
- 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
- provide hand sanitiser and tissues for 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
Employers must not single anyone out. For example, they must not treat an employee differently because of their race or ethnicity.
The NHS advises:
- Any employee who has returned from Wuhan and Hubei province in the last 14 days and Iran, several towns in Northern Italy and certain areas in South Korea since 19 February should stay indoors, avoid contact with other people and advise the emergency services (via NHS 111) of their recent travel, even if they do not have symptoms of this virus. This list is changing daily – stay up to date with the latest advice.
- Any employee who has returned from other areas of China, or Macao, Hong Kong, Thailand, Japan, Republic of Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, northern Italy, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar in the last 14 days and develops a cough, fever or shortness of breath, however mild should stay indoors, avoid contact with other people and advise the emergency services (via NHS 111) of their travel.
- Up-to-date advice here
The Department of Health and Social Care and Public Health England advise the following for returning travellers:
Stay indoors and avoid contact with other people immediately if you’ve travelled to the UK from:
- Hubei province in China in the last 14 days, even if you do not have symptoms
- Iran, lockdown areas in northern Italy or special care zones in South Koreasince 19 February, even if you do not have symptoms
- other parts of mainland China or South Korea, Hong Kong, Japan, Macau, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan or Thailand in the last 14 days and have a cough, high temperature or shortness of breath (even if your symptoms are mild)
- other parts of northern Italy (anywhere north of Pisa, Florence and Rimini), Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar or Vietnam since 19 February and have a cough, high temperature or shortness of breath (even if your symptoms are mild)
- Up-to-date information available here
Use the 111 online coronavirus service to find out what to do next.
Do not go to a GP surgery, pharmacy or hospital.
**This blog have been created using information and advice available today (3rd March 2020 at 11am) from the websites of the organisations stated above and the CIPD website. We advise all employers to use the links listed above and other official sources to keep up-to-date with any changes and advice.