It looks as if no business will be untouched by the Covid-19 outbreak. That poses serious concerns and uncertainties for businesses and how you deal with your employees while the risk is still live. Remember as an employer you have an obligation to protect the health and safety of staff.
Some questions which we have been asked this morning and our responses are set out below.
What should I do to minimise the risk to employees?
- Have an action plan on the steps you are taken to reduce the risk of exposure in the work place and review that action plan on a daily basis
- Have everyone’s up to date contact numbers
- Take extra precautions for any employees who are more vulnerable, eg. Pregnant employees, those aged 70 or over and those who have pre-existing health conditions.
- Make sure you know how to spot the symptoms
- Ensure there are places to wash hands and remind employees to wash their hands
- Provide hand sanitiser
What do I pay an employee who self isolates?
Self- isolation must take place if
- An employee or worker has coronavirus
- An employee or worker has coronavirus symptoms which includes a high temperature and a new continuous cough
- Someone in an employee or worker’s house has coronavirus symptoms
- An employee or worker has been told to self isolate by a doctor or NHS 111
- If someone has symptoms, everyone in the household must self isolate.
- During the period that an employee or worker is in self-isolation, they are entitled to SSP.
If your business offers contractual sick pay, then check if it’s automatically payable when an employee is off sick as a contractual entitlement or if it’s discretionary. If it’s discretionary, then in this instance, it may make more sense for the discretion to be applied uniformly across all employees that only SSP will be paid for periods of self-isolation.
If you do decide to do that, then make sure that ALL employees know that.
You are entitled to ask for evidence that the employee or worker has symptoms but remember if they are self isolating they may be not be able to immediately provide a fit note.
What if I need to close our premises?
Given the speed within which you will have to react if the outbreaks affects your workplace and you have to close then you should have a plan in place now and you should be discussing those plans with your staff now. Not only does this show that you are supporting your employees, it should also help to minimise any mutiny as the employees know why the business is doing what it’s doing and when it will do it. Your staff want certainty.
Things to consider:
- You need to think about whether or not staff can work from home. If that can happen, then staff would get their usual pay.
If that can’t happen, then you need to ask your staff to reduce their contracted hours or close the business. Unless your contracts provide for short term layoffs or the staff are prepared to agree to this, then staff will still have to be paid.
Bear in mind that if you have staff at home, then you cannot pay them SSP unless they have the coronavirus. That means they are still entitled to normal rates of pay.
I am aware of some manufacturing clients where the employees cannot work from home who are already looking at the position whereby if schools shut then they will start a shift pattern to try and allow their staff the time to look after their children.
This is something you need to think about as employees are entitled to time off for dependents in emergency situations. This would cover the situation where schools would shut and without a shift pattern, that could severely hamper business.
- As an employer, you can also tell your employees and workers when to take holiday. You could say that you are shut for a week and everyone has to use their holiday entitlement. Bear in mind that if you do need to do this, then employees must be given as notice, twice as many days as they need to tell people to take off.
What if my employee does not want to come to work?
Some people will not come through fear they may catch coronavirus. In that scenario, you should try and discuss a suitable alternative with the employee or worker e.g flexible working. If that cannot be agreed, then although you don’t have to agree to this, then you can arrange with your employee that either take time off as holiday or as unpaid leave.
If you have any questions on how coronavirus may affect your business, then please contact us. We will continue to monitor the government’s guidance on this and will update our recommendations when necessary. ACAS has also produced guidance so you should also check ACAS’ site and the Health Protection site.