Coronavirus: Latest advice for businesses (11/03/2020)

Here is our latest advice on how employers can respond to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.


Preventing infection

According to Acas, employers should follow good practice and make sure everyone at work follows simple hygiene rules, such as:


  • Washing hands thoroughly with hot water and soap

  • Using tissues when sneezing or coughing and throwing them away in a bin


The symptoms of coronavirus

The symptoms of coronavirus are:

  • A cough

  • A high temperature

  • Shortness of breath


Be aware that these symptoms do not necessarily mean someone has the illness. The symptoms are similar to other illnesses that are much more common, such as cold and flu.


Changes to Statutory Sick Pay

Since our last update, the government has made changes to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) for employees needing to self-isolate.


If NHS 111 or a doctor advises an employee or worker to self-isolate, then they can now access SSP from the first day of their absence instead of from day four as the regulations usually stipulate.


To qualify for SPP, an employee needs to earn an average of at least £118 per week and have not already received the maximum 28 weeks of pay.


SSP set at £94.25 a week, although employers can pay more if they wish.


The change will be a temporary measure to respond to the outbreak and will lapse when it is no longer required.


When announcing the new Budget in parliament, Chancellor Rishi Sunak said that the government will meet the cost for businesses with fewer than 250 employees of providing SSP to those off work “due to coronavirus”.


He also said a “temporary coronavirus business interruption loan scheme” will be introduced for banks to offer loans of up to £1.2 million to support small and medium-sized businesses.


Self-isolation guidance for employers

The following advice is from the Acas website.


If someone has to go into self-isolation: The government has stated that if NHS 111 or a doctor advises an employee or worker to self-isolate, they should receive any Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) due to them. If the employer offers contractual sick pay, it’s good practice to pay this.


The employee must tell their employer as soon as possible if they cannot work. They should tell their employer the reason and how long they’re likely to be off for.


The employer might need to be flexible if they require evidence from the employee or worker. For example, someone might not be able to provide a fit note if they’ve been told to self-isolate for 14 days.


If an employee is not sick but the employer tells them not to come to work: If an employee is not sick but their employer tells them not to come to work, they should get their usual pay. For example, if someone has returned from a Category Two country such as Japan or Thailand and their employer asks them not to come in.



If an employee does not want to go to work: Some people might feel they do not want to go to work if they’re afraid of catching coronavirus. An employer should listen to any concerns staff may have.


If there are genuine concerns, the employer must try to resolve them to protect the health and safety of their staff. For example, if possible, the employer could offer flexible working.


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. The employer does not have to agree to this.


If an employee refuses to attend work, it could result in disciplinary action.


If someone with coronavirus comes to work: If someone later found to have coronavirus comes to work, the workplace does not necessarily have to close.


The local Public Health England (PHE) health protection team will get in contact with the employer to:


  • Discuss the case

  • Identify people who have been in contact with the affected person

  • Carry out a risk assessment

  • Advise on any actions or precautions to take


If someone falls ill in the workplace: If someone becomes unwell at work and has recently come back from an area affected by coronavirus, they should:


  • Move at least 2 metres (7 feet) away from other people

  • Go to a room or area behind a closed door, such as a sick bay or staff office

  • Avoid touching anything

  • Cough or sneeze into a tissue and put it in a bin, or if there are no tissues, cough and sneeze into the crook of their elbow

  • Use a separate bathroom from others, if possible


They should use their own mobile phone to call either:


  • 111 for NHS advice, or

  • 999 if they are seriously ill or injured, or life is at risk


They should tell the operator:


  • Their symptoms

  • Which country they have returned from in the last 14 days


How to self-isolate: If anyone receives medical advice to self-isolate, the current NHS guidelines are that:


  • You should stay at home

  • Not go to work, school or public places

  • Not use public transport or taxis

  • Ask friends, family or delivery services to do any errands for you

  • Try to avoid visitors coming to your home


This is usually for a period of up to 14 days, but medical advice should be sought. If possible, explore arrangements to work from home.


Time off for dependants

It is likely that some healthy employees will seek time off work for reasons linked to coronavirus. For example, employees may require time off work to care for sick/self-isolating relatives or to look after children whose school is closed.


This will fall under emergency leave and would be unpaid. The amount of time taken off must be reasonable for the situation, and if more time is needed they may need to take it as holiday.


Travel to Italy

Italy has now (as of Monday 9th March) extended restrictions on travel and public gatherings to the whole of that country after initially quarantining its northern regions (anywhere north of Pisa, Florence and Rimini).


The Foreign Office has warned British residents against all but essential travel to Italy.


It said in a statement: “We have amended our travel advice to recommend against all but essential travel to Italy. The safety of British nationals is always our number one priority.


“The advice is that anyone who arrives from Italy subsequent to the Italian government decision should now self-isolate for 14 days.”


An up-to-date list of countries under special measures can be found here.



What will happen next?

There are no major restrictions in the UK at present, such as the closure of workplaces or schools.


The government has announced they are still in the first ‘containment’ stage of their response to the outbreak, but this could be upgraded to ‘delay’ within the next couple of weeks.


The government website outlines the four phases as below:


  • Contain: detect early cases, follow up close contacts, and prevent the disease taking hold in this country for as long as is reasonably possible

  • Delay: slow the spread in this country, if it does take hold, lowering the peak impact and pushing it away from the winter season

  • Research: better understand the virus and the actions that will lessen its effect on the UK population; innovate responses including diagnostics, drugs and vaccines; use the evidence to inform the development of the most effective models of care

  • Mitigate: provide the best care possible for people who become ill, support hospitals to maintain essential services and ensure ongoing support for people ill in the community to minimise the overall impact of the disease on society, public services and on the economy

For more information please call a Deminos advisor on 020 7870 1090.


Author David Ralph

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