Coronavirus: latest advice for businesses

By February 28, 2020Advice, Sickness

We’ve had a few clients asking what they should do regarding the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. Although the chance of infection is still low, here is the most recent information relating to staff members who may have travelled to known infected regions along with advice on sick pay.


What if someone has returned from a known infected area?

UK Chief Medical Officers are advising anyone who has travelled to the UK from mainland China, Thailand, Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia or Macau in the last 14 days and is experiencing cough or fever or shortness of breath to stay indoors and call NHS 111, even if symptoms are mild.


If anyone has returned from the following specific areas since 19 February, they should call NHS 111 and stay indoors and avoid contact with other people even if they do not have symptoms:



If someone has returned from the following areas since 19 February and developed symptoms, however mild, they should stay indoors at home and avoid contact with other people immediately and call NHS 111. They do not need to follow this advice if they have no symptoms.


  • Northern Italy (anywhere north of Pisa, Florence and Rimini)

  • Vietnam

  • Cambodia

  • Laos

  • Myanmar


What if someone has returned from an area not initially identified, but is worried?

Anyone concerned that they have symptoms of coronavirus should call NHS 111 before they return to work as per government advice.


If they’ve returned to work and become unwell, they should:


  • Get 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 they do not have tissues, cough and sneeze into the crook of their elbow

  • Use a separate bathroom from others, if possible


The unwell person should use their own mobile phone to call either:


  • For NHS advice: 111

  • For an ambulance, if they’re seriously ill or injured or their life is at risk: 999


They should tell the operator:


  • Their symptoms

  • Which country they’ve returned from in the last 14 days


Where do employers stand from a pay point of view?

Acas advise that a workplace’s usual sick leave and pay entitlements apply if someone has coronavirus.


Employees should let their employer know as soon as possible if they’re not able to go to work.


The employer might need to make allowances if their workplace sickness policy requires evidence from the employee. For example, the employee might not be able to get a fit note if they’ve been told to self-isolate for 14 days.


There’s no legal right to pay if someone is not sick but cannot work because they:


  • Have been told by a medical expert to self-isolate

  • Have had to go into quarantine

  • Are abroad in an affected area and are not allowed to travel back to the UK


However, it’s good practice for the employer to treat it as sick leave and follow their usual sick pay policy, or agree for the time to be taken as holiday. Otherwise, there’s a risk the employee will come to work because they want to get paid. They could then spread the virus if they have it.


If an employee is not sick but their employer tells them not to come to work, they should get their usual pay.


Can we stop someone going on holiday?

No. However, they should be made aware of the risks. If they have any symptoms at all, they will have to follow government advice, possibly self-isolate and take sick leave.


Anyone visiting and then returning from a known infected area will have to call NHS 111 and self-isolate, regardless of whether they’ve shown symptoms or not.


Can we ask where people are going or have come back from?

Yes. Be sure to talk to employees visiting possibly infected areas before they return, to check they are ok and whether they have any symptoms. Everyone must be treated consistently however, to avoid any potential claims of discrimination.


General advice

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


In case coronavirus spreads more widely in the UK, employers should consider some simple steps to help protect the health and safety of staff.


Employers should:


  • Keep everyone updated on actions being taken to reduce risks of exposure in the workplace

  • Keep contact numbers and emergency contact details up to date

  • Ensure 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

  • Give out hand sanitisers and tissues to 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


An employer must not single anyone out. For example, it cannot treat an employee differently simply because of their race or ethnicity.


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.


Please bear in mind that the chance of catching coronavirus in the UK is still low.


If you have any questions relating to the virus, sick pay or holidays, please call a Deminos advisor on 020 7870 1090.

Author David Ralph

More posts by David Ralph

Leave a Reply