Coronavirus (COVID-19) advice for employers

As coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to spread more widely in the UK, employers are undoubtedly having to make some difficult business decisions. It’s important to protect the health and safety of employees whilst also considering the needs of the business.

We have put together some of the frequently asked questions we have been dealing with, and will regularly update them in line with changing government advice.

We’ve also compiled some information that your employees may find useful, such as how to prevent the spread of the virus, how sick pay will be affected, and when they may have to self-isolate.

Coronavirus FAQs for employers

When should employees self-isolate?

Employees should self-isolate for the following reasons:

  • They have coronavirus
  • They have coronavirus symptoms, for example a high temperature or new continuous cough
  • They’ve been told to self-isolate by a doctor or NHS 111
  • They live with someone who has symptoms

Do we have to pay SSP to those employees self-isolating?

Eligible employees and workers must receive any Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) due to them and employers can offer more than SSP – ‘contractual’ sick pay while they’re in self-isolation and cannot work.

Statutory Sick Pay

Those who follow advice to stay at home and who cannot work as a result will be eligible for statutory sick pay (SSP), even if they are not themselves sick.

Employees can now access Statutory Sick Pay (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.

Anyone not eligible to receive sick pay, including those earning less than an average of £118 per week, some of those working in the gig economy, or self-employed people, is able to claim Universal Credit and or contributory Employment and Support Allowance.

The change will be a temporary measure to respond to the outbreak and will lapse when it is no longer required. The government advises that employers should use their discretion and respect the medical need to self-isolate when making decisions about sick pay.

What if an employee needs time off work to look after someone?

Employees have the right to take a reasonable amount of unpaid leave to deal with incidents involving a “dependant”, (usually defined as the employee’s parent, partner, child or someone else who lives as part of the family, for example somebody for whom the employee is the main carer). Family emergencies could include coronavirus issues, such as:

  • To help when a dependant falls ill or is injured
  • To deal with childcare arrangements because of school closures

If a dependant such as a partner, child or relative in the same household gets coronavirus symptoms, they should receive Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) as a minimum for this time.

If the dependant does not necessarily live with the person, for example an elderly neighbour or relative who relies on the person for help, there’s no statutory right to pay for this time off, but some employers might offer pay depending on the contract or workplace policy.

What if an employee does not want to come to work?

Employees may have concerns about catching coronavirus in the workplace. It’s important that employers listen to any concerns employees may have and understand why the employee has concerns, e.g. underlying health conditions.

Employers have a duty to protect the health and safety of their staff, so it’s important to try and resolve genuine concerns. For example, could the employee work from home, arrange to take the time off as holiday or unpaid leave? It might not always be possible to agree to these kind of solutions and ultimately if an employee refuses to attend work, it could result in disciplinary action.

What if an employee is considered a vulnerable person?

Some people will have received a letter from the NHS to say they should take extra steps to protect (or ‘shield’) themselves because of an underlying health condition. This is for people who are at very high risk of severe illness from coronavirus.

If an employee receives a letter telling them to start shielding, they will need to stay at home for at least 12 weeks.

Employees should talk to their employer as soon as they can if they:

  • Have been told to start shielding
  • Think they might get a letter telling them to start shielding

Employers should support staff following shielding guidelines. This might be a distressing or difficult time, so it’s important for employers to keep in touch during any absence.

Any details about the employee’s medical condition must be kept confidential, unless the employee says it can be shared.

What if an employee shows symptoms of coronavirus in the workplace?

If someone becomes unwell in the workplace with coronavirus symptoms, 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 either:

  • Go home immediately. They and the rest of their household should then self-isolate for at least 14 days.
  • Call 999, if they’re seriously ill or injured or their life is at risk

It’s best for the unwell person to use their own mobile phone or computer to access these services.

If a member of staff has helped someone who was taken unwell with a new, continuous cough or a high temperature, they do not need to go home unless they develop symptoms themselves. They should wash their hands thoroughly for 20 seconds after any contact with someone who is unwell with symptoms consistent with coronavirus infection.

Can I ask employees 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.

What happens if I need to close the workplace?

It may be appropriate to plan for the temporary closure of places of work. It’s important that any such plans are communicated clearly and in a timely way to all employees.

You could consider the following options:

Asking employees to work from home

Where work can be done at home, the employer could:

  • Ask staff who have work laptops or mobile phones to take them home so they can carry on working
  • Arrange paperwork tasks that can be done at home for staff who do not work on computers
  • Cancel face-to-face events and meetings and rearranging to remote calling where possible

If an employer and employee agree to working from home, the employer should:

  • Pay the employee as usual
  • Keep in regular contact
  • Check on the employee’s health and wellbeing

Lay-offs and short-time working

In some situations, an employer might need to close down their business for a short time. Unless it says in the contract or is agreed otherwise, they still need to pay their employees for this time.

If the contract does allow for lay-off, eligible employees would be entitled to the current rate of statutory guarantee pay which is £29.00 per day for 5 days in any 3-month period, so a maximum total of £145.00.

If the employer thinks they’ll need to do this, it’s important to talk with staff as early as possible and throughout the closure.

The government has announced the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme in order to help with this situation. You can see our dedicated advice about it here:

The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme – furloughed workers

Using holiday

Employers have the right to tell employees and workers when to take holiday if they need to. For example, they can decide to shut for a week and everyone has to use their holiday entitlement.

If the employer does decide to do this, they must tell staff at least twice as many days before as the amount of days they need people to take.

For example, if they want to close for 5 days, they should tell everyone at least 10 days before.

This could affect holiday staff have already booked or planned, so employers should:

  • Explain clearly why they need to close
  • Try and resolve anyone’s worries about how it will affect their holiday entitlement or plans

Employers should ensure:

1

A plan is in place to deal with potential workplace closures, reductions in workforce and managers are clear on any relevant processes, for example sickness reporting and sick pay

2

Everyone is aware of actions being taken to reduce risks of exposure in the workplace

3

Information is communicated to all on latest guidelines and best practice

4

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 shows symptoms of the virus

5

There are clean places to wash hands with hot water and soap, and encourage everyone to wash their hands regularly

What will happen next?

Schools will be closed from the end of Friday 20th March onwards. Certain schools will be kept open for the children of key workers and vulnerable children.

Key workers are defined as:

Frontline health workers such as doctors and nurses

Some teachers and social workers

Workers in key public services including those essential to the justice system, religious staff, and public service journalists

Local and national government workers deemed crucial to delivering essential public services

Workers involved in food production processing, distribution, sale and delivery

Public safety workers including police, armed forces personnel, firefighters, and prison staff

Essential air, water, road and rail transport workers

Utilities, communication and financial services staff, including postal workers, and waste disposal workers

Coronavirus information for employees

The following can be communicated from management to employees in order to keep everyone informed about the ongoing situation.

To download the information as a memo template in a word format, click here.

General advice

In line with ACAS advice, we want to ensure that everyone at work follows simple hygiene rules such as;

  • Wash your hands with soap and water often – do this for at least 20 seconds
  • Always wash your hands when you get home or into work
  • Use hand sanitiser gel if soap and water are not available
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when you cough or sneeze
  • Put used tissues in the bin immediately and wash your hands afterwards
  • Try to avoid close contact with people who are unwell
  • Do not touch your eyes, nose or mouth if your hands are not clean

Hand gels and tissues have been provided – please use them!

If Government advice/medical advice is to self-isolate

We will pay sick pay as per our current sickness policy.

If you exhaust Company Sick Pay, you will be paid Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) in line with Government guidelines. The Government have recently announced that SSP will be paid from day one, but we are still waiting for further details as to the circumstances where this will apply.

Any Company Sick Pay will be inclusive of SSP.

You must tell us as soon as possible if you cannot attend work.

Some people will receive a letter from the NHS to say they should take extra steps to protect (or ‘shield’) themselves because of an underlying health condition. This is for people who are at very high risk of severe illness from coronavirus.

If you receive a letter telling you to start shielding, you will need to stay at home for at least 12 weeks.

Please tell us as soon as possible if you:

  • Have been told to start shielding
  • Think they might get a letter telling them to start shielding

Coronavirus symptoms

The symptoms of coronavirus are:

  • A new, continuous cough
  • A high temperature (37.8C)

If you are sick and cannot come to work for any reason

Current Government advice is for yourself and your household to self-isolate for 14 days if you have any symptoms (however mild), regardless of whether you’ve been advised by NHS 111.

You should check to see if you can work from home.

If not, then normal sick pay and procedures apply.

You can self-certify for 7 days and after this you will need a GP fit note as per normal procedure, however we understand this may in some cases be difficult to obtain. Isolation notes are available from NHS 111 online if you need evidence that you have been advised to self-isolate due to coronavirus.

If your symptoms worsen during home isolation or are no better after 7 days, contact NHS 111 online. If you have no internet access, call NHS 111.

If you have been in contact with someone specifically confirmed as having the virus

Take Government and medical advice straight away.

The NHS 111 online coronavirus service can tell you if you need medical help and advice.

How to self-isolate

If you receive medical advice to self- isolate, the current NHS guidelines are to:

  • Try to keep at least 2 metres (3 steps) from other people in your home, particularly older people or those with long-term health conditions
  • Ask friends and family and delivery services to deliver things like food shopping and medicines – but avoid contact with them
  • Sleep alone if possible
  • Regularly wash your hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds
  • Try to stay away from older people and those with long-term health conditions
  • Drink plenty of water and take everyday painkillers, such as paracetamol and ibuprofen, to help with your symptoms

Do not have visitors (ask people to leave deliveries outside).

Do not leave the house, for example to go for a walk, to school or public places.

Use the NHS 111 online coronavirus service if:

  • You feel you cannot cope with your symptom at home
  • Your condition gets worse
  • Your symptoms do not get better after 7 days

If possible, explore arrangements to work from home.

If someone has symptoms, everyone in their household must self-isolate for 14 days. Those who live alone must self-isolate for 7 days.

If you do not want to come to work

You can take unpaid leave or holiday if agreed by us at the time. We will take into account government and medical advice in place at the time.

However, if you refuse to attend work and time off is not authorised in advance, this could result in disciplinary action.

If you fall ill in the workplace

If you become unwell at work and you have recently come back from an area affected by coronavirus:

  • 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 you do not have tissues, cough and sneeze into the crook of your elbow
  • Use a separate bathroom from others, if possible

You should use your mobile phone to call either:

  • 111 for NHS advice, or
  • 999 of you are seriously ill or injured or your life is at risk

You should tell the Operator:

  • Your symptoms
  • Which country you have returned from in the last 14 days

School closures

We understand that you may need to take time off to look after or arrange childcare. You may need to help your child, or another dependant if they are sick or need to go into isolation. This will fall under emergency leave and would be unpaid.

The amount of time you take off must be reasonable for the situation. If more time is needed you may need to take holiday.

The chance of infection is currently low, but if anyone has any concerns or queries please speak to your line manager.

Further advice about the outbreak can be found on NHS.uk and GOV.UK.

This information will be updated as and when new information becomes available. For clarification on any of the above, please call a Deminos advisor on 0330 333 7999.