Read the new Guidance for food businesses on coronavirus (COVID-19) which includes advice on Managing employee sickness and Social distancing.
The Department of Health and Social Care is publishing updated data every day at 2pm until further notice. This data is accurate as of 9am on the day of publication.
Dial 111 if you need to speak with someone and avoid visiting your local GP.
It is clear that the coronavirus outbreak is set to spread more widely across the UK. While most patients who contract the virus make a full recovery and can return to work, it’s very likely that businesses will still be significantly affected by the outbreak, until the virus is contained.
The latest government estimates suggest that up to a fifth of the workforce may be off sick during the peak of the coronavirus epidemic and as such we need to prepare for potential short-term challenges whilst protecting people in the workplace.
What is coronavirus?
First reported in Wuhan, China on 31st December 2019, the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is a new strain that has not been previously identified in humans. The virus is transmitted between animals and humans and causes the following symptoms:
- A cough
- A high temperature
- Shortness of breath
As it is a new disease, experts still don’t know how the virus is spread, though similar illnesses are transmitted via cough droplets. According to the NHS, it’s very unlikely that it can be spread through items such as packages and food.
Latest figures from the UK Government released 10th March suggest there are 373 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 6 patients who tested positive for COVID-19 have died. 373 cases in the UK and 6 confirmed deaths indicate that there are over 100,000 confirmed cases of the virus worldwide; though it’s important to note that only around 3,100 have been fatal.
Steps to contain and delay the spread of the virus.
The UK government is currently trying to contain the spread of the virus by isolating those who’ve been infected. However, as an employer there are also steps that you’ll need to take to prevent the spread of the virus in your workplace.
The first step in doing our bit is to make sure that everyone knows how to spot the symptoms of coronavirus. We also need to understand policies on absence reporting; sick pay; and what to do if someone has any symptoms.
We also need to make sure that you have an updated list of emergency contact details for your employees and it’s important that we keep everyone updated on any actions taken to reduce the risk of exposure to coronavirus
From a practical standpoint, you should:
- Encourage your employees to wash their hands regularly; and ensure they have access to a clean area with running hot water and soap, in order to do so thoroughly
- Where possible, provide hand sanitiser and tissues to your team-members to reduce the risk of the virus spreading
- Cancel any non-essential travel to countries or areas affected by the virus
Taking these actions doesn’t guarantee that we all won’t be infected; but it will dramatically reduce the risk.
What should I do if an employee is diagnosed with coronavirus?
If a team member contracts coronavirus outside of work and hasn’t been in contact with any other staff in the past two weeks; then you should advise the employee to take sick leave as per the usual policy.
It may also be advisable to clean their workstation and monitor other employees for any symptoms as a precaution.
However, if a member of staff becomes unwell at work and they’ve recently returned from a country or area that’s been affected by coronavirus, you should:
- Separate the sick individual from the rest of your workforce. This can be done by placing them in their own room or behind a closed door. Official health advice states that they should be at least two metres away from other people at all times; so it may be easier to suggest that they go home
- Advise the employee that they should avoid touching anything
- Provide tissues for the ill person to cough or sneeze into. If there are no tissues available, they should use the crook of their elbow
- Where possible, the ill person should use a designated bathroom that is separate from others
- Finally, the unwell individual should call 111 or 999, depending on the intensity of their symptoms
The person in question should be kept in isolation at home until a coronavirus diagnosis has been confirmed.
If an employee is found to have coronavirus, the local Public Health England (PHE) health protection team should get in touch with you directly. They can discuss the details of the case; and identify any people who have been in contact with the affected person.
They will carry out a risk assessment and let you know of any actions or precautions that you may need to take as a result. It’s extremely unlikely that you’ll need to close your business, but you may find the PHE recommends that you deep clean your office.
Additionally, you should be prepared for any staff that have been in contact with the sick employee to self-isolate.
Sick pay entitlements
If an employee is diagnosed with coronavirus, they’re entitled to their usual sick leave and pay entitlements.
- There is a chance that some of your team members will be advised to self-isolate by a doctor or the NHS 111 service. If this is the case, the government has stated that they should receive Statutory Sick Pay (SSP). However, if you offer contractual sick pay, it’s good practice to give this to your employees.
- If you require your employees to provide evidence of illness, such as a sick note, it’s important to be aware that you might have to wait to receive this documentation until after the patient is no longer self-isolated.
- If you ask a member of staff to stay out of the office, even if they’re not showing symptoms, then you’re required to pay their normal wage. For example, you may ask any employees who have recently returned from an affected area to stay at home for the safety of your other staff.
Finally, many individuals may need to take time off to care for a dependent who is self-isolating, has contracted the virus, or needs care because their school/usual place of work is closed. As an employer, you don’t have an official obligation to pay for this time off. However, if your workplace policy offers compensation for this kind of leave, then you should honour that agreement.
Workplace Canteens –The guidance states: ‘Where there are no practical alternatives, other workplace canteens can remain open to provide food for their staff and/or provide a space for breaks. However, where possible, staff should be encouraged to bring their own food, and distributors should move to takeaway. Measures should be taken to minimise the number of people in the canteen at any one given time, for example by using a rota.’
Working Time Directive – Existing exemptions within the Working Time Regulations 1998 provide flexibility where the worker’s activities are affected by unusual and unforeseeable circumstances beyond the employer’s control, or “exceptional events the consequences of which could not have been avoided despite the exercise of all due care by the employer” (regulation 21(e)). Where this applies, the requirements around rest breaks, daily and weekly rest and night work do not apply. However the employer must provide compensatory rest, or if this is not possible take other measures to ensure a safe working environment.
The NHS will write to or text up to 1.5 million people defined as extremely vulnerable by Sunday 29 March, strongly advising them not to leave their home for at least 12 weeks.
All non-essential premises must now close for at least three weeks.
Translations of government guidance for households with possible coronavirus infection and guidance on social distancing.
Working Tax Credits payments will be increased by £1,045 to £3,040 per year from 6 April 2020 until 5 April 2021. The amount a claimant or household will benefit from will depend on their circumstances, including their level of household income. But the increase could mean up to an extra £20 each week.
The government has announced the suspension of enforcement of the gender pay gap reporting deadlines for this year.
On Friday 20 March, the government announced that MOTs for lorries, buses and trailers are suspended for 3 months from 21 March
On Saturday 21 March, the government updated its advice for businesses delivering goods and services abroad that have been impacted by the coronavirus outbreak
People receiving benefits no longer need to attend jobcentre appointments. People will continue to receive their benefits as normal, but all requirements to attend the jobcentre in person are suspended for 3 months from 19 March 2020.
Guidance for apprentices, employers, training providers and assessment organisations in response to the impact of coronavirus (COVID-19).