Coronavirus advice for employers
The outbreak of coronavirus in the UK raises a number of issues for employers across employment, immigration and health & safety.
We are updating this article with the latest coronavirus advice for employers to help manage and contain the risks relating to Covid-19 and protect your people and your business.
Latest government guidance
The latest development is that individuals who are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 infection should stay at home for 7 days. The symptoms are:
- a high temperature (fever)
- a new, continuous cough
- difficulty in breathing
If you develop any of these symptoms, you are advised to stay at home.
The next phase is likely to see the Government require employees to work from home where possible. Employers should be preparing now for what this means for their organisations.
Are employees entitled to sick pay?
Under the Government’s coronavirus action plan, the Prime Minister has announced during PM Questions on 4 March 2020 a change to the sick pay rules. Legislation is being brought forward under which statutory sick pay (SSP) is to be paid from the first day someone is off work, rather than the 4th day.
On 11 March 2020, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, announced that the Government will reimburse small employers (<250 employees) any statutory sick pay they pay to employees, for the first 14 days of sickness.
Under the new Statutory Sick Pay (General) (Coronavirus Amendment) Regulations 2020, which came into force on 13 March 2020, SSP will be available to anyone isolating themselves from other people in such a manner as to prevent infection or contamination with coronavirus, in accordance with guidance published by Public Health England, NHS Scotland or Public Health Wales.
When considering the position on sick pay, employers may need to show flexibility in respect of their sickness policies. Where the sickness policy requires an individual to obtain a fit note from a doctor beyond the self-certifying period, but this is not possible due to self-isolation and GP surgery not accepting coronavirus patients, employers may consider making exceptions to the policy.
What is the Coronavirus job retention scheme?
All UK employers are entitled to use the Government’s new Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, whereby HMRC will fund 80% of furloughed workers’ wages, up to a cap of £2500 per worker per month.
Before putting an employee on furlough, employers should take advice on the individual’s employment contract to ensure it allows for the change in terms of whether negotiation may be required.
Once the scheme is up and running, employers will be required to submit details about each affected worker to a new online HMRC system.
What about pay for freelancers?
Self employed individuals are to be covered under the Coronavirus Bill, with the lower of £2,917 or 80 per cent of a self-employed person’s monthly earnings, averaged over the last three years.
Should employees work from home?
The UK Government has placed the country on official lockdown from 24 March 2020. Under the new rules, members of the public must not leave their house except to:
- Travel to and from work if impossible to work from home
- Shop for essentials, as infrequently as possible
- Exercise outdoors once per day, alone or with household members
- Receive medical treatment or provide care
Further guidance followed, advising: “Travelling to and from work [is permitted], but only where this absolutely cannot be done from home.”
Read more about working from home considerations for employers.
How can employers reduce the risk of infection in the workplace?
Employers are being urged to raise awareness of the symptoms and of basic hygiene practices to employers and visitors to the workplace.
Coronavirus is understood to spread through respiratory droplets from coughing and sneezing, and by touching a contaminated surface or object and then touching one’s nose or mouth. The virus causes flu-like symptoms. For people with weakened immune systems, older people, and those with long-term conditions like diabetes, cancer and chronic lung disease, coronavirus can cause more severe symptoms.
Individuals who are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 infection should stay at home for 7 days.
Employees should leave work if they develop these symptoms while at the workplace.
Employers should consider sharing guidance (such as by email, posters) encouraging employees to follow the existing advice to:
- wash hands with soap and water often – do this for at least 20 seconds
- always wash hands when arriving at home or into work
- use hand sanitiser gel if soap and water are not available
- cover the mouth and nose with a tissue or sleeve (not hands) when coughing or sneezing
- put used tissues in the bin immediately and wash hands afterwards
- try to avoid close contact with people who are unwell
- do not touch eyes, nose or mouth if hands are not clean
Employers will need to ensure they are providing employees and visitors with adequate washing facilities, stocked with soap and preferably disposable paper towels. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers should also be made available, where possible.
Avoiding shaking hands can also help to reduce the risk of spreading infection.
All frequently touched surfaces such as workstations, countertops and doorknobs should be routinely cleaned. Increased cleaning of common areas using standard cleaning agents can also reduce risk of spread of respiratory disease.
If there is the space or facility within your workplace, it is advisable to designate an isolation room for workers who start to present symptoms to call 111.
Can employers share information about cases of coronavirus?
Employers are reminded of their duties under UK data protection laws.
Any communications relating to the virus or instances of infection should remain general and not include specific details relating to an individual employee’s health or other personal data.
Can employers request travel information from employees?
Employers may request information from employees about travel from areas in respect of which the UK government advises self-isolation. In doing so, however, they should be careful not to discriminate against individuals or cohorts of the workforce. Such requests should be non-discriminatory and directed at all employees.
Can employees take time off to care for others?
Employees continue to be entitled to a reasonable amount of time off work to help dependants in an unexpected event or emergency, such as instances relating to coronavirus, for example, if the employee has to arrange childcare because their child’s school has closed due to the virus.
There is no entitlement to statutory right to pay for dependancy leave, although some employers may offer paid leave depending on the employee’s contract or workplace policy.
Employer legal duties
Employers continue to have a duty of care to all employees under health and safety laws.
If an employer is aware an individual has been advised to self-isolate but they allow them into the workplace to come into contact with others, this could constitute a breach of their duty of care to other workers. This is particularly concerning where there are vulnerable employees such as pregnant women.
Employers may consider if they have the right to suspend an employee who refuses to self-isolate following advice and who attend the workplace.
Following reports of increased instances of racism towards those of Chinese origin since the outbreak began, employers are also reminded of their duty to take reasonable steps to prevent discrimination or harassment in the workplace. Failure to do so can leave the employer liable for discrimination complaints.
This requires a proactive approach to manage the risk, such as delivering training and being clear on what is classed as unacceptable conduct and behaviour.
In light of the pace of developments, ACAS has issued general guidance for employers including:
- Keeping all employees and workers updated on actions being taken to reduce risks of exposure in the workplace
- Ensuring all personnel emergency and contact details are up to date
- Sharing information about symptoms
- Keeping managers informed about how to deal with sick pay, homeworking and unpaid leave relating to the virus
- Providing adequate washing facilities and hand sanitisers and promoting good personal hygiene
- Considering risks and implications of employee travel, particularly to and from affected areas
What are the immigration implications of coronavirus?
Employers should take advice on specific concerns relating to workforce global mobility or visa applications.
For example, Chinese nationals in the UK looking to switch from the Tier 2 ICT to the Tier 2 (General) visa route would ordinarily need to leave the country and apply from China. The Home Office has advised that if a Tier 2 ICT visa is due to expire between 24 January 2020 and 30 March 2020, the visa holder can apply to switch to the General category from within the UK. All other Tier 2 requirements must continue to be met.
Travelling employees are at an increased risk of being ‘stranded’ overseas due to stringent containment measures and closed borders, which may impact their lawful immigration status.
Our business immigration experts are on hand to answer your questions and provide latest guidance.
Fast-evolving risk to health & the economy
With the situation changing at a rapid pace, specific advice is recommended, taking into account the current status of the virus and the exact needs and circumstances of your workforce, business and operations.
The Health Protection (Coronavirus) Regulations 2020 contain a declaration by the Secretary of State that the incidence or transmission of novel Coronavirus constitutes a serious and imminent threat to public health, and the measures outlined in these regulations are considered as an effective means of delaying or preventing further transmission of the virus.
Employers are also advised to check the latest advice from the Department of Health and Social Care on the UK Government website, and the World Health Organisation and Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.
If you are concerned about the employment risks relating to the coronavirus and mitigating its impact on your workforce and business, we can help. Our team of employment specialists can support with advice on specific issues and developing a strategy to manage the ongoing risk as the virus persists. Speak to our experts today.
Last updated: 13 March 2020
Coronavirus Employer FAQs
Should we send employees home?
Current guidance does not require a blanket, precautionary measure to send employees home but if an employee shows symptoms of the virus or has recently returned from travel to an affected area, you should ask them to stay at home to contain the spread of infection.
If an employee is off sick with coronavirus, are they entitled to sick pay?
Under the coronavirus action plan, the Prime Minister announced a temporary change to the sick pay rules for the period of the epidemic. Statutory sick pay is to be paid from the first day someone is off work, rather than the fourth.
Can an employee take time off work to care for a relative with coronavirus?
Employees are entitled to a reasonable amount of time off as dependent’s leave. This is usually unpaid, but the employee’s contract may have enhanced provision.
What if an employee refuses to come to work?
If an employee is not sick but refuses to come to work through concerns about contracting the virus, you should listen to their concerns and try to come to an agreement, such as home working if possible. If they continue to refuse to come to the workplace, it would be reasonable to follow the company’s disciplinary procedure.
How can DavidsonMorris help?
For advice on managing the impact of the coronavirus on your workforce and business, speak to our experts. We can advise on your duties as an employer and practical solutions to specific issues as government guidance is updated.