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Coronavirus (Covid-19) within the Workplace

At the time of writing this, the virus has been reported in at least 60 countries around the world and it is not unreasonable to assume that it will spread much further over the coming months. The Government expect the UK to be ‘significantly affected’ and a fifth of workers may be absent from work due to the virus.

Plenty of information on steps to prevent the spread of the virus is now out there in the public domain and can be found here, however questions are now being asked about how to manage employees fears of catching and spreading the virus.

Employees Returning from Holiday

The Government advice currently is as follows. If employers are returning from significantly affected areas i.e. China, South Korea, Iran and some specific places in Northern Italy they should self-isolate themselves until they have a negative test or are symptom free for 2 weeks. For all others they only need to isolate themselves if they experience any symptoms. More info on the symptoms can be found here. This is regularly being updated as the situation changes.

What if the above doesn’t satisfy other Employees?

One of the issues we are finding is that whilst you can follow the Government advice as above, this may not satisfy all employees. For example, if employees have young children, or care for relatives who are deemed vulnerable then they may not feel comfortable working with someone returning from outside the UK. In this scenario it may be prudent to allow those employees to work flexibly from home, take holiday, take unpaid leave or a combination of them all. You should risk assess each case on it’s own merits, in some instances and where possible, it may be sensible to ask a returning employee to work from home to reduce the possible impact on the rest of your business.

What do I have to pay Employees?

Currently, when an employee is off absent from work due to illness, they are entitled to receive Statutory Sick Pay, or Company sick pay where applicable. However, the Government has advised Statutory Sick Pay can apply to persons who are self-isolated following medical advice. If you ask someone, who falls outside of the above advice, to remain at home due to concerns about spreading the virus, you will need to consider suspending them on full pay.

What’s Next?

At present the UK is in a ‘containment’ stage. If cases rise the Government has confirmed we will enter the ‘delayed’ stage, and it is at this point where they will review their policies and provide advice on whether activities like large scale organised events should take place.

We recommend that all Companies maintain good communication with their employees about Government and World Health Organisation updates, provide information on how to prevent the spread of the virus and make sure all employees know what to do if they are experiencing symptoms as well as listening to their concerns. Where possible and if practical Companies should think about flexible working strategies and plans in case those affected reach significant levels.

By Kris Kerins BSc (Hons) PGC (Tech Mgmt)HR Business Partner

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