Coronavirus – Guide for Employers

Coronavirus: Advice for Clients

The risk of catching coronavirus in workplaces is currently low.  However, it would advisable to remind all employees / workers / visitors attending your premises to follow 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 (Catch it, Bin it, Kill it)

Coronavirus health and safety steps for employers 

In case coronavirus spreads more widely in the UK and Ireland, you should consider some simple steps to help protect the health and safety of your employees.

These steps may include:

  • keep everyone updated on actions being taken to reduce risks of exposure in the workplace
  • make sure everyone’s contact numbers and emergency contact details are up to date
  • make sure 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
  • make sure there are clean places to wash hands with hot water and soap, and encourage everyone to wash their hands regularly
  • give out hand sanitisers and tissues to employees, and encourage them to use them
  • consider if protective face masks might help for people working in particularly vulnerable situations
  • consider postponing any travel planned to affected areas or whether alternative methods (such as video calling etc) could be used

It is important that you and your employees do not single anyone out. For example, treating a person differently simply because of their race or ethnicity.

Sick pay for coronavirus absences 

Your normal sick leave and pay entitlements apply if someone has coronavirus. Employees should still abide by your normal absence notification procedures if they are affected by coronavirus.

However, you may need to make allowances around the certification of these absences. For example, the employee might not be able to get a Statement of Fitness for Work from their doctor if they’ve been told to self-isolate for 14 days.

If someone is not sick but cannot work because they’re in self-isolation or quarantine

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

But it would be considered good practice for you to treat it as sick leave and follow your normal absence policy or agree for the time to be taken as holiday.

Otherwise there’s a risk an employee will come to work because they want / need to be paid and could therefore spread the virus, if they have it.

If an employee is not sick but the employer tells them not to come to work

If an employee is not sick but you tell them not to come to work, they should get their normal pay. For example, if someone has returned from China / Northern Italy or another affected area and you ask them not to come in.

If employees do not want to go to work

Some people might feel they do not want to go to work if they’re afraid of catching coronavirus.

You should listen to any genuine concerns employees may have and try to resolve them.

If an employee still does not want to go in, you may be able to arrange for them to take the time off as holiday or unpaid leave. You do not have to agree to this. If an employee refuses to attend work, it could result in disciplinary action.

If someone becomes unwell at work

If someone becomes unwell in the workplace and has recently come back from an area affected by coronavirus, 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 an 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: 111for 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
  • If someone with coronavirus comes to work

If someone with coronavirus comes to work, the workplace does not necessarily have to close.

The local Public Health Authority (PHA) health protection team will get in contact with you to:

  • discuss the case
  • identify people who have been in contact with the affected person
  • carry out a risk assessment
  • advise on any actions or precautions to take

If the employer needs to close the workplace

Currently it is very unlikely that you will need to close your workplace.

But you should still plan in case you need to close temporarily. For example, making sure your employees have a way to communicate with you and other people they work with.

Where work can be done at home, you 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

In some situations, you might need to close down your business for a short time. In these circumstances you may need to invoke the Short Time Working / Temporary Lay-off clause in your contracts of employment (if applicable).  If your contracts do not contain this clause you will need to pay employees their normal pay for this time off.

This article is correct at 28/02/2020


The information in this article is provided as a guide and recommend that advice is obtained from one of our team before relying on information supplied anywhere within this article.

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