Coronavirus guidance for employers (COVID-19) (27th Feb 2020)

Coronavirus guidance for businessesCoronavirus guidance (COVID-19) update (27th Feb 2020)

First published 3 Feb 2020

In this HR Blast from Jaluch:

  • Managing health risks.
  • Managing business risks.
  • What exactly is self quarantine?
  • The thorny issue of pay.
  • Short time working and short term layoffs guidance.
  • Template coronavirus guidance message to staff (symptoms, how the virus spreads, staying safe, health and safety advice, work travel).

Update on the Epidemic

WHO has declared the coronavirus a global emergency and the UK has raised the level of risk from low to moderate.

Aside from the risk of having employees who are unwell due to coronavirus, the bigger risk for most UK employers is now the impact on suppliers, production and productivity. The virus has caused a global economic slowdown, due in large part to the fact that much of China’s production has been closed or dramatically slowed for almost 2 months. As a result, we have seen a significant impact on tourism and the supply of parts for automotive and technology industries. Whilst it’s been predominantly the larger organisations who have been in the news talking about the impact on sales and production, in reality it will be the smaller businesses who will struggle to manage the impact. It’s essential that all businesses spend time now thinking about your suppliers, which ones are likely to have longer delays or impacted production and take steps to mitigate the impact on your business, such as by ordering supplies earlier than usual, or changing suppliers etc.

Managing health risks – a few suggestions

  1. Reduce, wherever possible, work travel especially conferences, gatherings, non critical meetings etc.
  2. Step up the wiping down of workplace handles, rails, buttons (lifts) etc with anti bacterial solution to try to keep surfaces as clean as possible.
  3. Inform staff that self quarantine means that if a family member living in their household self quarantines then they should too, as they are in close contact with someone at risk.
  4. Ask every employee to routinely take their temperature before coming in to work. Anyone with a temperature of 37.5 or above should not attend work but stay home and call 111. Keep a thermometer in work to ensure you are able to deal with those who are a little forgetful 😊. Be considerate of/sensitive to any women experiencing hot flushes as a result of the menopause.
  5. Create a travel log so you know where people are travelling to, who they are meeting with and where they are taking their holidays. Get staff to update their own log daily.

Managing business risks

Planning and policies

  1. Develop a coronavirus plan! Insurances, suppliers, cash flow, product development, manufacturing, travel etc. Work through all the details and get it down on paper.
  2. Consider ahead of any cash flow challenges whether you would opt for short time working, short term lay off or redundancy in the event of a downturn in business
  3. Check your cash flow. Where are your greatest danger points in respect of cash…..funding sick pay of those quarantined or suppliers not paying in time due to their own cash flow issues? Or will it come from a downturn in revenues/business?
  4. Develop a short term company travel policy, minimising travel.
  5. Identify opportunities to keep staff working even if they are self quarantined- what do managers need to do, what can IT do to support, what information will staff need to be able to function at home?

Wellbeing checks

  1. Check the temperature of any visitors to your business premises, refusing entry to any who have a temperature.
  2. Equally create a self assessment for both staff and visitors to sign each day regarding their health and being free of symptoms.
  3. Put signs  up in all washing facilities about the importance of hand washing and hygiene at this time.

HR specific

  1. Check your employment contracts to ensure you have short term lay off and short time working clauses in operation. If you don’t know what you are looking for, please do call and ask us.
  2. Check your home working policy to ensure it is relevant and up to date for a period of home working, especially for those who are not regular home workers.
  3. Ask staff to begin notifying HR of their recent travel both inside and outside of work
  4. Set up a quarantine and virus chart to log who is off sick or quarantined and when/dates enabling you to quickly identify the most at risk parts of the business
  5. Restrict interviews for a short period to telephone and video conferencing.

What does self-quarantine mean?

There has been much talk about self quarantine but not everyone understands exactly what this means:

Self-quarantine means staying in your home, hotel room or provided accommodation, and not leaving for the period of time you are required to isolate for.

Only people who usually live in the household should be in the home.

Do not allow visitors into the home. It is fine to receive deliveries.

If someone in your home is self-quarantined, and they have maintained separation in an area of the home away from others (with their own bathroom and closed-door space), the other members of the household do not need to self-quarantine.

However, more realistically, if the person is moving freely around the home, the other members of the household must also self-quarantine for 14 days. This is because the other members of the household are considered to be in close contact with someone who is in the incubation period and may develop the infection.

The thorny issue of pay

Sick pay. If an employee is advised by a health professional  or is obliged to self-quarantine following government guidance you have to pay sick pay. If someone chooses to self-quarantine when there is no obligation to then, in theory, you do not have to pay sick pay.

What does your contract say about what sick pay you are obligated to pay? If its just SSP then in one way it is easier as your cash exposure is limited even if you have lots of people self-quarantining. However the financial impact of significantly reduced pay for 2 weeks or more on staff may just drive your employees to seek work elsewhere once they are well.

However, if your contract requires you to pay full pay when staff are off, then you might find that the cost of this could be crippling across the coming months if large numbers are quarantined. We have also read in the press that staff are being encouraged to self quarantine if they have just a cold or normal flu, just in case. The reality is that if thousands self quarantine for every one actual case of coronavirus, the cost to businesses in the form of sick pay could be enormous. What can your business sustain?

If you identify a business risk relating to your obligations around sick pay and want to change your contract of employment to reduce the risk, be aware that this can be done, but could take up to 12 weeks. It may also create significant employee relations issues. Please do call us for advice rather than just launching straight into it!

Home working/short time working and short term layoffs 

If you are experiencing issues with production or work available then one option you may want to consider is to implement a temporary period of short time working (i.e. working reduced hours each day/week). If you are asking employees to stay home, this guidance on short-time working might be helpful.

If your business experiences a downturn due to lack of access to raw materials, reduced visitor numbers, cancelled contracts, absent staff etc then you may want to consider a temporary period of layoffs, i.e. when you lay off people for a short period of time until the work available resumes.

Unfortunately, we are already supporting organisations who are finding it necessary to make redundancies as a result of the impact of the coronavirus. If you are in this situation do please give us a call, at Jaluch we can support with any emergency measures you determine sensible to take at this time to protect your organisation.

Suggested updated guidance to staff 

Please find below an updated (19th Feb) suggested coronavirus guidance to send out to staff. 

This is just a template, so adapt to suit your own needs but BEWARE that the situation is changing fast and health guidelines may change so you will need to keep yourselves up to date. 

Feel free to share or copy and paste this guidance into an email/document. 

Coronavirus guidance – URGENT

As you will all be aware the coronavirus is fast spreading outside of China.

Symptoms usually include

  • A cough
  • A high temperature
  • Difficulty breathing

How the virus spreads

We do not yet know exactly how coronavirus spreads from person to person, but similar viruses spread through cough droplets. Sometimes these cough droplets can be carried in the air for long distances so contamination can occur across much larger distances than previously thought.  

How to stay safe

  • Frequently clean hands by using alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water 
  • When coughing and sneezing cover mouth and nose with hand or tissue – throw tissue away immediately and wash hands (anyone emptying bins that might contain tissues should use disposable gloves that are immediately discarded) 
  • Avoid close contact with anyone who has a fever and cough, however mild 
  • If you have fever, cough and/or difficulty breathing seek medical care early and share previous travel history with your health care provider
  • The consumption of raw or undercooked animal products should be avoided. Raw meat, milk or animal organs should be handled with care, to avoid cross-contamination with uncooked foods, as per good food safety practices 
  • Managers should be on the alert and send individuals home to self quarantine if in any doubt 

Health and safety advice

If you have been in Wuhan or Hubei Province in the last 14 days or have been in contact with someone who may be affected in the past two weeks, the recommended health advice is to self quarantine: 

  • Stay indoors and avoid contact with other people call NHS 111 to tell them of your recent travel 
  • If you are in Northern Ireland, call 0300 200 7885 

Please follow this health advice even if you do not have symptoms of the virus. 

If you get a cough, a high temperature, or you feel short of breath, continue to follow this advice. DO NOT leave your house without getting advice from a doctor.

Alternatively…

If you get a cough, high temperature or feel short of breath within 14 days of returning from: 

  • Other parts of China, including Macao and Hong Kong 
  • Thailand 
  • Japan 
  • Republic of Korea 
  • Taiwan 
  • Singapore 
  • Malaysia 

You should: 

Stay indoors and avoid contact with other people and call NHS 111 to tell them of your recent travel.

If you’re in Northern Ireland, call 0300 200 7885. 

Please follow this advice even if your symptoms are mild. 

If you have been in contact with someone who has recently travelled from China or someone who has contracted the virus, self quarantine for up to 14 days. 

  • Where possible you will be expected to work from home during this period. Please be in direct telephone contact with your manager to discuss this. 
  • Call 111 or 0300 200 7885 in N Ireland if you experience even mild symptoms. 

Treatment for coronavirus

There is no specific treatment currently available for coronavirus. Treatment aims to relieve the symptoms.

Work travel

During this time we would urge all staff to:

  • Minimise travel on public transport, especially international travel
  • In the UK, stay away from areas where the virus might be most easily spread
  • Cancel any planned trips to China
  • Discuss with your manager all other planned travel outside the UK

Plus everyone should…

Be aware of who you are with/meeting both inside and outside work and whether individuals have recently been in China or in contact with someone who has. Ask the necessary questions rather than assuming there is no risk.

For further information…

Please speak to HR or a Director.

Helping your employees and business stay safe

If you’ve got any concerns about coronavirus or questions about any issues raised in this article (short term working, risk assessments etc.), if you’re a Jaluch client, you know you can call us on 01425 479888.

If you aren’t a Jaluch client and have any queries relating to this or any other employment law/HR topic, have a chat with one of our friendly team to find out exactly how we can help. We have clients of all sizes, in all sectors. Drop us an email and we can arrange a convenient time to talk.

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