Last night (15/03/2020), the government announced that we have now moved into the ‘delay’ phase of its response to the coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak.

Quite rightly, there is considerable concern over the spread of the virus and what this means for your business continuity and supporting your employees. As such, we thought it might be useful to put some updated advice together for you, to hopefully answer some of these questions in this time of uncertainty.

So, what’s new?

Anyone experiencing a fever, or a continuous cough should self-isolate immediately for 7 days.

It is still the case that anyone who has been diagnosed with the virus, or is caring for someone with the virus, should self-isolate for 14 days.

SSP is now available from the 1st day of absence rather than the 4th for those that:

  • Have been diagnosed with the virus.
  • Are unable to work as they have been advised to self-isolate.
  • Are caring for household members displaying COVID-19 symptoms and have been told to self-isolate.

Self-employed workers are not entitled to SSP. However, zero hours, casual and agency workers may be entitled. If not, they can claim Universal Credit or Employment Support Allowance. 

The government is offering a refund to businesses with under 250 employees for any SSP paid for COVID-19 related absences, up to a maximum of 14 days.

Medical certificates can now be obtained by ringing 111.

As an employer, what should I be doing right now?

Some considerations for what you can do to make the working environment safer are detailed below:

  • Ensure there is plenty of soap and hand sanitiser available.
  • Increase frequency and intensity of work place cleaning.
  • Frequent disinfecting of communal areas i.e. kitchens; handrails; door handles.
  • Consider temperature checks or health declaration forms for anyone entering the workplace.
  • Ensure there is a procedure for reporting a suspected risk of the virus.
  • If someone shows symptoms of the virus at work, ensure there is a procedure that is known by the management team. The recommendation is that they are placed in an isolated space that has a closed door and ventilation. They should then ring 111 and be advised on next steps.
  • Ensure employees emergency contact details are up to date.
  • Reduce the number of face to face meetings and visitors to the workplace.
  • Ban handshakes and hugs.
  • More working from home.
  • Flexible start and finish times to reduce rush hour commutes and busy office periods.
  • Limit non-essential travel, or at least carry out a risk assessment if travel is necessary.

Whatever you decide to do, it is important that you communicate this to your team, so that they can feel confident that you are making their well-being a priority.

What can I do to plan ahead?

As we know, things are likely to get worse before they get better and so it’s important that you have a contingency plan. Think about how you would cope if schools or businesses were advised to close… Are you ready? Could you do it? What resources would you need to make it happen? Will it work?

What happens if schools and nurseries are closed?

School and Nursery closures are likely to cause considerable disruption to businesses, from an employer and employee point of view, and of course the business owners within these settings too.

If the decision is taken to close these settings, then parents will be responsible for looking after their children and potentially providing some level of home schooling, which will inevitably affect their ability to carry out work. 

In this instance, the disruption could be handled in the following ways:

  • Flexibility with start and finish times.
  • More home working.
  • Time Off to Care for Dependents – this is emergency, short term, unpaid leave to allow parents to find childcare for the longer term. This will be helpful initially, or if children are ill or showing symptoms in the current climate, but not longer term.
  • Parental Leave – this applies to employees with more than 1 years’ service. Parents are entitled to take up to 4 weeks’ unpaid leave per year for each child under the age of 18 (up to a maximum of 18 weeks). 
  • Annual Leave – to avoid the unpaid element, employees may have some annual leave they can take to cover some or all of the period of absence they may need. Businesses may also wish to consider allowing employees to use some of next years’ allowance or giving a few days extra holiday as a gesture of goodwill.

What happens if my business can’t work from home and has to close?

Inevitably, there will be some businesses that cannot operate remotely and may have to close as a result of the virus. 

In this situation, you may have a number of options to consider:

  • Lay-off – check your contracts of employment to see whether they contain this clause. If they do, employees can be laid off for up to 4 consecutive weeks in a 13-week continuous period and if they have over 1 months’ service they would qualify for statutory guaranteed lay-off pay.
  • Annual Leave – as above.
  • Parental Leave – as above
  • Unpaid Leave – for the duration, but with the assurance of service continuity and the accrual of annual leave.
  • Personal Loans – to cover the period of unpaid leave, to help pay the bills/mortgage.
  • Redundancy – if the closure persisted and you were unable to keep afloat.

What other considerations should I make?

If employees are working from home or self-isolating, it is important to look after their mental wellbeing. Keep in regular contact and ensure that you are communicating at every stage.

Need further Advice?
We are not in a position to offer advice on employment law matters, but we urge you to seek specialist advice from your own HR advisers if you have any queries.

If you have paid for our optional PFP cover, which covers you against HMRC investigation costs, you also have access to a legal help line for general employment law advice.

We can’t promise that they can help with specific queries, especially since the circumstances of COVID-19 are constantly updating, but they’re certainly more qualified in this areas than we are.

If you don’t  have access to advice and would like to take out our PFP cover (which will run up until the end of August) please contact us now.

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