Coronavirus: advice for employers

Coronavirus: advice for employers

We appreciate that there has been a lot of information regarding COVID-19, and whilst we don't want to scare monger, this is some information we issued to our clients on 2 March 2020 and we thought we would share it with you.

Whilst the risk of catching coronavirus (COVID-19) in workplaces is currently low we are offering the following advice to our clients.

This advice is based on statements issued by the States of Guernsey Government, ACAS (an independent public body that receives funding from the UK government which gives employees and employers, impartial advice on workplace rights, rules and best practice) and the CIPD (the professional body for HR and people development).

Employers need to consider their duty to take reasonable care for the health and safety of their employees, and the practicalities around should an employee or a member of their family be required to self-isolate.  This could be considering what flexible working arrangements can be offered, how any time in self-isolation is recorded and any future travel plans employees may have to affected areas.

In the case that coronavirus spreads more widely, employers should consider the following simple steps to help protect the health and safety of their employees:

  • 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 all employees know how to spot symptoms of coronavirus.
  • Make sure management are clear on any relevant processes, for example sickness reporting and sick pay.
  • Make sure there are clean places to wash hands with hot water and soap, encourage everyone (employees and visitors) to wash their hands regularly and provide hand sanitisers and tissues.

The company’s standard sick leave policy and pay entitlements will apply if someone contracts and are diagnosed with the coronavirus, employees should advise their employers as soon as possible if they are not able to go to work in line with their absence/sickness policies.

The company might need to make allowances if their sickness policy requires a medical certificate for any period of sickness absence. For example, an employee might not be able to get a note if they’ve been told to self-isolate for 14 days. 

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

Currently, Public Health Services are recommending that any individual should self-isolate, irrespective of symptoms if they have returned from an infected areas categorised as group A in the last 14 days 

There is no legal (statutory) right to pay someone if they are 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 home.

However it is advised as good practice for their employer to treat it as sick leave and follow their usual sick pay policy or agree for the time to be taken as holiday. If not, employees might come to work fearing loss of income, which could lead to the virus spreading.

If an employee needs time off work to look after someone 

There is no legal (statutory) right to pay someone if they are unable to work due to caring for a dependant in an unexpected event or emergency. This would apply to situations to do with coronavirus. For example:

  • if they have children they need to look after or arrange childcare for because their school has closed; or
  • to help their child or another dependant if they are sick, or need to go into isolation or hospital. 

Whilst there is no statutory right to pay for this time off, employers should consider offering pay depending on the contract the employee is working under or the company’s policies.  If there is no contractual right to pay employees for this time off employers might want to consider introducing such a policy around this.

If employees are afraid to go to work 

Some people might feel they do not want to go to work because they are afraid of catching coronavirus. An employer should listen to any concerns employees may have.  Employers must try to resolve reasonable concerns to protect the health and safety of their staff. For example, if possible, an employer could offer flexible or remote working.

If an employee still does not want to go in, they may be able to arrange with their employer to take the time off as holiday or unpaid leave. The employer does not have to agree to this.

If an employee refuses to attend work, it could result in disciplinary action.

If someone becomes unwell while at work

If someone becomes unwell or experiences symptoms such as fever, cough or shortness of breath, no matter how mild 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 a sick bay or staff 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; and
  • use a separate bathroom from others, if possible.

The unwell person should use their own mobile phone to call either:

  • for States of Guernsey Public Health Services on 725541, or
  • for an ambulance, if they’re seriously ill or injured or their life is at risk: 999.

They should tell the operator:

  • their symptoms; and
  • which country they’ve returned from in the last 14 days.

People should not visit their GP or the Emergency Department at the PEH unannounced if they have suspected symptoms.

If the employer needs to close the workplace

Currently it's very unlikely that an employer will need to close their workplace, however, they should still plan in case they need to close temporarily. For example:

  • Making sure staff have a way to communicate with the employer and other people they work with.
  • Where work can be done at home, the employer could:
          o ask staff who have work laptops or mobile phones to take them home so they can carry on working, and/or
          o arrange paperwork tasks that can be done at home for staff who do not work on computers.

In some situations, an employer might need to close down their business for a short time. Unless it is stated in the contract or is agreed otherwise, they still need to pay their employees for this time.

Please note that this briefing is intended to provide a very general overview of the matters to which it relates. It is not intended as legal advice and should not be relied on as such.  

We do recommend keeping up to date with the States of Guernsey for all the latest information: https://www.gov.gg/coronavirus

However, if you would like any further information regarding employees, please do not hesitate to call, Vicki. 

Vicki@leapfrogjobs.com  +44 (0)1481 711188

References

ACAS Coronavirus: advice for employers and employees [online] available from https://www.acas.org.uk/coronavirus?utm_source=mc&utm_medium=email&utm_content=E-Bulletin+1st+March+2020.link&utm_campaign=7310557&utm_term=4441006 (Issued 02/03/2020)

States of Guernsey Coronavirus - Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) [online] available from https://www.gov.gg/coronavirus (Issued 02/03/2020)