At the time of writing, the risk of catching COVID-19 in a UK workplace is low. However, as the days pass, not a day goes by without another case being discovered somewhere in the world. We set out below some guidance on what employers should be doing:
What happens if you have an employee returning from a country or location where there has been an outbreak of COVID-19?
In terms of returning employees, it may be prudent to ask them to remain away from the workplace and work from home for the next 14 days. In such a situation, these employees should get their usual pay.
Indeed, if other staff are worried about coming into work as they are afraid of catching COVID-19, then obviously you should listen to their concerns in order to establish if they are genuine. If they are genuine, then the employer would need to find a solution to protect their employees’ health and safety, and this may mean working from home. Ultimately, if an employee does not want to go into work despite the measures put in place by the employer, then the employee will (with the agreement of the employer) have to take holiday or unpaid leave.
What if an employee has COVID-19?
Then their usual sickness policy would apply and these employees should let their employer know as soon as possible that they are unable to attend work, and follow the appropriate medical advice.
What if an employee cannot work because they are in self-isolation or quarantine?
In such a case, they would not technically be entitled to pay because they are not actually sick, but rather cannot attend work because they have either been told by a medical expert to self-isolate or had to go into quarantine! However, it would still be good practice for this to be treated as sick leave or agree for this to be taken as holiday. If the employee in question is not getting any pay, they may be deterred from staying off work and may and come into work, thus spreading the virus if they have it.
What happens if COVID -19 spreads more widely in the UK?
Keep everyone updated on actions being taken to reduce the risk of exposure to COVID-19
Keep emergency contact details up to date for all staff
Ensure all staff are familiar with the sickness procedure and that managers are familiar with spotting the signs of COVID-19
Make sure there are clean places to wash hands with hot water and soap
Encourage staff to use tissues and hand sanitisers by providing them
Consider if planned travel to an affected areas should be cancelled
Consider if protective face masks are necessary. If they are, then employers should not single anyone out for example based on race or ethnicity.
What if you need to close the workplace?
If it becomes necessary to close the place of work down for a short period of time, then unless the contract says otherwise, employees will still need to be paid. In terms of planning to close the workplace temporarily, consider:
Asking staff who have work laptops and mobile phones to take them home so they can work from home
Arranging paperwork tasks that can be done at home for staff who do not work on computers etc.
Making sure staff have a way to communicate with the employer and other people they work with