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9 March 2020

Coronavirus: Advice for businesses

Current information regarding Coronavirus is updating and developing daily. Unsurprisingly, it can be difficult for an employer to keep up to date with fast-changing guidance. This article focuses specifically on your health and safety duties as an employer and provides our latest ‘best practice’ guidance. 

What is Coronavirus?

We refer to Coronavirus throughout this article, although the medical name is Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (also known as SARS-CoV-2). It is a virus which causes the coronavirus disease (also known as COVID-19). 

You and your staff should be aware of the main symptoms, which are: 

 Initial

  • Respiratory symptoms
  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath and breathing difficulties

  Severe

  • Pneumonia 
  • Severe acute respiratory syndrome 
  • Kidney failure

The government guidance to travel is being updated daily, read the latest information, along with guidance for what to do if you think you are at risk: https://www.gov.uk/government/topical-events/coronavirus-covid-19-uk-government-response

What can I do in practice?

One of your duties as an employer will include ensuring that both you and your employees are kept up to date and informed about health risks during a pandemic or crisis. This includes having suitable systems in place to keep in touch with and follow government advice on the virus i.e. regularly checking the government website and ensuring that you have in place reliable and effective systems for communicating with staff for example staff that cover long distances in and outside of the UK. 

If you have employees who are travelling outside of the UK for work, it would be advisable to check whether your business insurance provides for medical repatriation. 

Some practical steps you can take:

  • Ensuring good hygiene in the workplace both personal (washing hands, hand sanitiser etc) and in terms of the building and contents themselves (wiping down surfaces, phones, cabs, keyboards or anything else that could be touched by an employee).
  • Carrying out risk assessments to identify any areas where you or your employees may be at particular risk.
  • Educating your staff about the symptoms, risks and the importance of all of these steps to be taken including sickness reporting and sick pay procedures.

What if one of my staff has returned from an affected area?

The latest guidance, as of 9th March 2020, for employees returning from a potentially high-risk area, or any of the areas advised by the Government should self isolate on their return for at least 14 days. 

If your workforce has the ability to work from home, this should be encouraged.

If your employee is unwell and unable to work, they will be able to claim SSP (Statutory Sick Pay) from day 1 of self-isolation. The employee will need to have called either 111 or their GP and been issued with a written notice to self-isolate. If an employee chooses to self isolate without gaining a written notice they are not legally entitled to SSP, however, it would be good practice to pay staff sick pay regardless.

What if I need help with how to deal with my employees?

If someone with Coronavirus has confirmed symptoms after being in the workplace, you do not necessarily have to temporarily close the business.  

The best policy would be to contact Public Health England for further guidance on how to manage a Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.

How can the Steeles Employment team help my business?

We have a team of specialists who can help you, with;

  • Homeworking policy
  • Crisis Management policy
  • Advice concerning SSP and best practice
  • Contracts for temporary cover, where staff are long term sick

If you would like to discuss any of the points raised in our coronavirus advice for businesses update with a member of the employment law team, please call 01603 59800 or email JConley@steeleslaw.co.uk

*The information provided in this article is designed to provide useful information on the subject, not to provide specific legal advice.

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