Coronavirus - How does it affect the workplace?

Coronavirus - how does if affect you and your workplace?

Coronavirus is currently dominating the news and social media at the moment.  Is it something we should be scared of?  Is it just scaremongering by the media?  Plenty of statistics are being provided to us as to how many people have got it, how many deaths, how fast it is spreading.  What we need to know is how to deal with trying to avoid it and how it affects our working lives.  Here are some points of advice to help both Employers and Employees :-

Health and Safety steps for staff.

To help protect all staff to the best of your ability, the following steps should be considered :-

Ensure there are clean places to wash hands with hot water and soap;
Provide hand sanitiser and tissues for staff;
Ensure Managers are aware of how to spot the symptoms and are clear on company processes with regard to sickness, e.g. sick pay and procedures in case someone in the workplace develops the virus;
Make sure your company has up to date contact numbers and emergency contact details for all members of staff;
Keep all staff updated on actions being taken to reduce the risks of exposure in the workplace.

Your Employer’s usual sick leave and pay entitlements apply if a member of their staff has coronarivus.

Employees should let their employer know as soon as possible if they are not able to come into work.

Employers may need to make allowances if their company sickness policy requires evidence from an employee, i.e. the employee may not be able to obtain a sick note if they’ve been told to self isolate for 14 days.

If an employee is not sick but have self isolated.

There is no legal or statutory right to pay if an employee is not sick but cannot work because :-

They have been advised to self isolate by a medical expert;
They have been quarantined;
Are abroad in an affected area and are not allowed to travel back to the UK.

However, it is advisable for an Employer to treat it as sick leave and follow their usual sick pay policies or agree for the time to be taken as annual leave otherwise there is a risk that the employee will come to work to ensure that they get paid which could spread the virus, if they have it.

An employee must tell their employer as soon as possible if they are unable to work, providing a reason and how long they think they are likely to be off for.

If an employee is not sick but the employer tells them not to come into work.

If an employee is not sick, but your Employer has told you not to come into work because – e.g. you have recently returned from an affected area, then you should get your usual pay.

What if an employee needs time off work to look after a dependant?

Employees are entitled to time off work to help someone who depends on them in an unexpected event or emergency and this would also apply in situations related to the coronavirus.  This would apply if an employee has children they need to look after or arrange childcare for because their school or normal child care facility has closed, or to help their child or dependant if they’re sick or need to go into isolation or hospital.

It is important to note that there is no statutory right to pay for this time off, but Employers might offer pay depending on the circumstances, your contract and/or workplace policy.  However, the amount of time off taken to look after someone must be reasonable for the situation.  It may be that they take 2 days off to start with, but if more time is needed, then annual leave can be taken to cover this period.

What if Employees do not want to come into work.

It is expected that many people will be reluctant to go into their workplace and not want to attend if they are afraid of catching coronavirus, particularly in very large companies.  An employer should listen to any concerns Employees may have.  If there are genuine concerns, the Employer must try to resolve them to protect the health & safety of their staff.  It may be possible to arrange time off as annual leave or unpaid leave, although your Employer does not have to agree to this.

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

What steps should we take if someone becomes unwell whilst at work?

If a member of staff becomes unwell in the workplace and has recently returned from an affected area, the following  steps are advised to be undertaken :-

Get at least 2 metres away from other staff;
Go to a room or area behind a closed door, such as a sick bay/room or staff office;
Avoid touching anything;
Cough or sneeze into tissues and put them in the bin.  If a tissue is not available or to hand, then cough and sneeze into the crook of the elbow;
Use a separate bathroom from others, if possible.
The affected person should use their own mobile to call NHS Advice: 111 for advice, or if they become seriously ill then call 999 providing the operator with details of their symptoms and which country they have returned from in the last 14 days.

What happens if someone with coronavirus comes into the workplace?

There is lots of advice around at the moment most of which suggests that places do not necessarily need to close down, even if the virus is present.  The local Public Health England health protection team will get in touch with the Employer to discuss the case, identify who will have been in contact with the affected person, carry out a risk assessment and advise on any actions or precautions to undertake.

What happens if an Employer needs to close down the workplace?

It is highly unlikely that your workplace will need to be shut down.  However, it is advisable that a plan should be in place in case the workplace needs to close on a short term basis, i.e. making sure staff have a way to communicate with the Employer and their colleagues.

There may be circumstances where work can be done at home and your Employer could ask staff who have laptops to continue to work from home, or arrange paperwork tasks that can be done from home for staff who do not work on, or have access to laptops or computers.

If an Employer needs to close down their business for a short time, unless it states in a Contract of Employment or is agreed otherwise, they still need to pay staff for this time.  If an employer thinks they will need to take this step, then it is important to discuss it with staff as soon as possible and throughout the closure.

If you need any further help or support, or advice as to your rights as an employee, or how to keep your staff protected as an Employer, then contact our Employment Team on 01745 343661 and we can provide the relevant guidance and support.

Posted in: Employment

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