Coronavirus (COVID-19) Guidance Note
Updated 04.04.20: We recognise that as business owners many of you will have concerns around coronavirus (COVID-19) and how it may impact your employees and operations.
The situation and advice may change regularly and therefore we would strongly advise you to keep up-to-date daily.
We would recommend that employers:
- Keep your employees updated on actions being taken by the UK Government to reduce risks of exposure in the workplace. Frequent communication is important and employers should check their business continuity plans for clarity around their process.
- Clarify to employees the process to follow if they have any concerns, think they may be at risk of infection, or have the symptoms of coronavirus themselves, if they have been travelling, told to self isolate or are an extremely vulnerable person and must shield.
- Consider how you could allow employees to work from home if they need to self-isolate and in response to the government’s instruction that employees should work from home and to reduce social contact.
- Follow the government’s guidance on social distancing for everyone in the UK.
- Make sure you have all employee contact numbers and emergency contact details up to date and accessible in all eventualities.
- Ensure managers know how to spot symptoms of coronavirus and are clear on any relevant processes, for example sickness reporting and sick pay, and procedures in case someone in the workplace develops the virus.
- Provide clean places to wash hands with hot water and soap and encourage everyone to wash their hands regularly. NHS guidelines say that a hand wash should take 20 seconds and hands should be rinsed thoroughly to remove bacteria followed by drying with a disposable towel which can be thrown away.
- Give out alcohol based hand sanitisers (where available) and tissues to employees and encourage them to use them, especially if they are working off-site, until they can wash their hands with soap and water.
- Communicate good hygiene practices to employees and encourage them to be mindful of what they touch, such as door handles, bus poles, stair rails and such like, in addition to avoiding touching their face, eyes, nose and mouth. Some have also discouraged hand shaking.
- Remember the old saying “coughs and sneezes spread diseases” – always carry tissues and use these to cover your coughs and sneezes. Throw any used tissues away immediately and wash your hands.
- Consider if protective face masks might help for people working in particularly vulnerable situations. This isn’t generally considered necessary, however, there may be some roles where it could be; for example, carers.
- All business travel should be cancelled unless absolutely critical. Use other means of communication such as Zoom video conferencing, FaceTime, WhatsUp and such like.
Stay at home
The UK Government have now directed that everyone must stay at home to help stop the spread of coronavirus.
Individuals should only leave the house for very limited purposes:
- shopping for basic necessities, for example food and medicine, which must be as infrequent as possible
- one form of exercise a day, for example a run, walk, or cycle – alone or with members of your household
- any medical need, including to donate blood, avoid or escape risk of injury or harm, or to provide care or to help a vulnerable person
- travelling for work purposes, but only where work cannot be done from home
When outside and in the workplace, individuals must maintain social distancing rules and keep at least two metres apart from others.
For specific guidance on social distancing please visit the government website here.
- Frequently Asked Questions
- Who are the people at increased risk from coronavirus?
- The Government have told some people to “shield”. What does shielding mean?
- Some of my employees are self isolating, what is this?
- What do I pay an employee who is self isolating?
- Are employees entitled to sick pay if they are ill themselves and off work due to coronavirus?
- If we have an employee who is not ill with coronavirus but cannot work because they’re in self-isolation or shielding (either here or overseas)?
- Following government advice we are sending our employees home to work, what do we do with those who cannot work from home?
- What do we do if we have a pregnant employee?
- We can’t send any employees home what should we do?
- What should we do if an employee can work from home but doesn’t want to?
- What should we do if an employee has an underlying medical condition, has been directed to shield, cannot work from home and they insist on coming in?
- What should we do if an employee has been diagnosed with coronavirus?
- What happens if employees are sick but not related to coronavirus?
- If an employee needs time off work to look after someone, what should we do?
- Can I pay an employee who is staying at home to look after someone, SSP?
- What should we do if someone becomes unwell at work?
- What happens if employees do not want to go to work?
- For employees who travel a lot for business reasons to countries worldwide, can you insist that they still travel?
- What happens with annual leave, where an employee has booked time off for holiday, but their holiday is cancelled because of a situation outside of their control?
- Can we insist employees use some of their annual leave during this period or cancel leave?
- What if someone with coronavirus comes to work?
- What happens if the employer needs to close the workplace?
- If coronavirus enters a care home, should employees on duty at the time be sent home for quarantine?
Frequently Asked Questions
The situation and advice may change regularly and therefore we would strongly advise you to keep up-to-date daily and follow the advice from organisations such as:
- Public Health England (PHE)
- Public Health Wales
- Health Protection Scotland (HPS)
- Foreign & Commonwealth Office travel advice
- ACAS (all employers should follow these guidelines)
- CQC (Care homes, hospitals, doctors, dentists, clinics etc.)
If you have any other questions in relation to this guidance, please do not hesitate to contact the Duncan & Toplis team
Who are the people at increased risk from coronavirus?
You may be at increased risk from coronavirus if you:
- are 70 or older
- are pregnant
- under 70 with an underlying health condition listed below (ie anyone instructed to get a flu jab as an adult each year on medical grounds):
- chronic (long-term) respiratory diseases, such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema or bronchitis
- chronic heart disease, such as heart failure
- chronic kidney disease
- chronic liver disease, such as hepatitis
- chronic neurological conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease, motor neurone disease, multiple sclerosis (MS), a learning disability or cerebral palsy
- problems with your spleen – for example, sickle cell disease or if you have had your spleen removed
- a weakened immune system as the result of conditions such as HIV and AIDS, or medicines such as steroid tablets or chemotherapy
- being seriously overweight (a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or above)
The advice for people who may be at increased risk from coronavirus is the same as for most other people. They should only leave the house for very limited purposes, as above.
The Government have told some people to “shield”. What does shielding mean?
People most at risk from coronavirus are sometimes called “shielded” or “extremely vulnerable” people.
This includes people who:
- have had an organ transplant
- are having certain types of cancer treatment
- have blood or bone marrow cancer, such as leukaemia
- have a severe lung condition, such as cystic fibrosis or severe asthma
- have a condition or are taking medicine that makes them much more likely to get infections
- are pregnant and have a serious heart condition
People in this category, considered most at risk are being contacted by the NHS by letter or text.
People are strongly advised to stay at home at all times for a period of at least 12 weeks from the day they receive their letter.They must avoid going out for food and medicine.
More information about shielding can be found here
Some of my employees are self isolating, what is this?
People must stay at home and self isolate when they, or the family they live with, have got symptoms of coronavirus.
This is called self-isolation.
If an individual is self-isolating, they must:
- not leave their home for any reason,
- not go out to buy food or collect medicine – order them by phone or online, or ask someone else to drop them off at their home
- not have visitors, such as friends and family, in their home
The Government have issued strict rules as to how long individuals must self isolate:
- if an individual lives alone and has symptoms of coronavirus illness (COVID-19), however mild, stay at home for 7 days from when the symptoms started.
- if they live with others and they are the first in the household to have symptoms of coronavirus, then they must stay at home for 7 days, but all other household members who remain well must stay at home and not leave the house for 14 days. The 14-day period starts from the day when the first person in the house became ill.
- for anyone else in the household who starts displaying symptoms, they need to stay at home for 7 days from when the symptoms appeared, regardless of what day they are on in the original 14 day isolation period.
See Government guidance on self isolation here
What do I pay an employee who is self isolating?
Any employees who have or live with with someone who has a persistent cough and/or a fever must self isolate for 14 days at home.
We suggest that you allow those who can to work from home, otherwise you would need to pay them in line with your normal sick pay policy.
Please see our FAQ below for further details.
Are employees entitled to sick pay if they are ill themselves and off work due to coronavirus?
Your usual sick leave and statutory sick pay entitlements apply if someone has coronavirus. If the employer pays absence at an enhanced rate normally, this would still apply.
Employees should let their employer know as soon as possible if they’re not able to go to work in line with your current policy and procedure.
You should consider making allowances for Fit Notes as these may not be available during this period and particularly for isolation.
You can find out more about self-isolating here.
If we have an employee who is not ill with coronavirus but cannot work because they’re in self-isolation or shielding (either here or overseas)?
The Government have now announced that those employees who have been advised to self-isolate will be eligible to receive statutory sick pay if they meet the eligibility criteria of the lower earnings threshold of £120 per week, which is currently paid at a rate of £95.85 per week. Due to the Government announcement of the change to the statutory sick pay rules, this will now be payable from the first day of absence without the need for waiting days.
This change will likely be temporary and will only apply during the coronavirus epidemic, after which sick pay may revert to the previous position, which is that it is only paid from the fourth day of absence.
The position in regard to payments may change as the government considers how it can best support employers and employees, so definitely one to watch.
Many company sick pay policies will include a requirement for the employee to obtain a Fit Note from a doctor. However, in these cases they may have difficulty obtaining this as GP surgeries are discouraging non-essential visits. The individual can now go on line and get an Isolation Note [see Isolation Note factsheet].
Where businesses have an enhanced sickness pay policy in place employers could decide not to pay this on top of the statutory entitlement. However, you would need to check your contracts or employment or custom and practice. ACAS are also advising good practice would be to pay sick pay as normal. As such, it is a decision employers will need to consider and be aware that this could be legally challenged later.
The employee must tell you as soon as possible if they cannot work in line with usual policy.
Where an employee is not sick, but you tell them not to come to work, they should get their usual pay. For example, if someone has returned from an affected area and you ask them not to come in. Please note the government no longer require people to self isolate when returning from abroad so this would be based on your decision.
Following government advice we are sending our employees home to work, what do we do with those who cannot work from home?
Where some of your employees can work from home you should action this. In some cases this won’t be possible and those employees can remain in your office or workplace to work as things stand at the moment. These employees would all be paid as normal.
For those with medical underlying issues who are likely to be shielding and advised to isolate for 12 weeks, where they can work from home you should put this in place. For others who can’t, they will still need to be sent home and would then be paid in line with your normal sickness policy. This would include SSP from day 1 plus any contractual entitlement.
What do we do if we have a pregnant employee?
For pregnant employees they must only leave the house for those exceptional reasons stated above. Where possible, you should make arrangements for your pregnant employee to work from home. Where this is not possible, you would have to pay them as normal, legally they cannot be treated as being sick.
You could ask them to use some of their annual leave or bring forward their maternity leave (where possible) to assist this.
We can’t send any employees home what should we do?
If your business is a business which can remain open you should continually refer to the latest government advice. As above, for those with medical underlying issues who are likely to be advised to shield for at least 12 weeks, where they can work from home you should put this in place. For others who can’t, they will still need to be sent home and would then be paid in line with your normal sickness policy.
A list of those businesses which have been directed to close by the Government is here
What should we do if an employee can work from home but doesn’t want to?
In almost all cases you should insist they do work from home otherwise they are not following government guidance and you have a duty of care to them.
If you can find a way for them to be isolated in an office and they are comfortable with that in limited cases, you could allow this.
What should we do if an employee has an underlying medical condition, has been directed to shield, cannot work from home and they insist on coming in?
This is a much bigger risk than above. This guidance from the government has been set by medical professionals and we would not advise companies to deviate from their advice.
They should work from home where they can from the day that they received their letter or text from the NHS.
What should we do if an employee has been diagnosed with coronavirus?
They should contact you as normal in line with your sickness absence procedure and you should follow normal procedure thereafter.
They should remain at home and not visit the workplace. See note on self isolation.
What happens if employees are sick but not related to coronavirus?
They need to report their absence in the usual way, even if they’re working from home. Your normal company sick pay policy will apply.
If an employee needs time off work to look after someone, what should we do?
Employees are entitled to time off work to help someone who depends on them (a ‘dependent’) in an unexpected event or emergency. This would apply to situations to do with coronavirus, such as:
- if they have children they need to look after or need to arrange care for because their school has closed; and
- to help their child or another dependent if they’re sick or need to go into isolation or hospital.
In line with legislation, this is unpaid but annual leave can be taken where appropriate.
The amount of time off an employee takes to look after someone must be reasonable for the situation. For example, they might take two days off to start with, and if more time is needed they can book holiday. Where they can still work from home in this unusual time we recommend you allow this.
Please note, where they are taking time off to look after a sick child or dependent related to coronavirus and they live in the same house the employee would need to self isolate for 14 days and in this case they would receive normal sick pay.
Can I pay an employee who is staying at home to look after someone, SSP?
No, because the employee is not ill themselves or self isolating because others in their household have got coronavirus symptoms, they will not be eligible for SSP.
What should we do if someone becomes unwell at work?
If someone becomes unwell in the workplace with potential coronavirus symptoms:
- If their symptoms are mild, they should go home and those around should practice good hygiene as normal.
- In the unlikely event symptoms are more severe, they should:
- get at least two meters (seven feet) away from other people;
- go to a room or area behind a closed door, such as a sick bay or office;
- avoid touching anything;
- cough and 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;
- use a separate bathroom from others, if possible; and
- Use their own mobile phone to call NHS advice on 111. They should tell the operator their symptoms and which country they’ve returned from in the last 14 days.
Please make the First Aider aware but they are not required to tend to them.
If an ambulance is needed, i.e. if they’re seriously ill or injured or their life is at risk, then you should of course call 999.
What happens if employees do not want to go to work?
Some people might feel they do not want to go to work if they’re afraid of catching coronavirus. If there are genuine concerns you should try to resolve them to protect the health and safety of your employees. For example, if possible, you could offer flexible working or working from home.
As an employer, you also have a duty to comply with the Government guidelines on social distancing, so measures should be put in place, within the workplace, to ensure that these measures can be applied.
If your employees go out to customer sites, please speak with your customers to ensure that your employees are able to practice the Government guidelines on social distancing.
If an employee still does not want to go in, they may be able to arrange to take the time off as holiday or unpaid leave. As in all other cases, you do not have to agree to this.
Ultimately it is advisable to be pragmatic, situations like these are rare so you should not be concerned about setting a precedent. Also, take the time to reassure employees by having plenty of antibacterial hand gel and soap available whilst also reminding employees about hygiene standards in the office.
If an employee refuses to attend work, they could result in disciplinary action. Clearly this should be avoided where possible but please seek advice should you have concerns.
You may have employees considered ‘high risk’ and you should ask them to contact their health professional, GP or call 111 for advice if they are experiencing symptoms (new continuous cough and/or high temperature)
For employees who travel a lot for business reasons to countries worldwide, can you insist that they still travel?
We are now in the position where worldwide travel will not be able to be carried out due to imposed restrictions across the world in response to COVID-19. You should always follow the advice around travel restriction or guidance to not visit particular countries unless it is essential. This will avoid putting the health and safety of your employees at risk if you insisted that they travel to that country. This may be deemed unreasonable behaviour on the part of the employer. We would not advise that you insist that they travel to such countries.
However, where there is no travel restriction and the country that they are visiting has no warnings, then you could ask that the employee travels as per the normal role, taking every precautionary measure possible and assuming that means of travel are available.
What happens with annual leave, where an employee has booked time off for holiday, but their holiday is cancelled because of a situation outside of their control?
You are under no obligation to allow the cancellation of the annual leave, however, where it is possible we would advise you to allow this if it helps all parties.
Can we insist employees use some of their annual leave during this period or cancel leave?
Yes, you can insist annual leave already booked, is taken and likewise with notice (equivalent to the time booked) you can cancel leave.
What if someone with coronavirus comes to work?
If someone with coronavirus comes to work, the workplace does not necessarily have to close.
The local Public Health England (PHE) health protection team will get in contact with the employer to:
- discuss the case;
- identify people who have been in contact with the affected person;
- carry out a risk assessment; and
- advise on any actions or precautions to take.
Find your local PHE health protection team here.
What happens if the employer needs to close the workplace?
We recommend planning for this eventuality, so that you are prepared should you need to close temporarily. For example, making sure employees have a way to communicate with you and their colleagues.
Where work can be done at home, the employer could:
- ask employees who have work laptops or mobile phones to take them home, so they can carry on working; and
- arrange paperwork tasks that can be done at home for employees who do not work on computers.
In some situations, you might need to close your business for a short time. The Government have announced a Job Retention Scheme to support businesses in the event of closure, continue to pay a percentage of their employees’ gross pay. See Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme Guidance.
Where you are experiencing a downturn in revenue there are a few options you could consider. We can give advice on your options, the process and legal considerations, so please get in touch if you need assistance. Please also note that there are government grants and loans available which we can assist you with.
If coronavirus enters a care home, should employees on duty at the time be sent home for quarantine?
In the first instance you should contact CQC for specific advice. For non-essential employees you should send them home to self-isolate; ideally, they should walk or drive themselves and avoid public transport.
We understand this is a very difficult time and we are here to support you in anyway that we can. If you have any other questions in relation to this guidance, please do not hesitate to contact the Duncan & Toplis team