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Emma O'Connor
Emma O'Connor,
Coronavirus – advice for employers – updated following government announcement on friday 20 march 2020 PART 2
30 March 2020

Below are some of the issues and questions which you might be impacting your business in light of the current Coronavirus outbreak. This summary is based on current Public Health England and government advice as at 29 March 2020. The advice and messaging around the Coronavirus (or COVID-19), is changing rapidly. The main themes are be vigilant, prepare and be flexible (as you can be) in this developing situation. It is important to check government websites as well as take specific legal advice. This guide is based on employers and employees; although, some advice will apply to your total workforce as well as to your customers and guests. This guide is spilt as follows:

Part 1 - introduction and current government advice

Part 2 - how can we support our business and workforce - some practical suggestions

Part 3 - how can we support our business and workforce: key messages for employers

Part 4 - pay, continuing work, “furlough” – the (new) future workplace need

Part 2 - how can we support our business and workforce – some practical suggestions 

The key messages are to: be vigilant, prepare and be flexible. With these in mind, let’s focus on the following:

Keeping up to date – with information from the relevant government departments and ensure that this information is communicated to all staff as well as guests and visitors to your site or office. Also, keep up to date with information about your workers – have they travelled, been in contact with a suspected case, have an underlying medical conditions?

Remember health and safety obligations – Employers must take reasonable steps to protect the health and safety of their staff whilst at work (including workers, visitors and guests when on site) and this should be at the fore at this time. The best way to prevent infection is to avoid being exposed to the virus. Public Health England (PHE) recommends following general cold and flu precautions to help prevent people from catching and spreading COVID-19 (e.g. washing hands). Employers might want to look at their cleaning rotas and clean communal areas, surfaces and door handles/buttons, more frequently. Ensuring too that staffs etc. have adequate washing facilities. Further information is available from PHE and the NHS. Communicate obligations and health warnings with staff/visitors/guests.

Under health and safety obligations, employees also have a responsibility to take reasonable care to ensure that they do not endanger themselves or anyone who may be affected by their actions at work. Remind staff of their obligations. In extreme cases a failure to adhere to your health and safety or emergency policies is a disciplinary offence (and might even lead to prosecutions under health and safety laws).

Discrimination, harassment and bullying - Employers must not single anyone out unfairly, for example because of their race or ethnicity. Be alert to any bullying, discrimination or harassment happening in their workplace and address it immediately.

Risk Assessments – are necessary as part of general health and safety obligations for all staff but particularly at this time. Staff who have cleaning responsibilities, public/client facing roles or in other roles which could increase their risk of infection/spread would need particular attention. Identify where the risk areas are in the business. Pay attention to staff who are disabled (particularly those with diabetes, cancer, underlying conditions or who have respiratory conditions) or who are pregnant. This is really important. Once risks have been identified, employers can then understand what practical steps to take to reduce the risk to public and staff health and safety.

Health Emergencies Policy – have a clear workforce policy in place to deal with emergency health procedures and ensure this is communicated across the workforce. Communicate all relevant emergency procedures to all staff and ensure that staff are properly trained to your emergency procedures to ensure the messages are understood. Also, make sure managers know how to spot symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19) and are clear on any relevant processes.

Contingency/Continuity Planning – Assess your business’s own level of risk and exposure and communicate the contingency plan to key teams and individuals across the business. This will vary from business to business and role to role. For example, those in client/public facing roles may have to take extra care and be extra vigilant, for example, using self-isolation if there is a risk of infection. If you are proposing to ask staff to work from home, how is this going to be achieved? Where are the risks?

Flexible resourcing – Develop a flexible resourcing strategy. This could involve identifying your core roles or a possible skeleton staff, those who have transferable skills and also identifying whether any staff could be trained in different areas of the business to provide short term cover. Staff could be asked to work additional hours to cover sickness absence (paying attention to Working Time Regulations 1998 limits and checking contracts of employment) to help the business maintain operational staffing levels providing there is flexibility in the contract and/or the request is reasonable. Staff could also be asked to work from home or take holidays as a way of preventing infection spread whilst also maintaining business operations. Also look at other ways your business could be staffed to ensure the business continuity.

Check contracts of employment or work – Check agreements now to allow time to plan. What do these say about staff working in different roles or locations? How much flexibility is there in your contracts to change hours? Do you have the ability to offer Lay off or Short Time working?

Set up a “Taskforce” - Appoint someone/panel within the organisation whose responsibility it is to keep up to date with current information and ensure this is disseminated appropriately across the business. Also create a single point of contact to liaise with PHE or local health providers or someone who can co-ordinate prevention plans. It would be wise to include someone with responsibility for contingency planning also to ensure the messages are joined up.

Common-sense approach – have a common sense approach such as providing hand sanitizers, ensuring there is soap, tissues and properly maintained toilet/hand washing facilities. Other things like increased cleaning, communicating with staff about the risks and taking personal precautions and disposing of waste appropriately are also practical things employers can do. Putting up health notices around your workplace and also for visitors and guests would also be sensible. Employees will need your support to adhere to the recommendation to stay at home to reduce the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) to others.

Communicate – keep communicating with your staff, customers, guests or visitors. Agree how you are going to communicate to all staff – emails, text, and phone. Do you have up to date contact details for everyone? What about your suppliers or contractors – ensure they too communicate with you about any staff etc. issues they might have. Your workforce must also keep their manager/HR informed if they have returned from a holiday to a specific country or area (see above) or a relative/close friend has (who they have had contact with in the last 14 days since they have returned) whether they have symptoms or not. Also don’t forget about your people on family leave or extended sick leave. Communication is key in these situations.

Be as flexible – (as you can be), this situation is changing rapidly, so processes and procedures may need to be flexed to protect health and wellbeing

Consistent with our policy when giving comment and advice on a non-specific basis, we cannot assume legal responsibility for the accuracy of any particular statement. In the case of specific problems we recommend that professional advice be sought.

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