24 March 2020
Do organisations need to act now? The answer is a resounding "YES!"
Employers are under a duty to ensure the health and safety of all their employees and to provide a safe place and system of work - this should lead to serious considerations about whether you can now be asking people to work from home, or placing non-essential workers into "furlough" status. However, there is a lot of confusion around who can (and should) still work. See my other News & Views pages for more on this.
Employees are also under a duty to take reasonable care to ensure that they do not endanger themselves or anyone who may be affected by their acts or omissions at work.
This information is provided for employees and managers where someone with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 has been in a workplace setting or has concerns, as well as where individuals are self-isolating due to symptoms and/or the latest Government guidance for households with symptoms. See my other news pages and FAQ pages for information about furloughs and whether employers must close.
Advice & Guidance for Employers
The Government are regularly updating their information about when to self-isolate and what you need to do to stay well - see: latest advice
Consider your people:
- Look at each case individually to assess its merits and how you can minimise the impact on the business and the individual. For example, consider alternative working arrangements where these are feasible - the government are saying that wherever possible, if someone could work from home (and if they are well enough to do so) they should!
- Consider the employee being granted a period of unpaid leave or annual leave if they are not ‘sick’ but are worried about coming into work but you still need them to (see additional rules around vulnerable and pregnant individuals), but you will need to manage this alongside the impact of people who need to self-isolate.
- Where the employer has required individuals to stay away from the workplace (i.e. due to the closure of a workplace or department), you may need to pay them as normal to avoid a breach of contract situation arising (see further info below).
- However, the Government have introduced new "furlough" status measures - this is still in the development stages but please see my other pages and the Government support for businesses here
- Are your line managers prepped and ready to manage concerns, spot symptoms, provide reassurance and signpost employees to relevant information?
- Think about what support you and your people need - the news is unsettling for all of us and morale will no doubt be affected - communicate well!
- Where you have to have people in the workplace, put measures in place - restrict visitors, hold only essential meetings or better still, hold them online, cancel all non-essential travel, improve communications, etc.
Consider your contractual arrangements:
- Do you have in place lay off clauses if you are mandating people are going home? The new furlough arrangements, lay-offs and short-time working should ONLY be done within certain conditions: where there is an express contractual term OR where the employee gives written consent (i.e. in order to avoid a potential redundancy situation). Otherwise, you may face breach of contract claims.
- Might you need other employees to perform other duties or increased hours to cover absences of colleagues and what provisions do your contracts allow for this?
- Keep Working Time Regulations compliance under review
- Monitor and manage requests made for dependant care leave due to school closures or isolation of symptomatic dependants.
- Keep your eye on the latest government updates - this is challenging because so much information is being released but it is critical you monitor the changes that affect your business.
- The Government announced a short-term change to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) being paid from day 1 of sickness absence related to COVID-19. This includes those people who a self-isolating due to symptoms. Businesses with less than 250 employees will be able to reclaim SSP for up to 2 weeks per employee. See my FAQ page for more information about SSP payments relating to the coronavirus.
If you are planning to reclaim SSP or furlough payments, it is essential that you are maintaining good records around employee absences, SSP Payments and types of worker changes.
And finally but crucially, step up hygiene / cleaning routines, mandate good handwashing routines (allow extra breaks for necessary if you still have workers in) and wherever possible follow the 2-metre distancing guidelines.
Contact Embrace HR for more information as well as further help and support on with policies, change to employee contracts, manager guidance and documentation.
To further support businesses, one of my contacts, Paul Limb of ActionCOACH Bolton has included some essential crisis management tips on his website. Go to https://bolton.actioncoach.co.uk/plan-dont-panic/ for more information. The Government has detailed their advice and support to businesses, available via this link.