Dealing with Coronavirus in your business – Practical Advice for Employers

Coronavirus-A Guide For Employers

What is Coronavirus?

Coronaviruses are transmitted between animals and people. This is a new strain causing a new illness with flu/pneumonia-like symptoms.

What are the symptoms?

Common signs of infection include:

  • respiratory symptoms
  • fever / high temperature
  • new or prolonged cough
  • shortness of breath and breathing difficulties.

In the most severe cases, infection can cause:

  • pneumonia
  • severe acute respiratory syndrome
  • kidney failure and death.

Generally, people at the greatest risk of developing the most severe symptoms include:

  • people with weakened immune systems
  • older people
  • people with long term medical conditions such as cancer and chronic lung disease

How does coronavirus spread?

The disease can spread from when someone with the virus coughs or exhales. Small droplets land on objects and surfaces which can then be touched by another. If that person touches their eyes, nose or mouth the virus can spread. It can also be passed on if someone with COVID-19 is breathing over you.

Recommended preventative measures for staff

Public Health England recommends following general cold and flu precautions.

  • cover your mouth and nose with a tissue (or your sleeve) but not your hands when you cough or sneeze Catch it, Bin it, Kill it
  • put used tissues in the bin straight away
  • regularly wash your hands with soap and hot water or use hand sanitiser gel.
  • try to avoid close contact with people who are unwell. Try to stay more than 1 meter (3 feet) away from a sick person.
  • clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces
  • do not touch your eyes, nose or mouth if your hands are not clean

Practical steps you can take as a business

  • set up hand sanitising stations
  • increase daily cleaning measures using antibacterial cleaning products
  • provide boxes of tissues
  • update contact numbers and emergency contact details
  • cancel company travel plans unless absolutely essential and only within the UK 
  • where relevant, consider using telephone / video conferencing rather than face to face conversations
  • postpone or cancel attendance at external events 
  • minimise or stop the number of non-essential visitors coming to the workplace.
  • check essential visitors are not showing any symptoms, haven’t recently travelled to affected areas, or been in contact with anyone who has traveled or developed symptoms 
  • avoid shaking hands
  • review desk layouts and workspaces and where possible increase the distance colleagues are from each other 
  • review the use of empty meeting rooms or other spaces and create new working areas to enable vulnerable employees to socially distance from others

Review your business contingency plan. Assess the realistic, tangible risk to your business should the situation worsen. Also check the government business guidance page for the latest information.

Coronavirus Business Support Measures

The Government have announced several financial support measures to assist businesses at this time, including part payment of staff salaries, help with sick pay and a business loan scheme. See our Coronavirus Contingency Planning blog for more information.

Employee sickness rights if coronavirus impacts your business

You don’t want to encourage unnecessary staff absence. Employees should take a sensible approach to taking time off work.

Normal common sense should apply for the common cold.

If experiencing mild symptoms of the virus, Public Health Organisation advice is to self-isolate for 7 days if they live alone. Or 14 days if they share their household. If members of the same household develop mild symptoms of the virus, everyone who resides there are now advised to self-isolate for 14 days.  Employees may be well but find themselves having to take time off work.

Mild symptoms include:

  • high temperature
  • new or prolonged cough
  • difficulty breathing or shortness of breath

Only telephone NHS 111 if after the self-isolation period symptoms remain or have worsened. You should follow any additional advice given then.

Anyone told by a medical professional to self-isolate, should do so.

If it’s not possible for staff to work remotely, record all absence related to self-isolation as sickness and pay sick pay.

If you offer occupational sick pay, normal sick pay calculations and entitlements should apply in the first instance.

During the outbreak, Statutory sick pay will be paid from day one of absence for anyone self-isolating due to :

  • experiencing the mild virus symptoms (as detailed above)
  • a member of their household experiencing mild virus symptoms 
  • or where told to do so by a medical professional

Staff should complete the new Government Online Isolation Note rather than contacting their GP.

For businesses with fewer than 250 employees, SSP costs for the first 14 days of any self-isolation period will be refunded in full by the Government.

The Government will ONLY refund statutory sick pay for staff self-isolating due to Coronavirus. They will NOT refund sick pay for normal sickness.

What about GP Fit Notes?

For the duration of the pandemic, the government has introduced Online Isolation Notes. Anyone unable to work for more than 7 days because of Coronavirus (Covid-19) can obtain an isolation note via a new online service.

To avoid additional pressures on GPs during the pandemic, staff should use the online service rather than visit their GP. This will remove the need for them to leave their home, and reduce pressures on the health service.

Employees calling in sick for other reasons will be expected to follow normal sickness reporting procedures.

Taking time off to look after someone else?

Staff can take time off to look after a dependant, or in an emergency.

For example:

  • childcare due to nursery or school closures
  • if a child or other dependant (i.e. elderly parent) is sick, or needs to go into isolation or hospital

There’s no statutory right to pay for this time off.

Follow your normal policies regarding staff taking time off and whether absence will be paid or unpaid.

Consider whether time can be worked back; taken as accrued time off in lieu; or taken as paid holiday. You can agree on a combination of options dependant on how much time off is required.

Taking time off without showing mild virus symptoms or in absence of medical advice

Employees may have concerns about catching coronavirus and not want to come to work. Listen to any reasonable concerns they have and do your best to resolve them.

Staff may choose to self-isolate, without developing any symptoms, without living with others who have developed symptoms or without advice from a medical professional. They might do this if they feel they are at greater risk from the virus. Where this happens, consider their reasons for wanting to do so.

This may apply to employees who have been advised to enter a period of social distancing.  This includes employees over the age of 70, those with underlying health conditions or those who are pregnant. 

Where staff don’t give a genuine reason for self-isolating, you can require them to work as normal. Or, you can authorise absence and expect them to take this as unpaid or annual leave.   

SSP will only apply if their reasons are in line with current Government recommendations.

Where staff don’t give a genuine reason for self-isolating, you can require them to work as normal. Or, you can authorise absence and expect them to take this as unpaid or annual leave.   SSP will not apply in these circumstances.

Consider disciplinary action:

  • if staff unreasonably refuse to come to work
  • you think trust is being abused
  • sickness absence is being misused

What if “vulnerable” employees want to come to work

It is understandable that you will not want to discourage willing workers.  

Assuming they are 

  • fit to work, 
  • have not come into contact with anyone who presents a risk 
  • not living with anyone who has mild symptoms and 
  • have not recently travelled 

It is OK to discuss and agree with individuals any additional reasonable precautions which would enable them to safely continue working.

Assess each case on its own merit and risk assess available options on a regular basis, especially where Government advice is updated and/or their personal situation changes.

If someone becomes unwell at work

If someone becomes ill at work displaying the recognised mild symptoms (high temperature, cough and difficulty breathing), they should immediately be sent home and advised to follow the governments stay at home guidance.

If staff report to work when they should be self-isolating due to financial worries

You have a duty of care to all your employees for their health, safety and wellbeing.  It is understandable that staff may be concerned about reduced sick pay or SSP.  However, staff should be advised to go home if:

  • They have recently returned from an infected area
  • They have been medically advised to self-isolate
  • You believe they are showing mild virus symptoms and should self-isolate
  • They live with anyone who has shown mild virus symptoms

Options to consider

  • Homeworking where practically possible on normal pay
  • Use of annual leave, accrued time off in lieu or agreement to work time back
  • Manage as sickness absence and pay sick pay (especially if clearly unwell)

Employers are advised to think carefully before offering full or half pay solutions. Even if discretionary in nature, this sets future precedent for the business. Discretionary offers also need to be consistent and fair across the whole company and not just offered to specific individuals. You also need to ensure they are affordable in the longer term. 

If staff are taking advantage or being difficult

Sadly, some employees may see this as an opportunity to behave in an unhelpful, unreasonable or negative way.   

Speak with them at the earliest opportunity and share observations or concerns with them.  Clarify why their behaviour is unhelpful, unreasonable or negative. 

Explore reasons given and manage expectations moving forward regarding how you need them to behave and what needs to happen.   

If problems continue action under your disciplinary procedure should be considered.  

If your business is indirectly affected due to supply chain or reductions in customer demand

Keep your team informed and be as open with them as possible. This will help manage expectations and dispel rumours which may be creating unnecessary worry.

Speak with your team about ways in which you can keep the business operating as normally as possible. Seek their ideas and feedback.

Honestly discuss the potential need to make temporary changes to the business, such as:

  • temporary reduction in hours
  • moving to 4 or 3-day working weeks
  • temporarily removing discretionary benefits
  • temporary lay-offs
  • asking staff to complete work they wouldn’t normally do OR
  • any other cost-cutting measures

Explore all options to keep staff employed and avoid the need for any redundancies to be considered.  

If the situation worsens and you need to close the workplace

If you need to temporarily close your businesses or make any significant changes you will need to check if your contracts of employment have a short term working or lay off clause.  

If they don’t you will need to consult with your workforce and seek prior agreement to any changes or measures you wish to take.

(See our Coronavirus Contingency Guide for further information. )

If technically and practically possible, allow staff to work from home on normal pay. Remember, the Government will now pay up to 80% of staff salaries during the pandemic through the new Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.

You are advised to regularly review the latest guidance and assess the risk for your business. You should also communicate to your team any temporary plans in place to deal with the virus or plans ready to be implemented.

If you decide to close the business and send staff home, this may be paid or unpaid subject to your contractual clauses or agreements in place.

Coronavirus (COVID-19): latest information and advice

You can find the latest updates and advice for employers and employees regarding Coronavirus from the UK Government using the links below:

Information for the public

Guidance for employers and businesses

Guidance for employees

Support for businesses

If you’d like advice on developing Coronavirus plans and management guidance for your business, or implementing practical measures, please get in touch. Contact Debbie on 01278 802329 or 07885 370054. Or by email

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