The World Health Organisation has now declared Coronavirus as a global pandemic and the number of cases across Europe continues to rise. As an employer, you may be wondering what your responsibilities are and how you can protect your employees during the recent outbreak.
To help manage and contain the risks Emma Pary, Director of HR has answered some important questions. These Q&As should help provide you with clarity whilst the country prepares to enter the “control” phase of the Coronavirus response.
HR plays a vital role in controlling the serious nature of this pandemic and the impact it may have on your workforce. Maintaining open lines of communication with staff is essential. All employers should be educating employees about the coronavirus, including its symptoms and risks, and mitigating steps recommended by relevant health authorities.
The latest government guidance outlines that individuals who are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 infection should stay at home for 7 days. The symptoms are: a high temperature (fever), a new, continuous cough, difficulty in breathing. If an employee develops any of these symptoms, please ensure they self isolate. If someone lives in a household and is the first to have symptoms, they must self-isolate for 7 days. Everyone else in their household must self-isolate for 14 days.
Very important to know that employees and workers must receive Statutory Sick Pay due to them if they need to self-isolate because:
- they have coronavirus
- they have coronavirus symptoms, for example a high temperature or new continuous cough
- someone in their household has coronavirus symptoms
- they’ve been told to self-isolate by a doctor or NHS 111
With the outbreak spreading fast across the UK, the Government has now announced that all schools will be closing from Friday afternoon. You will be responsible for supporting all employees with children.
Those that are able to work from home should continue to do so. As an employer you must accept that there will be disruption and that working parents will struggle to be as productive. You will need to make allowances and be flexible, especially for those with younger children that will need more care.
From the beginning, managers need to communicate their expectations for remote workers, explaining the position to the employee carefully, and ensure that measures are put in place to facilitate any requirement to work at home. Where an employee’s role is not suitable for home working, employers should consider providing unpaid leave for the employee. It would also be advisable to take dependent leave where necessary, or use holiday entitlement to cover short periods of absence.
Companies across the UK are putting in place contingency plans for remote workers, employers should be prepared for what this means to their business.
All employees should be given clear guidance as to what that means for them, for example, working hours should be clearly defined, and equipment should be provided. There will be lots of things that need to be considered, like who covers the running costs? Given the current situation, any additional costs, such as phone bills, may need to be claimed for. As an employer you have every right to request evidence of expenses. You may need to explain how the expenses system works, and whether these costs are taxable. All expenses should be outlined as soon as possible, and would normally be part of any working from home agreement.
While some employees will be familiar with working from home with very little or no disruption to their day, others will find this very difficult. Managers will need to provide additional support at this stage, a good tip would be to create a department whatsapp group. Using WhatsApp in a work environment is very easy to implement and provides great instant support to employees.
Employers also need to be aware of their GDPR responsibilities and ensure compliance is met where staff are processing confidential client data away from the normal workplace environment.
My advice would be; anyone who fears that they may have coronavirus should contact the NHS 111 service. If the service advises an employee to self-isolate, then they will be entitled to statutory sick pay. If an employee chooses to self isolate and refuses to work, then as an employee you have the right to implement unpaid leave.
Employers have the right to tell employees and workers when to take holiday if they need to. For example, they can decide to shut for a week and everyone has to use their holiday entitlement.
If the employer does decide to do this, they must tell staff at least twice as many days before as the amount of days they need people to take.
For example, if they want to close for 5 days, they should tell everyone at least 10 days before.
This could affect holidays staff have already booked or planned. So employers should:
- explain clearly why they need to close
- try and resolve anyone’s worries about how it will affect their holiday entitlement or plans
The entire office should go through an intense cleaning process, cleaning should be increased around work stations, boardrooms, washrooms, and all the prominent places. Employers should also place hand sanitizers around common areas.
Covid-19 is presenting unique and unprecedented challenges for employers who have to cope with often complex HR and data protection related issues in a rapidly escalating crisis.
Employers are anxious to ensure continuity of their business, the health and safety of their employees and compliance with data protection obligations where these arise. Download our FAQs
We offer straightforward, practical advice to guide you through what is now a global pandemic. So you can be reassured you are getting the best, most relevant advice based on the latest UK advice. Speak to a consultant now and take the stress, worry and risk out of your HR. Call 01942 816 512 or email HR@ekwgroup.co.uk