UK and COVID-19: Guidance for Employers


published on 18 March 2020 | reading time approx. 2 minutes
With the new coronavirus disease, (COVID-19), continuing to spread extensively in the UK, it’s likely to pose a significant challenge to many organisations especially employers. Employers should consider to take some simple steps to help respond to the threat and protect the health and safely of staff by being prepared.

It's good practice for all employers to:

  • Keep up to date with Government and Public Health England (PHE) advice as it develops
  • Keep all staff updated on how to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace, including:
– Promoting regular and thorough hand-washing by everyone in a clean environment with hot water and soap
– Providing all staff with access to hand sanitiser and tissues whilst at work
– Make sure the workplace is regularly cleaned and hygienic
– Avoid close contact with people who are unwell
  • Kep everyone updated on actions being taken to reduce risks of exposure in the workplace
  • Train managers so they know how to spot someone in the workplace who has symptoms of coronavirus and the relevant process that follows such as reporting sickness and sick pay
  • Encourage all staff to reconsider any travel to affected areas


Self-isolation and sick pay

Employers must give employees and workers any Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) 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
  • they've been told to self-isolate by a doctor or NHS 111


SSP will be paid from day one, rather than from the fourth day for affected individuals. If employers want, they might offer more than SSP by offering the employee 'contractual' sick pay. Employers may wish to apply some flexibility if the employee has contracted the virus because they were on a business trip and consider increasing payment from SSP.


We suggest that employers use their discretion around the need for medical evidence for a period of absence where an employee is advised to self-isolate due to COVID-19, as some individuals might not be able to provide a sick note, if they've been told to self-isolate for 14 day.


If someone returns from an affected area

Employers should let all staff know if any staff members are returning from an affected area, such as category 1 countries for example China or Italy, should self-isolate and either; use the NHS online coronavirus service or call 111 for NHS advice.


Employers should pay them Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) or contractual sick pay while they're in self-isolation and cannot work.


If the employer needs to close the workplace

Employers may want to start to plan in case they need to close the workplace temporarily. For example, employers will need to make sure staff contact details are up to date and staff have a way to communicate with the employer and other people they work with.

Working from home

Employers should be taking steps to facilitate home working, and encouraging employees to ensure that they have the correct set-up at home to be able to work there if required to do so. This may include ensuring that all employees have a way of logging on to secure systems from home, and testing this before home working is actually required where work can be done at home.


Lay-offs and short-time working

In some situations, the employer might need to close down their business for a short time  because they are temporarily unable to provide work for their employees. If this is the case, then the employer still needs to pay their employees for this time unless it says otherwise in their contract.


Using holiday

An employer may give notice ordering a worker to take statutory holiday on specified dates. Such notice must be at least twice the length of the period of leave that the worker is being ordered to take. There are no explicit requirements about the form that this notice must take. For example, if they want to close for 5 days, they should tell everyone at least 10 days before.


Please note that this could affect holidays staff have already booked or planned. So employers should explain clearly why they need to close and try and resolve any staff members concerns regarding how this may affect their holiday entitlement or plans.


If an employee needs time off work to look after someone        

Employees are entitled to short period off to help dependants (someone who depends on them) in an emergency or unexpected problem. This entitlement would also apply to situations to do with coronavirus.

There's no statutory right to pay for this time off, but some employers might offer pay depending on the contract or workplace policy. The amount of time off an employee takes to look after someone must be reasonable for the situation.


If someone becomes unwell at work

The government advice if someone becomes unwell while at work with coronavirus symptoms  is to remove that person to an area which is at least 2 metres away from other people and, if possible, find a room or area where they can be isolated behind a closed door. If possible, open a window for ventilation.

The unwell person should call NHS 111 from their mobile (or 999 if it’s an emergency). Whilst they wait for advice from NHS 111, they should avoid touching people, surfaces and objects. They should try cover their mouth and nose with a disposable tissue when they cough or sneeze and put the tissue in a bag or pocket then throw the tissue in the bin. If they don’t have any tissues available, they should cough and sneeze into the crook of their elbow.


If employer sends employee home

If an employer sends staff members home as a precaution and office working is not possible; then employees should get their normal pay as they will be following the reasonable instruction of their employer.


Please note that due to the fluidity of the current situation surrounding COVID-19 the Government is providing daily updates supported by NHS experts. These daily updates may change the aforementioned guidance.

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Jan Eberhardt


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