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20 March 2020

Like many of you, I have been asked many questions about the impact that Coronavirus, Covid-19, is having in the workplace and how to manage staff.  I thought it would be helpful to produce a blog with clear, FAQs on the subject.  The answers given below are based on guidance available as at 19 March 2020.  Obviously, be aware that the situation is changing daily.  I hope the following is helpful.

Can staff continue to work if they want to?

Yes, they can.  If they are symptom free, and you have work for them to do, then there is no reason why staff cannot continue to work.  However, you will need to put additional measures in place.  Firstly, be particularly careful about vulnerable people who might work for you, or who might be your customers, this means people who have a long-term health condition, such as asthma; pregnant women; or those aged over 70.  It is Government advice that there is social distancing which means that people should ideally work 2 metres apart.

Some businesses have implemented this by, for example, couriers leaving parcels on doorsteps or in safe places rather than the courier asking for a signature; the supermarkets are putting in place systems at checkouts and encouraging customers to pay by card to reduce the contact that cash handling has; some businesses are encouraging working from home where possible (see below).

Make sure there are places for staff to wash hands with hot water and soap; encourage everyone to wash their hands regularly; provide hand sanitiser and tissues for staff; consider if meetings are necessary or if they can be held remotely instead.  Ensure you keep up to date with the latest government advice on coronavirus here.

Can my staff work remotely?

If work can be done at home, then this might be a good option for you to consider.  You will need to provide them with a laptop or mobile phone in order for them to carry on working. Staff still need to be supported so you must ensure that you keep in regular contact especially as some people will find it very different not working with their team.  Be alert to those who feel isolated and discuss creative ways for keeping in touch – regular phone calls or use other technology to speak and see staff so you have that personal touch.  Be aware it is a balance as you don’t want to be too intrusive.

What if someone needs time off to care for a relative?

Staff are entitled to time off work to help someone who is dependent upon them.  There’s no statutory right to pay in such circumstances and it tends to be for a short time only.  If they need longer to care for relatives, then they should receive SSP as a minimum for this time.  They will also need to follow the self-isolation guidance on the website here.

What if someone doesn’t want to come to work because they are nervous, anxious, and/or concerned about coming in to contact with someone and getting the virus?

Some people might feel they don’t want to go out; especially if they are in a higher risk group.  I suggest you talk to them and listen to any concerns they have.  If the person still doesn’t want to go in, then talk to them about options such as taking holiday or unpaid leave.  Employers don’t have to agree to this.

What if someone falls ill at work?  Do I have to send them home? and do a deep clean of the workplace?

It is sensible to ensure that managers and work colleagues know what the symptoms are of covid-19 and know what to do if someone is taken unwell at work.  If someone becomes unwell while at work, take them to a separate room and ensure that, until they go home, they use a separate bathroom from others, if possible.  They must go home and then self-isolate for 7 days; if they live with others everyone else in the household must self-isolate for 14 days.  You will then need to ensure the areas that they have been using are thoroughly cleaned.  There is more information on cleaning workplace here.

What if my business relies on customers and they are no longer coming? Do I have to “pay off” my staff?

I appreciate that no one wants to be in this situation, but we already know that big employers are having to face difficult choices, let alone small businesses.  The important thing is to talk to your staff.  They might be prepared to use holiday, take unpaid leave, work part time hours, or do other work that you might be able to offer – these are a few options to consider such as lay off and short time working.  If you are in this situation, you need to take professional advice.

Is there Government help for my business?

for small businesses the Government has announced some help for example:

  • for companies with 250 employees or less – they will be reimbursed for SSPC costs
  • there should be cash grants available to support cash flow and
  • there should be help with mortgage payments via a three-month mortgage holiday.

This is changing regularly so check website for further updates on this and watch the daily government announcements.

How long will it go on for?

We all want to know the answer to this question.  For now, we all need to follow the government’s advice and stay as positive as we can.  There are several ways in which you can do this:

  • stay physically fit – consider going out in the fresh air for walks and consider using online fitness regimes such as yoga, Pilates, etc.
  • stay mentally fit – catch up on some of that reading that you can’t normally get time to do and maybe try sudoku, or other mental games.
  • stay spiritually fit – help yourself and others by being kind and being neighbourly.  Check on your neighbours and vulnerable people around you to see if they need any help or shopping.
  • stay emotionally fit – make sure that you talk to friends, family, colleagues on the phone and/or via skype, zoom or facetime etc, so that you don’t feel isolated.

Two important places to go for more information are the ACAS and websites.

I’ve chosen my supporting photo wisely, rather than the usual virus picture or of someone in self-isolation, this beautiful scene is of Bossons Glacier near Chamonix from a recent trip there.  I hope it will remind us that although times are tough at the moment with this uncertainty, we hope that if we listen to the advice and support each other as a Country, we can return to some normality soon. 

Please keep in touch, take care and keep washing those hands!


TAGGED IN: HR, Absence, Health & Safety, Mental Health, Coronavirus
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