CoronavirusAs the headlines report an ever-growing number of cases, it’s no wonder that many businesses are concerned over the spread of Coronavirus. The current advice is that there remains a low risk of contracting Coronavirus in a UK workplace, but it’s still important that businesses consider how to plan for a suspected case, or what to do in the event of an outbreak.

If you’re an employer, don’t panic, but from an employee welfare and business point of view you should now be putting some thought into how this should be dealt with. Here are some steps you can take to prepare.

Remain up to date on the latest advice and update your employees

Employers should remain aware on the latest advice issued by Public Health England, including locations of specific lockdown areas or places reporting suspected cases  – particularly if employees have recently returned from a holiday or plan to visit affected countries.

As of February, anyone who has travelled to the UK from affected regions in the last 14 days and is experiencing cough, fever or shortness of breath is advised to stay indoors and call NHS 111, even if symptoms are mild.

Implement good hygiene practices

Most people will know the symptoms to the virus are much like a cold or flu, which can spread quickly if people come into contact with each other. Simple hygiene steps such as ensuring there are enough supplies of soap and water, as well as clean places to wash hands, can make all the difference in preventing cases and reassuring employees.

Giving out tissues and hand sanitizers may encourage employees to be more cautious face masks, if appropriate, could be beneficial to staff who work in vulnerable situations or are worried about catching the virus at work.

Dealing with someone who is required to go into self-isolation

The Health Secretary has said Britons returning from quarantined towns must self-isolate, even if they have no symptoms. Workers who are ill are entitled to statutory sick pay, but the law says if employees stay away from work but aren’t sick, they may not get paid. So how do you deal with those in self-isolation?

It’s advised that sick pay should be considered, as an unwell employee may come in to work because they want to get paid. If someone is required to self-contain, they may still be able to work as normal – employers should make home working easier and be flexible enough to allow time off.

Monitor travel – both personal and business

Ensure staff remain vigilant when travelling to other countries and keep up to date with travel advice on www.gov.uk

Remember to be sympathetic if employees need to change holiday plans – it may have to be at the last minute.

Be mindful about employees concerns to travel for work –  consider if it is necessary for them to go abroad. Could the work be carried out via videoconferencing, for example? If travel is necessary, keep in contact with the employee and make sure they know the precautions to take if they feel ill. But remember not to pressure an employee to go somewhere if they don’t feel comfortable.

When someone shows signs of symptoms

If an employee shows signs of the Coronavirus, follow your normal sickness and absence procedures. If you are concerned with someone that has not been signed off work by a GP, you could consider giving them time off on precautionary grounds. When you insist an employee should take time off, this must be on full pay. It’s a good idea to make other employees aware at this point, should they be at risk of contracting the illness.

Be aware of employees at high risk, this includes pregnant women, older people or those with pre-existing medical conditions. Also think about those with family members who may have visited at-risk areas. You may prefer to ask those high-risk employees to work from home but consult with the individual before taking any action. Employers are obligated to avoid exposing pregnant employees to risks as a result of their work, so consider offering suitable alternative employment or suspend from work on medical grounds for as long as necessary.

Develop a contingency plan

There is a possibility that the risk of Coronavirus will become greater in the UK. In this case you should review your internal processes to make sure sickness and absence policies remain up to date as well as employee contact details.

Have a business continuity plan in place so that employees are able to work and get paid if you make the decision to close the business – consider how employees will access documents and how communication will take place. Do you have the resources to accommodate this? The plan will also need to take into account business risks associated with disruption – to what extent would your day-to-day operations or supply chain be affected?

As an employer, you must support your employees’ health and wellbeing and if the virus spreads, be prepared to up the level of support and adjust plans accordingly. If you are concerned about how to deal with Coronavirus and what steps you should take, please get in touch with the Reality HR team at info@realityhr.co.uk for some practical advice.