Coronavirus Advice – Frequently Asked Questions

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As you will expect, we’re currently receiving an overwhelming number of calls in relation to COVID-19 from employers who want to understand their responsibilities and make contingency plans for their business. Whilst we’ll return calls and emails as quickly as possible, we’re also maintaining this article as way to answer the most common enquiries we’re receiving.

Where can I find more information on coronavirus and my obligations?
Official government advice for employers can be found on the gov.uk website and this is being updated periodically (at the time of writing, the last update was a week ago). General medical advice is being maintained on the NHS website. We have also produced a guide for employers that we’re maintaining as the situation develops which you can download here.

If you subscribe to MyStaffShop, please don’t forget to remind your employees of the 24/7 confidential helpline that’s available to them. It’s a source of support if they’re struggling in the current situation with either their health or finances.

What can I do if I can’t afford to pay my employees?
The Government announced a new scheme on the 20th March to help employers who can’t pay their employees due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Detail was released on the 26th March and you can find out more by downloading our free HR Guide to the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. If you have a cash flow problem, you may also be eligible for a Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan.

How should I deal with a vulnerable or pregnant employee?
You have a duty of care to all employees and should ensure you’ve put appropriate safeguards in place to protect vulnerable employees (for example, those with asthma or weak immune systems). You also have a duty to carry out a risk assessment for pregnant employees and, if you cannot sufficiently protect them from the risks of coronavirus (by changing their hours of work or offering remote working for example) you must suspend them on full pay. If you fail to meet your obligations towards a pregnant employee they could bring a claim of pregnancy discrimination.

Do we need a COVID-19 policy?
There is no legal obligation to produce a specific policy, but it can help managers give the correct advice and provide a central source of information for all employees. However, rather than a formal policy, you may find it more useful to provide timely email updates to employees with the latest advice and any changes within the business.

Do we have to pay employees who are sick or self-quarantined?
When applying Statutory Sick Pay, you need to pay any staff who self-isolate and who are unable to work from home. This payment should be made from their first day of absence (this will be reimbursed if you have less than 250 employees), and employees are entitled to SSP even if it is another member of their family who has symptoms.

What if my employees can’t work from home?
If an employee has to self-quarantine but is not ill (for example, a family member is showing symptoms) ACAS are advising employers to treat absence as sick leave, although there is no obligation on you to do so. You may instead agree with employees that they take annual leave or unpaid leave whilst away from work. However, you should be mindful that you may be in breach of your health and safety obligations if your policy encourages sick employees to come into work (most likely when you choose not to pay them).

How should I manage school closures or parents who need to look after self-quarantined children?
We have produced separate advice on this. You can read more here.

What if an employee refuses to come into work?
If an employee has a genuine fear related to COVID-19, ACAS have stated that you should allow the employee to work remotely or to take time off work as holiday or unpaid leave. If an employee unreasonably refuses to come into work you could take disciplinary action, however we’d suggest looking for any other workable solution first. If you do proceed with disciplinary action, it’s important that you thoroughly investigate the employees’ circumstances and reasons for refusing to come into work.

Should we tell other employees if somebody is diagnosed with COVID-19?
You are under no obligation to inform employees if one of their colleagues is confirmed as having COVID-19, however it is usually better to do so. If possible, speak with the employee and agree how the message will be communicated to other employees, and please bear in mind that you have a duty to protect the individual’s privacy as far as possible and should not name them directly unless they agree. Lastly, it’s beneficial to remind employees that they should not speak to the media or share details about the person who has the virus if they know who it is, especially if you have a small workforce where people will know who the infected person is.

UPDATED: 27th March 2020

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