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Coronavirus and your workplace

One of the biggest news story so far in 2020 has been the outbreak of coronavirus. There has been a confirmed case of the virus in Wales ( 28th Feb 2020), and it can affect your workforce, either through personal travel, business travel or contact with someone who has been advised isolate.

This guideline is a support document to help you and your team. However, you should keep up to date daily with the news and advice from the following organisations:

• Acas (all employers should follow these guidelines)

• Public Health Wales

• Public Health England (PHE)

• Health Protection Scotland (HPS)

• Foreign & Commonwealth Office travel advice

As a general rule, follow these steps:

• Have a clear process to follow if someone is diagnosed with coronavirus.

• Update all employee contact numbers and emergency contact details.

• Encourage everyone to be familiar with how to spot the symptoms of coronavirus, see above links.

• Advise employees experiencing symptoms, after possible contact, to remain at home and call 111 for advice in the first instance.

• Keep yourself and your team updated on quarantine advice which applies to different countries, let them know what the latest advice is.

• Know where your team are travelling to and returning from.

• Think about planned business travel and question whether it is essential.

• Ensure that you provide clean places for people to wash their hands with hot water and soap, and encourage your team to do this regularly.

• Hand sanitisers/gel and tissues should all be made available. Ensure these are alcohol free for Muslim staff. Current PHE guidance is that face masks are ineffective and are not recommended as a preventative measure.

• Increase general cleaning routines for handrails, door handles etc.

• Have a home working policy and be prepared, employees who have laptops should take them home each night so they can continue to work if they are unable to come in.

• Current PHE guidance is that face masks are ineffective and are not recommended as a preventative measure.


Do I have to pay employees if:

They choose to self-isolate? No. This would be deemed unpaid unauthorised absence.

They are instructed by a medical professional to self-isolate? No. There is no statutory obligation to pay someone in quarantine or self-isolation This is unpaid authorised absence, however good practice is to pay them.

They are in quarantine? No. There is no statutory obligation to pay someone in quarantine or self-isolation. This is unpaid authorised absence, however if they become infected then normal sick pay will apply.

They are in lockdown in a hotel in another country? No. This would be deemed unpaid authorised absence.

They have no symptoms but they’ve just come back from an at-risk country and I don’t want them to come to work? Yes. If they can work from home then this should be arranged. But if not, this would be deemed suspension on health and safety grounds so you should pay them in full.

They have cold/flu symptoms and should be in quarantine, but they feel fit to work and I want them to work? Regardless of whether they feel fit to work, they must follow UK government advice. If this means that they must self-isolate, then there is no requirement to pay. If they turn up for work you can send them home on health and safety grounds and pay them in full.

They have cold/flu symptoms, are not in quarantine and I don’t want them to work? If they are saying they are fit to work despite their symptoms, and you don’t want them to attend work, then this would be deemed suspension on health and safety grounds, so you would pay them in full.

Q. Should employees still travel abroad for holidays?

• This is down to the individual employee; they need to decide whether they intend to continue with the travel. If an employee travels to another country which requires quarantine upon return (i.e. they knowingly travel aware that quarantine will be required on their return), then inform them that the period of quarantine would be unpaid absence.

• If medical advice means an employee is required to be quarantined on their return, which means they are unable to attend work, then it is good practice to pay in line with your company sick pay policy. • If they choose to self-isolate but there are no guidelines or medical advice given to suggest that they should do so, then this is deemed as unpaid, unauthorised absence. It could be used for disciplinary purposes, but please try and avoid this.

Q. An employee has decided to go ahead and travel to an area that has been confirmed by the UK government as a risk to travel, and they must be quarantined for 14 days on return. Do we have to pay them for this absence?

• No. There is no statutory obligation to pay for time off due to an employee being quarantined or required to self-isolate.

Q. Our employees travel a lot for business reasons to countries worldwide. Can we insist that they still travel?

• If there is a travel restriction or guidance to not visit particular countries unless it is essential, then you would be putting the health and safety of your employees at risk if you insisted that they travel to that country. We would not advise that you insist that they travel to such countries.

• If there is no travel restriction and the country that they are visiting has no warnings, then you can insist that the employee travels as per the normal role.

Q. Our employees don’t want to travel at all due to the media reports of airports being unsafe, even though the destinations are safe. What do we do?

• If the destination is a ‘safe’ one, then you can insist that they travel. You could offer to pay for items that would act as a protection against coronavirus such as antibacterial hand gel, a supply of disposable gloves to wear in the airport and on the plane etc. to make the employee feel more comfortable with travelling.

• Remind the employee that the advice given is to regularly wash hands, use tissues and immediately put them in the bin etc.

Q. Can an employee refuse to come to the office because their fear their colleagues may infect them. They would rather work from home or have the time off until coronavirus passes. What do we do?

• This is a rare situation and it’s important not to dismiss people’s anxiety. If it’s possible for employees to work from home and they are feeling nervous, why not just let them work at home? If this isn’t possible then reassure employees by having plenty of antibacterial hand-gel and soap available. Remind employees about hygiene standards in the office.

• If an employee is not sick and has not been instructed to self-isolate or be quarantined, and they refuse to attend work, then this would be unauthorised absence and unpaid.

Q. Can an employee cancel their annual leave and take it again at another time if flights have been cancelled?

• This is at your discretion as an employer. It might be straight-forward for you to allow this with minimal business disruption. But you have no obligation to allow the cancellation. However, where possible we are sure most businesses will try to support employees in this situation.

Q. What do we do if an employee has returned from their holiday from a high-risk country, but there is no mandatory quarantine and no advice to self-isolate; they want to return to work, but their colleagues do not want them to come in?

• If you ask the returning employee to refrain from work, then they are entitled to full pay. • You could suggest that they work from home if that’s easy for them to do.

• If their colleagues refuse to attend work, this would be deemed unauthorised absence and potentially disciplinary action could be taken in line with your absence policy.

• If an employee was pregnant or was in ill health, then you may try to allow them to work from home or in a restricted area to alleviate concerns.

• You should provide plenty of antibacterial hand-gel, washing facilities and tissues to keep hygiene to a high standard in the workplace.

Q. What action should we take if schools close or advise a child should self-isolate and a parent / carer can’t attend work?

• The usual rules apply for ‘time off for dependant emergency’, so parents should arrange appropriate childcare as quickly as possible. But, in the meantime, employers should allow unpaid time off for the parents.

• If parents can work from home, this will help if their children are old enough to not require constant attention during working hours.

If you have any other questions in relation to your employees, or any other HR issue, please contact us for advice.


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