Coronavirus Update

What is coronavirus?

The incubation period is between 2 – 14 days and common signs are a fever, cough and difficulty breathing.

Symptoms

The official name is COVID-19, it spreads in a similar way to flu, through close contact between people for example where someone with the virus coughs and also from someone touching a contaminated surface and then touching their faces and spreading that way. For most people the symptoms are mild, however it can be much worse for those who are older and/ or have underlying health conditions.

  • A persistent cough
  • A high temperature (37.8 or higher)
  • Shortness of breath

Stay at home

The government has introduced three new measures from 23 March 2020. This is to help reduce the spread of infection and help to protect people and the NHS.

  • Requiring people to stay at home, except for very limited purposes
  • Closing non-essential shops and community spaces
  • Stopping all gatherings of more than two people in public

You should only leave the house for one of four reasons.

  • Shopping for basic necessities, for example food and medicine, which must be as infrequent as possible.
  • One form of exercise a day, for example a run, walk, or cycle – alone or with members of your household.
  • Any medical need, or to provide care or to help a vulnerable person.
  • Travelling to and from work, but only where this absolutely cannot be done from home.

Full guidance on staying at home

Furloughed Workers – Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme

All UK employers will be able to access support to continue paying part of their employees’ salary for those employees that would otherwise have been laid off during this crisis.

To access the scheme employers will need to

  • designate affected employees as ‘furloughed workers,’ and notify your employees of this change – changing the status of employees remains subject to existing employment law and, depending on the employment contract, may be subject to negotiation
  • submit information to HMRC about the employees that have been furloughed and their earnings through a new online portal (HMRC will set out further details on the information required)

HMRC will reimburse 80% of furloughed workers wage costs, up to a cap of £2,500 per month. HMRC are working urgently to set up a system for reimbursement. Existing systems are not set up to facilitate payments to employers.

The government have now published further guidance on the scheme.

Employer guidance on Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme

Self-Isolation 

Current advice is to stay at home for 7 days if you live on your own and you have either:

  • A high temperature – you feel hot to touch on your chest or back
  • A new, continuous cough – this means you have started coughing repeatedly

If you live in a household with other people and a member of your household displays any of the above symptoms, you must (along with everyone in your household) stay at home for 14 days. If you are the first person in your household to become ill you must isolate for a minimum of 7 days. Please see the link below for ending isolation. Ending isolation

You do not need to contact your GP or 111 to tell them you are staying at home.

You can get an isolation note online – isolation note

Stay at home guidance

What happens if an employee needs to self-isolate?

  • Employees should still follow the company’s policy on absence reporting
  • Medical evidence isn’t required, and employees can self-certify for the first 7 days of absence
  • If employees need to self-isolate for more than 7 days,  then they may be able to get a medical certificate from 111 although it is advised that the policy regarding ‘fit notes should be relaxed.

What will an employee be paid if they have to self-isolate?

Employees must receive Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) from day 1 if they need to self-isolate for the reasons below

  • they have coronavirus
  • they have the symptoms detailed above
  • they have been told to self-isolate by a doctor or NHS 111
  • They are self-isolating due to someone in their house-hold that has coronavirus or showing symptoms as detailed above

SSP is currently £94.25 per week subject to eligibility – Statutory sick pay information

Company (contractual) sick pay – Your employment contract may provide for contractual sick pay, as this usually covers when someone is actually sick, this may not cover self-isolation, therefore it would be at your discretion whether contractual sick pay or SSP was paid to the individual. Always check the wording thoroughly before you make a decision on this.

What happens if an employee needs time off to look after someone?

There may be a variety of reasons that an employee needs to take time off to look after someone else for example, school or nursery closures, looking after a sick relative or loss of childcare with a relative due to illness.

There is a statutory rights Time off for Dependants’  – unpaid, which applies to all employees irrespective of length of service. A dependant could be a spouse, partner, child, grandchild, parent, or someone who depends on you for care. This leave is usually to deal with an emergency situation, and they would be allowed a reasonable amount of unpaid leave.

If a prolonged period of leave was needed, then an employee might consider taking ‘Parental Leave’ – unpaid. To qualify for this, employees would need to have been with the company for more than a year and have parental responsibility for a child who is under 18. They are entitled to 18 weeks’ leave for each child up to their 18th birthday and there is a limit of 4 weeks per child each year.

What other leave/ arrangements could be adapted?

Home working – consider allowing employees to work from home wherever possible. Consider your company business continuity plan.

Sabbatical – you may agree with an employee that they take a period of sabbatical leave. Generally, during pre-arranged unpaid leave the employee remains under a contract of employment and continuity of service will therefore not be broken. Before agreeing to a sabbatical both parties should

Time off in lieu – employees could take any time off in lieu owing to them.

Holidays – employees may take annual leave – if you require employees to take their annual leave, for example if the business closures for a period of time, you must give them twice the amount of notice for example if you want them to take a week off you must give them 2 weeks’ notice.

What if an employee becomes unwell at work?

If an employee becomes ill at work, they should

  • Stay at least 2 metres (7 feet) away from other people and avoid touching anything.
  • If it is possible to, isolate themselves in a separate room
  • Cough or sneeze into a tissue and throw these away, if you don’t have a tissue use the crease of your elbow rather than your hand.
  • Use a separate bathroom to others.
  • Check advice on NHS 111 – using their own device
  • Where necessary go home and self-isolate if appropriate

What if an employee won’t come into work?

If an employee doesn’t want to attend work for fear of catching the coronavirus, try and listen to the employee concerns to see if an alternative working methods can be arranged, for example home working if suitable.

They may decide to self-isolate without symptoms or any reason to do so you would need to consider whether it would be discriminatory to refuse home working, taking disciplinary action or treating the leave as unauthorised leave and therefore without pay. Employee may suffer from a health condition that puts them at higher risk if the contract COVID-19 and consideration would need to be made if they would have a case for discrimination.

Practical advice

  • Communication – ensure that everyone is aware of the updated actions being taken – email updates, information on the intranet and posters can all help inform people
  • Ensure contact details and emergency contact details are up to date
  • Ensure managers know how to spot symptoms of coronavirus and are clear on any relevant processes, e.g. sickness reporting and sick pay
  • Make sure there are clean places to wash hands with hot water and soap, and encourage everyone to wash their hands regularly
  • Provide hand sanitiser and tissues for staff, and encourage them to use them
  • Reduce and / or avoid social contact and non-essential travel

Guidance on school/ college closures

As schools and colleges close today, the government has provided guidance on who is still able to send their children to school.

School/ college closures further guidance

Updated 27/03/2020

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