Coronavirus FAQs

News on 16 March 2020

Coronavirus (COVID-19) FAQs

As you’d expect, we’ve been asked lots of questions about the coronavirus, and what obligations employers have.

So, we’ve put together some of the frequently asked questions.

How can we reduce the risk to our employees?

If you haven’t already, send out an email/guidance encouraging employees to be extra-vigilant with washing their hands, using and disposing of tissues etc.

You can provide some hand sanitiser, disposable gloves, and tissues for employees to use. You could put some posters up to encourage employees to use them.

Here’s some things that the NHS are recommending:

  • Wash your hands with soap and water often – do this for at least 20 seconds;
  • Always wash your hands when you get home or into work;
  • Use hand sanitiser gel if soap and water are not available;
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when you cough or sneeze;
  • Put used tissues in the bin immediately and wash your hands afterwards; and
  • Try to avoid close contact with people who are unwell.

What should I be telling my employees?

Advise your employees to follow the guidelines above and keep them updated on how it’s affecting your business. It’s an uncertain time for everyone, so keep them informed. 

Who should be self-isolating?

If your employee has a high temperature and / or a new continuous cough, then they are being advised to self-isolate.

Anyone who is caring for someone at home (someone they live with) who is displaying symptoms of Coronavirus, is also being told to self-isolate.

Self-isolation is for 7 days if they live alone, or 14 days if they live with other people.

When do I have to pay sick pay?

If your employee is taking time off sick for anything other than the Coronavirus / self-isolation related to the Coronavirus, then your normal Sickness rules apply

You’ll need to pay SSP from the first day of absence for employees who:

  • Have been diagnosed with Coronavirus;
  • Have symptoms of Coronavirus; and / or
  • Are caring for someone at home who is displaying symptoms of Coronavirus.

Can I claim sick pay from the government?

Yes, it was announced that businesses with fewer than 250 employees will be able to claim back any Statutory Sick Pay for employees off sick for up to 14 days. The Statutory Sick Pay will be for "all those who are advised to self-isolate" even if they have not displayed symptoms.

What if an employee comes back from a holiday?

If an employee comes back from holidays and is showing any symptoms of the Coronavirus, they should follow NHS and Government guidance which states to self-isolate for 7 days, or until the symptoms have passed.

What if employees do not want to come to work?

Some people may be worried about catching Coronavirus and therefore unwilling to come into work. If this is the case, you should listen carefully to the concerns of your employees and if possible, offer flexible working arrangements such as homeworking.

Employees can also request time off as holiday or unpaid leave, but there is no obligation on employers to agree to this. If an employee refuses to attend work, you are entitled to take disciplinary action. However, our view is that dismissal is likely to be outside the range of reasonable responses, at least for now. If someone refuses to come into work and the COVID-19 issues continue into the medium term, this view might change.

What if an employee needs time off to look after their children if schools are closed?

If an employee's children are sent home because of school closure, some employees would be able to work from home and employers would have to expect there to be some disruption to a person's ability to work as normal (depending on the child's age).

Employees may choose to take this time off as holiday so normal processes and pay apply.

If an employee is unable to work from home, they could be granted unpaid emergency time off or unpaid parental leave.

Will we have to shut our workplace?

In an action plan published by the UK government earlier this month, it stated that “population distancing strategies” could be put in place. This would mean that working remotely and reducing public gatherings would be encouraged to attempt to slow down the spread of COVID-19.

If there was an Italian style lockdown here in the UK, where possible, your employees should work from home.

My employees can’t work from home. What can I do?

If your employees cannot work from home and you don’t have enough work for them, they may need to be placed on short-time working or laid-off.

You need to check in the contract of employment to see if there is a clause in there that allows you to do this.

Short-time working is when your employee works reduced hours or is paid less than half a week’s pay.

Laying someone off would mean that you tell them not to come into work and you don’t pay them.

If you have a clause, staff are entitled to the statutory guarantee pay – which is currently £29 per day (rising to £30 per day from 6 April). More guidance on short-time working or lay offs can be found here

If you do not have a short-time working or lay-off clause in your contracts, you can come to an agreement with your employees to put them on short-time working or lay them off. However, this does not automatically give you the power to do this in the future without their consent.

Are there any other options?

You could ask your employees to take annual leave. You can require staff to take their holidays at specific times – but bear in mind that you have to give them notice of this. If you want someone to take 2 days off, you need to give them 4 days’ notice. If you want them to take 5 days off, you need to give them 10 days’ notice, and so on.

What about pregnant or more vulnerable employees?

Understandably, employees who may be more vulnerable to the virus will be worried. You need to think about things sensibly.

According to the most recent advice from The Royal College of Midwives, pregnant women do not appear to be more likely to catch the virus or suffer from the sever symptoms, than the general population.

For up to date information, your pregnant employees can read more here

Some people are at higher risk of getting very sick from catching COVID-19. These people include:

  • older adults;
  • people with serious chronic medical conditions like:
    • heart disease;
    • diabetes; and / or
    • lung disease.

People who are at higher risk are being advised to:

  • ensure they have enough supplies to get them through the self-isolation period (7 days);
  • keep their distance (about 3 steps away) from other people;
  • If they go out in public, to keep their distance from people who are sick;
  • Limit close contact with people;
  • Wash their hands often;
  • Avoid crowds;
  • Avoid cruise travel and non-essential air travel; and
  • Stay at home as much as possible.

Think about ways that you can manage their exposure to other people e.g. do they have the ability to work from home, or work in a separate office from others?

If you need to act quickly

There are a few options.

  • If you have any workers on zero hours contracts, you do not have to offer them work;
  • If you have employees on annualised hours contracts, you can reduce their hours now, and make them up later in the year; and / or
  • If you have any employees under 2 years’ service (including their notice period), you could look at terminating their employment.

More information

The advice in relation to Coronavirus is constantly changing and we will keep you as up to date as possible. Keep an eye on our website and look out for our email updates. The Gov.UK website will also be a good source for you to find out what’s new.

The UK government are frequently updating their guidance on how to deal with this current outbreak. Read more on their employer guide here


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