Coronavirus (COVID-19) - Advice for Employers

from Silk Helix
UPDATED 23 April 2020
First Published: 13 March 2020

We’re currently facing an unprecedented situation. Most of us haven’t dealt with a situation like we’re facing with Coronavirus (COVID-19) and I hope very much that we never have to again. That said, it is not a time to panic. It is a time to plan, make sensible decisions and have a process for managing situations we may find ourselves in.

This is a health pandemic. We don’t want to see people ill. As an employer you have a responsibility to keep people safe but you also have a responsibility for people’s incomes.

Plan

Whilst it may seem that we are well beyond the planning stage, with school now closed and no prediction for their reopening and social distancing rules enforced. We have however left this section in the guide as the situation will keep changing, plans will need to be reviewed and decisions remade.

Whether you have moved all your workforce to homeworking or are working with social distancing you may need to plan for high absence rates. With such big changes in our lives, it is important to review those changes, how they have impacted people and what could be done better. Do your managers need support with managing homeworkers? How would you manage if further restrictions were put in place? Can you reopen parts of a business that has been closed by putting social distancing in place?

Plan for the worst and the best! We’re in an unknown situation so we can’t make rigid plans but we can do sensible things to put us in a better position to react.

Understand the situation you are in and think about the answers to questions like:

  • What are our business critical roles? Who can do those roles? What if that person isn’t available to us?
  • Can training be provided to others who can cover business critical roles?
  • How would we manage high levels of absence? What are the lowest staff levels we can operate with?
  • Who is caring for adults or children that may impact their ability to attend work? Can work time/location be adapted to support these people?
  • Do employees have the equipment they need to be productive from home?
  • How will you respond to a reduction in demand for your products or services? Are you ready for an increase in demand?
  • What decisions may need to be taken? Who will make them? If you normally make decisions by committee, should processes be put in place to allow quick decisions to be made?
  • How will decisions be communicated? Who is responsible? How will you avoid rumours?
  • What insurance do we have in place? What will it cover?

Ideally you will already have emergency contact details for all employees, but this is an ideal time to ensure they are up to date. If you may need to contact people outside working time, make sure you can do this.

The future is anything but clear, it is still important to plan or at least have an idea of what we might be facing and how that might impact your business. Being ready to make decisions at the right time by having considered some of the options in advance. These plans may need to be tweaked and changed as more information becomes available but with a starting point you are in a stronger position.

Reduce the Risk

The evidence is that for many this will be a low level illness that they will recover from in a few days, however Coronavirus is highly contagious. For some COVID-19 will and has been far more serious resulting in high percentages of the workforce being ill at the same time.

The government has instructed homeworking for all who can, therefore, you should be doing everything you can to make homeworking work. Homeworking not only saves the NHS it will save your business as it will reduce the risk of high numbers of the workforce contracting the virus from each other and therefore getting it at the same time. Even if those workers contract it elsewhere it should spread the impact.

In addition, as schools are now closed, you will need to support your employees who are responsible for children. Managing homeworking flexibly to improve their ability to work and care for children. Read our guide on Homeworking with Kids for how to support your employees with homeworking during the pandemic.

This is a good time to review all your current policies. Do they work with the current situation and to the benefit of your business? These are not normal times, it is perfectly okay to review, amend and even scrap normal policies. Make decisions based on the current situation.

Many people don’t have the option of homeworking with care, retail and manufacturing just a few sectors for which it cannot work. In these cases handwashing is even more crucial. Ensure people have time and resources to regularly wash hands. Put up posters instructing people how to wash their hands properly. Don’t forget your health and safety duties as an employer.

Consider whether employees need to be travelling for work. Review government advice, make decisions and review them regularly with regards to employees travelling.

Action

This is a fast moving situation, things are changing on an almost daily basis. Coronavirus (COVID-19) will impact businesses differently. The planning process was about being prepared to make decisions. Once you have made those decisions, review them regularly. Taking into account changing circumstances and government advice.

Keep communication lines open and ensure people are clear where decisions will come from and who has the authority to communicate those. Now we are settled past the emergancy phase of having to make decisions very quickly in response to government announcements, communication should be two-way.

Communicate

These are anxious times, we’ve never experienced a health pandemic like this, let alone a financial one. There is constant change, unknown and uncertainty. Anyone who has ever been involved with change management will know change is difficult at the best of times. At this time keeping communication open is vital.

Many people are working from home for the first time, changing the way we communicate will be necessary. Leaning over the desk for a quick chat isn’t there, we need to ensure this type of communication does continue. Some employees will live alone, others will be at home in stressful or even dangerous situations at home, their time at work is important to their mental health and social interactions.

Communicate business plans, what you’re doing to keep operations going. If business is affected let people know, tell them what you’re doing and invite them to come forward with ideas. Your people will be anxious about their jobs at this time. If you can reassure people, do. If you can’t ensure they have factual information and avoid them operating on assumptions. Don’t just broadcast information, use the resources available including video calling to have two-way communication. Use surveys to find out how employees are feeling and how the situation and changes you are making effect them.

Don’t forget the workers who are currently out of the business either sick or who have been furloughed. Keep communicating with them, pick up the phone, ask how they are doing and update them about the business. The furlough scheme does not prevent communication either one to one or involvment in company update meetings and virtual social events.

Managing Absence

Aside from planning around keeping work going and reducing the risks of absence, you will need to manage situations where people are forced out of work, either due to isolation, sickness or care requirements.

When is Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) due?

  • If an employee is sick, whether with Coronavirus, something else or unknown, SSP is payable.
  • If an employee is given an instruction to self-isolate from a GP, NHS 111 or Hospital they will be entitled to SSP from day 1.
  • If an employee chooses to self-isolate and not attend work they will not be entitled to SSP.
  • If an employee is “shielding” because of coronavirus SSP can be paid for the first day (however only covering shielding that took place after 16th April 2020).
  • If you instruct an employee to isolate (because you are concerned and they want to come to work) this will be considered suspension and they will be entitled to full pay.
  • If employees are working from home, including because they are self-isolating or mildly ill but still capable of work then normal pay applies.

As announced in the budget, employers willth less than 250 employees will be able to reclaim SSP paid for the first 14 days for each employee. SSP can be paid from day one for employees who are absent for work due to coronavirus (including isolating) when they are off sick for at least 4 days in a row.

Government advice on 12th March 2020 was that anyone displaying symptoms should self-isolate for 7 days and the whole household should self-isolate for 14 days (inclusive of the first 7 days). Given the pressure on the NHS currently, NHS 111 is able to produce Isolation Notes which can and should be accepted in replacement of statements of fitness for work over the phone, however employers should consider whether this is really necessary.

Employees who are dealing with a breakdown in their childcare arrangements, such as school closures or caring for an adult would be entitled to time off for dependants. This time off is unpaid, and is as long as is reasonable to deal with the unexpected situation. Normally we would suggest this is one or two days until alternative care has been found, however in the current situation alternative childcare is unlikely to be possible. The government have advised that families do not rely on grandparents for childcare at this time given the increased risk to people over 70. Employees could request to take this time as holiday. Alternatively if working from home is possible, as mentioned earlier, this may support you to keep business operations going.

We may see an increased number of people experiencing the loss of loved ones and therefore requesting time off. Whilst there is no current statutory right to time off in response to bereavement, we recommend employers deal with cases sympathetically. Working with employees to respond to requests for time off, supporting them both in that time off and in getting back to work can be beneficial both to the individual and the company. On 6th April 2020 Parental Bereavement Leave and Pay comes into force, our guide on the April 2020 legal updates provides more detail.

Reduction in Work or Business Closure

Depending on the nature of your business, you may be ordered to close or impacted financially by a reduction in customer numbers or customer spending.

The government have announced help for businesses and employees, however short-time working or lay-off may still be required, if you do not have enough work available, need to reduce hours or have full days where people are not required to work. The expectation is this situation will be short term, business will recover once the most severe waves are over. In this situation short time working and lay-off keep people employed ensuring you have staff available when business recovers. However, it will impact the livelihoods of employees in the meantime and therefore must be considered carefully.

If reduction in work appears more long term, redundancy may be required. As redundancy is a dismissal it is important to follow procedures to ensure the dismissal is fair.

In order to reduce the risks of redundancy, governement has introduced a new status of Furloughed Workers. These are people who are not providing any work to their employer and would otherwise be laid off with no pay or made redundant. If an employer designates a worker as furloughed they are able to claim up to 80% pay for that employee, capped at £2,500 per month. The government scheme guidance is being regularly updated, always refer to the latest governement guidance.

Managing Indirect Risks

Whilst dealing with the immediate, don’t lose sight of normal risks and precautions. There is evidence of fraud and data security risks being increased. With large scale and rushed changes in business, phishing attempts are increasing. People who are rushing, have their mind on other things or are expecting things that look different at the moment may not have the same internal alerts to these attempts. Remind your employees about data security and allow them to ask questions and double check if they are concerned about something they have received.

This guide was last updated 23rd April 2020, 10:00am, we are working hard to keep it up to date and make it as comprehensive as possible. If you have specific questions contact us at team@silkhelix.co.uk

While this guide covers the basics, every situation has its own complexities so you should always seek professional advice. Silk Helix can help so give us a call on 01245 910 500 to discuss, or we will call you:

Article last updated: 23 April 2020

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