April 27, 2020

What is  Coronavirus?

The coronavirus (COVID- 19) is a new infectious disease that has caused significant outbreaks worldwide resulting in the World Health Organisation officially categorising the disease as a pandemic on 11 March 2020.

The virus is predominantly spread through droplets of fluid when an infected person coughs or sneezes but can also be caught by touching contaminated objects or surfaces.

The vast majority of people who become infected with the virus only experience mild symptoms and recover without the need for special treatment or hospitalisation.

However, the virus can cause severe complications in some individuals such as pneumonia resulting in emergency hospital treatment

The elderly and those with an impaired immune system or underlying health conditions such as cancer, diabetes, COPD are most at risk and particularly susceptible to further complications upon contracting the disease.

The main symptoms of infection are a new continuous dry cough and high temperature.

Currently, there are no specific treatments or vaccines available, but a large number of clinical trials are taking place and current estimates suggest that an effective vaccine is circa 12 months away.

Coronavirus Guidance for Employers and Businesses

Being well informed about the disease, it causes and how it spreads is the best way to prevent and slow down.

As this is an ever-changing area, it is imperative to keep abreast of current public health advice and Government guidance on a daily basis.

As a general summary, Employers and Businesses should consider taking the following action:

  • Implement remote working and working from home and where this is not possible, ensure that workplaces comply with the social distancing guidelines set out by the Government.
  • Identify business-critical roles and the minimum number of workers required to continue operating, and how that can be maintained.
  • Ascertain whether the needs of the business can be met by encouraging employees to work flexibly or take advantage of statutory rights to time off to care for dependants, annual leave or parental leave.
  • Identify any high-risk employees. Determine if there are any potential discrimination implications which require a more cautious approach.
  • Cancel any domestic and international work travel and events.
  • If appropriate, given the nature of your business, consider what protective measures should be put in place and ensure that protective equipment is sourced and ordered.
  • Conduct any internal or external business meetings via video conferencing apps like Zoom, Skype or Facetime.
  • Ensure your staff are kept up to date with the official advice from the Government, Public Health England and the NHS.
  • Advise all employees to take any necessary precautions in line with the latest government advice.
  • Provide clear guidance to managers on how to deal with an employee who attends work exhibiting symptoms, or who may have been exposed to the virus.
  • Ensure there is a constant flow of communication with employees about general COVID- 19 guidance, policy changes and general workplace issues.
  • Check that all employees contact numbers and emergency contact details are up to date.
  • Support vulnerable employees who are following the guidance on social distancing and shielding.
  • Ensure that staff who exhibit symptoms of coronavirus do not travel to or attend the workplace.
  • Send any member of staff home who develops symptoms of coronavirus (a new, continuous cough and/or a high temperature) for at least 7 days and self isolates at home as per the government guidance.
  • Advise all employees to wash their hands regularly with soap and water for 20 seconds.
  • Comply with Government, PHE and WHO guidance on hygiene in the workplace, and other health and safety preventative measures. For example, regularly clean communal areas and all objects/surfaces that are frequently touched.
  • Consider the provision of hand sanitisers and anti-bacterial cleaning products.
  • Pay statutory sick pay (SSP) to employees (subject to meeting the additional eligibility criteria) who have been advised to stay at home from the first day of absence from work.
  • Review sickness and absence notification procedures.
  • If your business must stay open, then look to implement staggered shifts to reduce contact and therefore, the risk of infection.
  • Develop a business contingency plan.

Employers can keep up to date of the guidance for employers from the following sources:

Business Support

The government has introduced a suite of measures to support businesses during this challenging period including:

  • Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme
  • A Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan scheme.
  • A HMRC Time to Pay scheme.
  • Deferral of VAT payments with regard to the next quarter and not due until the end of the financial year.
  • Employers with less than 250 employees can now reclaim SSP paid for first 14 days of COVID-19-related sickness absence, with retrospective effect from 14 March 2020
  • A 12-month business rates holiday for all retail, hospitality and leisure businesses in England.
  • A Coronavirus Bounce Back loan scheme for Small businesses

Full details on the Government’s business support measures and how to apply can be found here.

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About the author 

James Rowland

James is the Commercial Director at Neathouse Partners and regularly writes articles surrounding issues in HR & Employment Law. Outside of the office, James is a keen Cricketer, playing in the Cheshire League for Nantwich CC. He also loves going to watch his football team, Crewe Alexandra. Feel free to connect with James on LinkedIn.

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