Preparing for the coronavirus pandemic

Coronavirus – A Checklist for Employers

As new cases of coronavirus continue to be reported, the government have reported that up to a fifth of the workforce could be on sick leave during the peak of the pandemic which is likely to be in the middle of our summer.

All businesses have to prepare with their own action plans for the possibility of (a) an outbreak at work which may result in temporary or longer term closure, (b) an employee returning from a high risk country and needing to self-isolate and/or (c) an employee contracting the virus.

Employers should consider their own action plans which will be particular to their own businesses and trade sector.  

The following checklist may be helpful:

Updates – Are we keeping up to date with government advice?  Generally, employers should track, follow and act upon government advice as the minimum threshold in order to fulfil their duty of care to their staff.

Communication - Are we communicating with our staff about coronavirus?  In particular, are staff clear about identifying and reporting suspected cases of coronavirus?  

Emergency Staff Contact Details - Have we updated our staff emergency contact details?  Do we need to test our business continuity plans in case of workplace closure?

Hygiene - Are we promoting good hygiene practices? This will include washing hands regularly with soap and water, using anti-bacterial gels, using disposable tissues and avoiding touching the eyes, nose and mouth.  Have we adopted and circulated NHS guidance to staff found at  https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/?

Supplies - Have we sufficient supplies within the office of soap, anti-bacterial gels and tissues?

Meetings - Do we ban handshakes, ask staff to, wherever possible, remain a metre apart and/or re-schedule or cancel larger meetings or exhibitions involving close contact between staff and visitors?  Can we implement meetings by video conference instead?  

Cleaning - Should we be increasing the frequency and extent of cleaning within the workplace including reception, meeting and kitchen areas, in particular, with regard to door-handles, telephones, shared equipment, keypads and bannisters?

Travel Log - Do we have a list of staff who have been travelling to and from designated high-risk areas, whether Category 1, 2 or lockdown areas?  For guidance, click here

Travel Ban - Have we prohibited business travel to Category 1/lockdown areas and recommended to staff to avoid non-essential business travel to Category 2 areas?

Risk Assessment - Have we carried out a health and safety risk assessment under the Healthy and Safety at Work Act 1974?  As employers we have a statutory and common law duty to protect the health and safety of our staff.  In particular, our risk assessment should focus on any particularly vulnerable employees who, for example, may have underlying health conditions.  Such employees should be asked to take their own medical advice.

Remote Working - Can staff work from home in the event of self-isolation or workplace closure?  Do we have enough equipment?  Do we need to undertake health and safety and data security risk assessments for home workers?

Sick Pay - Will we pay staff contractual or statutory sick pay subject to satisfying the usual criteria set out in our policy? The government have advised that staff should receive statutory sick pay from the first day of absence and not the fourth in order to help contain the virus.

Self-Isolation - Will we pay staff for self-isolating?  ACAS have advised that where a staff member has been advised by their doctor or NHS 111 to self-isolate then sick pay is payable.  This would include staff who have been in contact with an existing sufferer and staff who have returned from a Grade 1/lockdown area. This would only include staff who have returned from Grade 2 areas where symptoms of the virus have developed.  In cases, where we ask an employee to self-isolate then full pay would be payable.  In cases, where a staff member chooses to self-isolate through choice then they are not strictly entitled to pay.  

Time Off For Dependents - Do we have a flexible working policy for staff who have to care for dependents?  This is likely to be necessary if schools and nurseries start to close.  Staff can request a reasonable amount of time off work to care for dependents and up to four weeks per year per child of unpaid parental leave.    

Longer Term Outbreak - If there is a prolonged outbreak, do our contracts of employment permit us and will we have to consider temporary layoffs or shorter hours for certain staff as an alternative to redundancy?  Will we have to ask for time to pay from HMRC as part of the government’s action plan commitment?

Our Clients and Customers - Will we be able to fulfill our contracts with our clients or customers? Will coronavirus be considered a “force majeure” event entitling us to cancel or suspend our contractual obligations?  Do we need to start communications with our clients and customers and plan for contingencies?

Should you require any further information or assistance with advice and assistance relating to coronavirus and how this may impact upon your business, please do not hesitate to contact Bill Dhariwal on DDI: 01489 864 117 or E: bill.dhariwal@lawcomm.co.uk.

The content of this article is for information only and does not constitute advice.