Last updated: 20 March 2020
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We are all aware of the developing situation with regard to the Coronavirus (COVID-19). As an employer, you have a duty of care for all employees, contractors and visitors to your premises. What are the symptoms? Is it a Pandemic? In this blog we will address these questions but be aware this is a constantly changing situation, so check back with us for further updates.
On 11th March 2020 the coronavirus outbreak was labelled a pandemic, by The World Health Organisation (WHO), a pandemic is a disease that is spreading in multiple countries around the world at the same time. The spread of the virus outside of China is worrying but perhaps not an unexpected development.
WHO Chief Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said he was “deeply concerned” by “alarming levels of inaction” over the virus. We have never before seen a pandemic that can be controlled, at the same time.
As a result of this risk level, WHO has stated that it is prudent for governments to escalate planning and preparation to delay a more widespread outbreak. It is also prudent for employers to plan reasonable and proportionate action in preparation for any impact that the outbreak may have on the workplace.
What are the symptoms of COVID-19?
Typical symptoms include fever, a high temperature – you feel hot to touch on your chest or back and a new continuous cough you have started coughing repeatedly, which may progress to causing shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. Generally, coronavirus can cause more severe symptoms in people with weakened immune systems, older people, and those with long-term conditions like diabetes, cancer and chronic lung disease.
We have devised the following advice in line with both Health and Safety and HR for your benefit and the continuity of your business.
Advice for both employers and employees who have recently returned to the UK:
Current advice for employees travelling or returning to the United Kingdom from China and other specified areas is changing in a fast-moving environment as the outbreak spreads. The best advice is to monitor the following web page regarding advice for returning travellers, available from the GOV.UK website
This above web page is updated daily and includes what action to take if you have experienced any of the recognised symptoms. Employers should monitor this advice and adapt relevant internal procedures to reflect the changes.
If an employee has recently returned to the UK from specific affected areas or been in contact with someone who has recently returned to the UK from specific affected areas and are displaying symptoms, they should:
- Self-isolate at home for 7 days
- Click here for NHS advice, do not go to the Doctors for surgery or Pharmacy.
- Keep 2 metres away from other workers, self-isolate at home
- If you have returned to the UK but are not showing symptoms you should contact your Employer before returning to work to risk assess the requirement for working from home and self-isolation
Advice for employers in general
Employers not only have a duty of care to ensure they take reasonable steps to ensure health and safety, but also the well-being of their employees and other persons that may be affected by their undertaking.
Employers must assess the risks associated with the spread of the virus and how they may affect the organisation. Employers must also actively communicate the following advice with employees and other persons that may be affected as necessary.
Best practice advice for employers:
- Develop a response plan if someone in the workplace becomes ill with suspected Covid-19, including the immediate response e.g. isolate the individual and contact the local health authority.
- Consider whether business-related travel is necessary and whether planned work activities can be conducted without the need to travel. E.g. Consider holding meetings via Video Conference facility, conference call or if necessary postponing meetings.
- If travel is deemed necessary then you need to effectively but proportionately manage the risk. Conduct a travel risk assessment including considering the travel, accommodation, work activity and the workers’ physical and mental capability. The worker should be involved in this process.
- Keep in touch with employees who have recently returned to the UK from any of the affected areas prior to them coming back to work.
- Follow public health agency advice on efficient ways to contain the virus
- Keep up to date with government advice and adapt business plans to reflect changes
- Explore options for people to work remotely to prevent the spread of infection
- Review internal procedures on health reporting, office / personal hygiene welfare provision and working hours
- Consider providing additional training for employees, so others have the knowledge and skills to fill in for absent colleagues working on critical projects as necessary.
- Employers should offer enhanced support, as necessary, to people more vulnerable to illness due to age and/or any underlying health conditions. They should do this by promoting other support mechanisms such as Employee Assistance and well-being programmes etc.
- Plan to identify people who may be at risk without stigma or discrimination.
- Where schools are closed and your employees are required to stay at home to care for their children, parental Leave and dependency leave may be applicable. Both of these options are usually without pay, however, considering flexible working solutions such as working from home, working alternative hours or using holidays prior to unpaid leave will assist with employee relations.
- As a last resort, you may need to consider short time working or layoffs in accordance with the statutory provisions. If you have to lay employees off and they are paid Guaranteed pay rather than company pay, they may be eligible to claim job seekers allowance to assist with their income.
All drivers must have access to welfare facilities on the premises they visit as part of their work
Drivers must have access to welfare facilities in the premises they visit as part of their work (including places they are delivering to) Failing to provide access is against the law, and not the sensible thing to do. Those who already provide reasonable access to toilets and handwashing facilities should continue to do so.
With the latest advice for hands to be washed regularly, failure to allow access to welfare facilities may increase the risk of the COVID-19 infection spreading.
Temporary and limited relaxation of drivers’ hour’s rules
The Department for Transport (DfT) have today announced that there will be a temporary and limited relaxation of the enforcement of drivers’ hour’s rules in England, Scotland, and Wales for the drivers of vehicles involved in the delivery of:
- non-food (personal care and household paper and cleaning)
- over-the-counter pharmaceuticals
We are clear that driver safety must not be compromised, and they should not be expected to drive whilst tired. Employers remain responsible for the health and safety of their employees, other road users, and anyone involved in loading and unloading vehicles.
These arrangements may change during this time so you need to keep up-to-date on developments.
Advice for employees in general
The basic principles to reduce the general risk of transmission of any acute respiratory infection (including COVID-19) include:
- Avoid close contact with people who are feeling unwell
- Follow best practice cough and sneeze etiquette by;
- Turning away from people when about to cough or sneeze
- Covering coughs with a disposable tissue or cough into your sleeve near the elbow or your upper arm
- Covering sneezes with disposable tissues that are immediately placed into a bin
- Adhere to frequent hand washing following best practice techniques and dry clean hands with paper towels or a warm air dryer. Soap and water should be used for hand washing, as preference where available. Wash hands thoroughly when arriving and leaving work/a meeting.
- There is no current evidence or advice to suggest that the use of face masks will help to prevent the spread of the virus outside of the healthcare setting
- Don’t touch your eyes, nose or mouth with your hands
Do employers have a duty to take any special measures to protect employees who may be at risk if they are exposed to the virus?
People at particular risk could include those with weakened immune systems, older workers, and those with long-term health conditions. Essentially those who would be at a higher risk of developing influenza.
As all employers have a duty to ensure their employee’s safety, consideration should be made to take additional measures to protect those more vulnerable employees. These special measures may include moving those employees from a high-risk site or location or allowing them to work from home while there is still a risk.
There are additional duties employers must take anyway in relation to new and expectant mothers, disabled employees, and young workers. These include conducting a risk assessment for those employees to identify any additional hazards and in the case of pregnant employees, their unborn babies. Guidance for new and expectant Mums.
If a hazard to a new and expectant mother is identified then employers must follow a series of steps to ensure the employee is not at risk of harm. If the risk cannot be avoided, the employees working hours or conditions should be altered. Where this is not feasible, as a last resort the employee should be suspended on full pay until the risk has passed.
Is it safe to receive a package from any area where COVID-19 has been reported?
The likelihood of an infected person contaminating commercial goods is low and the risk of catching the virus that causes COVID-19 from a package that has been moved, travelled, and exposed to different conditions and temperature is also low. Further guidance can be found here:
Advice and Guidance for Schools click here
Mental health and wellbeing
Home working hazards extend beyond the physical work environment used. Safe working arrangements are also important. Employees may find it difficult to adapt to working in an environment with little, limited or no social contact, while others may find it harder to manage their time or to separate work from home life, especially in a home potentially full of individuals self-isolating.
For these reasons, it’s important to consider both competence and flexibility in areas such as time- and self-management as these are extraordinary circumstances.
It is vital to maintain good channels of communication and maintain open means of contact with remote workers to minimise potential feelings of isolation. How you do this will depend on the number of remote workers you’re dealing with and what they’re doing, but you should consider: – regular one-to-one via video conferencing between remote workers and their colleagues or line managers.
Other controls for maintaining good mental health and well-being for home workers can include:
- good access to information, such as policy documents, internal contact directories and essential files. This can usually be achieved by connecting online to the organisation’s server.
- access to helplines for support in dealing with software problems and equipment failure
- procedures if information technology systems fail.
- identifying people as key contacts who have specific responsibility for routinely contacting remote workers and acting as their first port of call.
- providing contact details of key people such as employee representatives, health and safety advisers and human resources officers.
Can an employer expect employees to work additional hours when there are many employees absent due to the outbreak of an infectious disease such as Coronavirus?
An employer can require employees to work additional hours if there is a provision for it within the contract of employment. Any right within the contract should be exercised fairly and the employer should be mindful of the effects taking on additional work may have on the employee’s health consideration should be taken as to whether they have opted out of the Working time Directive if the additional work is likely to involve the employee working for more than 48 hours per week over a 17 week reference period.
Can an employer insist an employee is tested for Coronavirus if it is reasonably believed they may have the virus?
An employer cannot insist that their employee is tested for the virus. If you reasonably believe an employee or worker is displaying symptoms you should ask them to self-isolate at home for 7 days following symptoms developing and advise them to only contact NHS 111 if they cannot cope with the symptoms or they are severe.
During a flu pandemic or an outbreak of an infectious disease such as Coronavirus, is there a duty for the employer to close their workplace?
It is currently very unlikely that an employer would need to close the workplace, however, a risk assessment should be conducted to identify the level of risk within your business.
Where a risk is identified a contingency plan should be put in place to mitigate the risk, which may include allowing employees to work from home.
This article includes general advice. If you are in any doubt about what you need to do as a result of reading this article, please feel free to contact us for advice and support. If you’re not already a client, we would welcome an opportunity to discuss how you could benefit from Park City’s support and advice. Request a conversation.
We have also published a condensed version of the Staff Announcement communication document that we have provided to our clients. You can download the Coronavirus (Covid-19) Staff Announcement.
We have also published the Official Key worker Guidance which can be accessed by clicking here.
IMPORTANT: We will continue to update this page as new information emerges. Please check the publish date at the top of the page, to gain clarity on when this page was last updated.