This advice note is designed to give guidance to UK employers as at 16 March 2020.
Further updates will follow if the advice below changes significantly.
The following links may be helpful:
Government advice on self-isolation
Individuals should self-isolate for 7 days if they have returned from abroad.
Individuals should self-isolate for 14 days if they have any symptoms of COVID-19, however mild, or if they live with someone who shows COVID-19 symptoms.
Travel advice is changing frequently at the moment with flights being grounded and national borders being closed. Quarantine requirements may also be in force in countries outside the UK and these should be investigated and complied with.
Given the current situation and uncertainty, it would be sensible to avoid all non-essential travel.
Easy practical precautions
Employers are advised to take all possible steps to prevent the virus spreading, including:
- increasing cleaning and disinfecting of working areas
- provision of hand sanitisers throughout workplaces and ensuring that good supplies of soap are available at all hand-washing points
- put up notices reminding employees to wash hands with soap frequently for at least 20 seconds each time.
Health advice for employees
While there is a variety of information available on how to take proper precautions, we want to remind you of some of the most effective ways to stay healthy. Please stay vigilant in:
- avoiding exposure to individuals who are ill or are exhibiting ‘flu-like symptoms
- washing your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
- avoiding touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands
- staying home if you are sick
- covering your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throwing the tissue in the bin
- wiping down your workstations with disinfecting wipes regularly.
What does self-isolating mean?
If you have been told to self-isolate, you need to stay indoors and avoid contact with other people for the required period. It is important to follow the advice for the whole period, even if you do not have any symptoms.
During self-isolation you must:
- stay at home
- separate yourself from other people – for example, try not to be in the same room as other people at the same time
- only allow people who live with you to stay
- stay in a well-ventilated room with a window that can be opened
- ask friends, family members or delivery services to carry out errands for you, such as getting groceries, medicines or other shopping
- make sure you tell delivery drivers to leave items outside for collection if you order online.
- clean toilets and bathrooms regularly
- think about a bathroom rota if a separate bathroom is not available, with the isolated person using the facilities last, before thoroughly cleaning the bathroom themselves
- use separate towels from anyone else in the household
- wash crockery and utensils thoroughly with soap and water or use a dishwasher
- stay away from your pets – if unavoidable, wash your hands before and after contact.
During self-isolation you should not:
- invite visitors to your home or allow visitors to enter
- go to work, school or public areas
- use public transport like buses, trains, tubes or taxis
- share dishes, drinking glasses, cups, eating utensils, towels, bedding or other items with other people in your home.
Living in shared accommodation:
If you live in shared accommodation (for example, university halls of residence):
- stay in your room with the door closed, only using communal kitchens, bathrooms and living areas when necessary
- avoid using a shared kitchen while others are using it
- take your meals back to your room to eat
- use a dishwasher (if available) to clean and dry your used crockery and cutlery, or if this is not possible, wash them by hand using detergent and warm water and dry them thoroughly, using a separate tea towel.
Questions for employers
When do employers need to pay sick pay – ie. statutory sick pay (SSP) which is now payable from day 1 of sickness – or company sick pay?
- if an employee is off sick; and
- if an employee has no symptoms but is advised or required to self-isolate (although you can ask the employee to work from home if they are well).
What if an employee needs time off work to care for children or elderly relatives?
The employee would be entitled to leave to look after dependents under UK law. There is no right to be paid for this leave and the leave entitlement is only for as long as it takes to deal with the initial problem and to make alternative arrangements where possible.
Can employers allow staff to work from home?
You can ask staff to work at home but remember that the virus may be around for a while yet and you will need to consider your longer-term plans should this be the case.
You should pay staff who can work productively at home and it would also be sensible to implement a home working policy.
What if an employee becomes ill with suspected COVID-19 at work?
Current advice is that you should ask the employee to go home immediately. There is currently no requirement to close the workplace and closure is currently not recommended. You should contact the PHE Local Protection Team, inform them and request further advice.
What if an employee refuses to self-isolate?
This should be treated as a disciplinary matter for failure to obey a reasonable and lawful instruction from management.
What if you receive a request not to attend work due to concern about catching COVID-19?
Some vulnerable staff will have a disability under the Equality Act and allowing them to remain at home (particularly if they are able to work effectively at home) may well be a reasonable adjustment that you should make. A number of employers have already allowed homeworking by staff in which case implementation of an effective homeworking policy is recommended.
Short-time working and lay-off
Hopefully, employers will be able to avoid recourse to short-time working or lay-off. However, if such steps need to be considered the following guidance may be helpful:
- See whether there is a clause in the contract which allows the employer to impose lay-off or short-time working.
- If there is no short-time working/lay-off clause, seek to agree a temporary lay-off period with staff where they cease work temporarily. In the current situation, it may be possible to extend mortgages, delay rent payments etc to ease things temporarily.
- Note that employees will continue to accrue paid holiday during short-time working or lay-off periods.
- Employees may claim a statutory redundancy payment if they do not receive any pay during short-time working or lay-off.
If you have any questions on the above please speak to Caroline Banwell at Harmony HR Solutions Ltd.