Coronavirus (COVID-19): What employers need to consider

Wednesday 4th March 2020

As the UK Chief Medical Officer has raised the risk of Coronavirus (COVID-19) to the public from low to moderate, employers should consider how the virus may impact the operation of their business and affect their staff.

Important guidance has already been issued;

  • ACAS has guidance for both employers and employees which can be found here.
  • Public Health England and the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy are providing regularly updated guidance which can be can be found here. As information on COVID-19 is rapidly evolving, this should be the touch point for the most up to date public health guidance.

The key points for employers to consider are:

Employers should have a clear plan for managing their approach to COVID-19 and ensure business continuity. Employers should consider what they can do to minimise the spread of the virus within the workplace, such as distribute tissues and hand sanitiser and limit travel.

Prepare for the potential of home working where technology may support it.

Make sure you have up to date contact details for all employees so that communication lines are clear in an urgent situation.

Employers should keep staff informed about their preparations and remind staff of the need to maintain good hygiene in the workplace (i.e. regular handwashing).

If staff have concerns about attending their workplace, don’t ignore their fears: try to work with them by making provisions for working from home, flexible working, use of holiday and unpaid leave where possible.

If a member of staff is taken ill with COVID-19 their usual sick leave and pay entitlements will apply.

If a self-isolating employee is doing so because they have been given a written notice, normally issued by a GP or 111, their usual sick leave and pay entitlements will apply.

If an employee is not sick but has made the decision to self isolate, there is no current entitlement to statutory sick pay or to their usual sick pay entitlements. However, ACAS’s issued guidance provides that it is good practice ‘for their employer to treat it as sick leave and follow their usual sick pay policy or agree for the time to be taken as holiday’. That may be SSP or company sick pay.

In terms of self-isolation, it’s easier if the employee can perform their duties remotely from home. If they can work, they will need to be paid.

If an employee is told to stay at home or the employer takes the decision to close their business, unless employees have lay off provisions or short term working clauses in their contracts, they will still need to pay staff as normal.

In making any decision on whether to pay SSP, company sick pay, full pay or nothing, an important factor employers should consider is the risk of staff returning to work in order to get paid and potentially spreading the virus.

Employees with protected characteristics
Pregnant members of staff may be particularly vulnerable if they catch COVID-19. Employers have extra responsibilities to protect pregnant women and their health and safety in the workplace. If employers have concerns about being able to do so they should consider moving the pregnant employee to a different location within the work place or even consider removing them from the working environment completely for a short while. Such action should not be taken without discussion with the individual and obtaining consent.

Unfortunately there have been instances reported of individuals from affected regions being targeted or mistreated. Employees should be extra vigilant for harassment or less favourable treatment of any racial group by staff, as employers can be liable for harassment or discrimination by their employees towards other employees, unless they have taken reasonable steps to prevent such conduct. Employers should ensure any such behaviour is dealt with and that their anti-harassment/discrimination policies are signposted to staff.

If you have any queries about how to manage your approach to COVID-19, you can contact a member of the Employment Team on 0113 227 0100 or