What is it?
COVID-19 is a new illness that can affect your lungs and airways. It's caused by a virus
The symptoms of coronavirus are:
- a cough
- a high temperature
- shortness of breath
But these symptoms do not necessarily mean you have the illness. The symptoms are
similar to other illnesses that are much more common, such as cold and flu.
How coronavirus is spread
Because it's a new illness, we do not know exactly how coronavirus spreads from
person to person.
Similar viruses are spread in cough droplets.
It's very unlikely it can be spread through things like packages or food. Viruses like
coronavirus cannot live outside the body for very long.
Generally, more severe cases occur in people with weakened immune systems, older
people, and those with long-term conditions like diabetes, cancer and chronic lung disease
How should employers be responding?
By keeping up to date with the situation as it develops and refer employees who are
concerned about infection to official and expert medical sources such as GOV.UK and
Develop a contingency plan
Every organisation will need to assess its own level of exposure to business disruption
caused by the virus. If it has a site, conducts business or has supply chains in China or
an affected region, there will be a direct impact to the company’s day-to-day
The plan will need to take account of current and potential impacts and manage the
specific business risks associated with the disruption, including service delivery and
Communicate the plan to key teams and individuals across the business.
Identify a person or small group of people to take responsibility for this plan, allocating
defined responsibilities for implementation.
Look after people’s health, well-being and safety
Every employer has a statutory duty of care for people’s health and safety and to
provide a safe place to work.
Communicate clearly to employees that they need to take precautions, avoiding travel
to affected areas and/or coming into contact with infected or potentially infected
people or animals. Advise them on what to do if they think they may have caught the
The NHS advises people who suspect they have the virus to call 111 and not visit GP
surgery, hospital or pharmacy:
NHS 111 has an online coronavirus service that can tell you if you need medical help
and advise you what to do.
Use this service if:
- you think you might have coronavirus
- in the last 14 days you've been to a country or area with a high risk of coronavirus –
see NHS coronavirus advice for travellers
- you've been in close contact with someone with coronavirus
Implement an internal communication strategy
This will ensure that employees are aware of measures that are being taken to manage the
situation in your organisation. Try to reassure employees that there is no need to panic
and the risk to the UK population remains low. Ensure that line managers are regularly
informed about the organisation’s contingency plans and how to discuss the situation with
any concerned employees, and where to signpost people to for further advice or support.
Flexible resourcing strategies
- Develop strategies to maximise the amount of home working to prevent the spread of
infection if necessary.
- Limit travel for business purposes.
- Use technology to limit the amount of face-to-face contact, for example, video
conferencing to facilitate remote meetings. For customer facing organisations, consider
introducing or maximising the use of self-service options and online services.
- Have in place plans that will enable the organisation to operate on a skeleton staff if
necessary. Identify key services and roles that are essential and can’t be put on hold, as
well as projects or roles that could be temporarily stood down. Identify those individuals
and managers who have transferrable skills, who can fulfil more than one function and
could be allocated to more essential roles.
Many people are being advised to self isolate or have chosen to themselves
- For anyone who self isolates without confirmation of the need to by a health professional
should discuss their reasons with their manager. If the manager deems their reason not to
be satisfactory they should advise the employee that it could be classed as AWOL.
- If a health professional tells the employee to self-isolate then the normal sickness
absence procedure applies along with the contractual entitlement to SSP or company sick
pay, subject to the absence reporting procedure being followed correctly.
- If an employer sends an employee home and no symptoms are being shown then I advise
to pay full pay. If the employee then shows symptoms and is advised to self-isolate by 111
or a GP then the sickness absence procedure would take place instead.
The employee would be required to keep the business informed of the advice from 111 as
further measures to ensure the risk is minimised may have to be considered at that stage.