What is it?

COVID-19 is a new illness that can affect your lungs and airways. It’s caused by a virus called coronavirus.

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?

Be prepared

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 the NHS

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 operations.

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 workforce issues.

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 virus.

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.

Self isolation

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.

Click here to download our leaflet

Please get in touch if you have any questions.