As you will no doubt know by now, Coronavirus, now officially named Covid-19, was declared a global health emergency by the World Health Organization in January 2020. With the number of confirmed cases increasing exponentially in the UK, this has led the government to declare the virus a ‘serious and imminent threat’ to the British public. With this number almost certain to increase, employers should prepare for a ‘worst-case scenario’ both economically and within the workplace.
The UK economy has already taken a hit as a result of coronavirus. European stock markets including the FTSE 100 have fallen and experts are fearing that the coronavirus crisis could plunge the UK into recession.
On Thursday 5th March 2020, Flybe airlines went into administration. Disagreements over the terms of a £100m taxpayer loan had caused problems for the airline. However, a fall in bookings as a result of Covid-19 accelerated the company’s eventual failure. The global airline industry body warned the financial hit from coronavirus could reach $113bn (£87bn) internationally this year. This collapse will have a negative effect on airports, such as Cardiff International Airport. 330,000 passengers a year flew with the airline from Cardiff Airport to destinations such as Dublin, Edinburgh, Belfast, Cork and Paris. There is a real fear that this could be the “first of many airlines” that could collapse as a consequence of this virus.
As well as the economic impact of Covid-19, employers should be aware of the workplace issues, which will arise as the virus continues to spread:
An employer’s usual sick leave and pay entitlements will apply if someone has coronavirus. Employees should let their employer know as soon as possible if they’re not able to get to work.
The government has stated that, if NHS 111 or a doctor advises an employee or worker to self-isolate, they should receive any Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) due to them. Under new legislation, providing the employee receives at least £118 per week pay, employees will get statutory sick pay from the first day off work, not the fourth. The Government are looking at extending this to cover all employees below this threshold and the self-employed.
If the employer offers contractual sick pay, the employee will be entitled to receive this, if they have to self-isolate as a result of medical advice. The employer might need to be flexible if they require evidence from the employee. For example, someone might not be able to provide a sick note (‘fit note’) if they’ve been told to self-isolate for 14 days.
Increased sickness and absence may create a need for other employees (If willing) to work longer hours. If this happens, employers will need to comply with the Working Time Regulations 1998 to ensure appropriate length of daytime working hours, night shifts and rest breaks.
Implementing a robust hygiene policy can help reduce the risk of employees catching Covid-19. There are basic but effective ways to help prevent the infection, these include:
Putting some of these points into a hygiene policy can ensure that basic hygiene is adhered to, which will reduce the risk of infection in the workplace.
If Covid-19 continues to spread, an employer should develop strategies to maximise the amount of home working. There are many roles that could be performed remotely with little disruption to service delivery.
If roles can’t be performed at home, an employer should consider using split shifts to cover essential operations or services.
The chance of employees catching Covid-19 can be reduced significantly if an employer has a robust hygiene and flexible working policy in place, which is clearly read understood by all employees and managers. As the virus continues to spread, it is important to be prepared!