Coronavirus FAQ

Due to the volume of enquiries that we are receiving from our clients about coronavirus (Covid-19), we have produced an FAQ guide. It’s important that you, as business owners, keep up to date daily and follow advice from the following organisations where they apply to your business/industry, as these take precedence over the FAQ responses in this document:

The information on this page was last updated on Monday 23rd March.

Recent news: See our coronavirus news page for recent announcements

General Advice

As a general rule, employers should do the following:

  • Keep communication flowing. This is an ever-changing situation so it’s important to keep talking about the actions you are taking. Have an open-door policy for any concerns that employees may have.
  • Review and update all employee contact numbers and emergency contact details.
  • Know where your staff are travelling to and returning from. This applies to both business and holiday travel.
  • Remain current with government advice regarding self-isolation/quarantine requirements from each country. See above websites.
  • Advise employees experiencing even mild symptoms of coronavirus, such as fever and/or a new persistent cough to stay at home for seven days. If symptoms worsen to contact 111 for medical advice. If a member of an employee’s household has contracted it, the employee should self isolate for 14 days.
  • Managers should be informed of how to spot symptoms of coronavirus, see above links.
  • Have a clear process to follow if someone is diagnosed with coronavirus.
  • Ensure that you provide clean places for people to wash their hands with hot water and soap, and encourage your staff to do this regularly.
  • Think about protective resources. For example hand sanitisers/gel and tissues should all be made available. Non-alcoholic hand sanitiser might be preferable to some employees on religious or belief grounds, so it might be advisable to offer both. Current PHE guidance is that face masks are ineffective and are not recommended as a preventative measure.
  • Increase general cleaning routines for handrails, door handles etc.
  • Think about planned business travel and question whether it is essential.
  • Have a home working policy.
  • Have a business continuity plan.
  • Keep employees thinking pragmatically. Those who have laptops should take them home each night so they can continue to work if they are unable to come in.

 

Statutory Sick Pay

Q. What are the latest statutory sick pay rules and how do we claim it back?

The Government has published the Coronavirus Bill which states that Statutory Sick Pay from day one will be retrospectively applied back to 13th March 2020. There is no clear instruction on how that is to be reclaimed but it has been made clear that employees will not be required to submit a fit note. We advise that you keep accurate records on all communication relating to the absence. This includes noting symptoms on each employee that you will pay Statutory Sick Pay because it has not been made clear what evidence employers will have to provide to reclaim the SSP. You will be able to reclaim a maximum of two weeks per employee if you employ fewer than 250 employees.

Q. Who is entitled to statutory sick pay?

The bill is clear that the following circumstances attract statutory sick pay if the employee is unable to work from home:

  • Employee who has a high temperature
  • Employee who has a new and continuous cough
  • Employee who has a person in their household with a high temperature and/or a continuous cough
  • Those diagnosed with COVID-19
  • Those who are unable to work because they are self-isolating in line with medical advice
  • Those who are self-isolating as a precautionary measure, such as high-risk groups (those with underlying health conditions, people aged over 70 or pregnant people)
  • Those who follow government or medical advice to stay at home

Q. Who is not entitled to statutory sick pay:

Those who live with a member of a high-risk group when neither have symptoms.

Q. If staff have not been tested for coronavirus but they show symptoms and therefore have to stay at home and self-isolate, who pays their wages? The employer, the government or revert to sick pay as per contract?

You comply with your contract. Any statutory sick pay will be able to be reclaimed by the government hopefully, but it must be paid by you as the employer via payroll directly to the employee.

Our contracts of employment allow for company sick pay, but the government is talking about SSP. We don’t advise to pay company sick pay to anyone who isn’t sick because so many staff may be affected by self-isolating.

If they start getting symptoms and become sick themselves, then you could revert to company sick pay to ensure compliance with your employment contracts.

You might want to consider declaring to your employees that you will not be paying company sick pay to anyone who is self-isolating where there is the option for management discretion. You might also want to consider withdrawing your company sick pay scheme if the contract allows for it on a temporary basis until this crisis is over.

We cannot stress the importance of obtaining HR advice from your local HR Dept office before taking such action as so much depends on the wording of your contracts and handbook.

Q. What do we pay an employee who is self-isolating as a household but they are not unwell themselves?

Our advice is that you pay Statutory Sick Pay to these individuals because the definition of sickness for the purposes of SSP has been extended to account for this situation. However, this does not mean that it is extended for the purposes of contractual sick pay, so unless there is a contractual provision requiring sick pay where the individual themselves is not sick but must stay away from work, then you don’t need to pay company sick pay. Of course, any employer may use their discretion to pay company sick pay if they wish to do so and ACAS advise this as a ‘best practice’ approach, but employers are certainly not under any obligation to do so.

 

Self-Isolation

Q. How long should employees self-isolate for?

If the employee has symptoms and they live alone, then they should remain at home for 7 days after the onset of their symptoms.

If the employee has symptoms and lives with others, then the employee must stay at home for 14 days.

If the employee has a family member who lives with them and has symptoms, the employee must stay at home for 14 days. The 14-day period starts from the day when the first person in their house becomes unwell.

If a family member of your employee develops symptoms within the isolation period, this does not mean the isolation period needs to be extended, but the person with the new symptoms has to stay at home for 7 days. It is not necessary to re-start the 14 days of isolation for the whole household.

Q. My employee has returned to work after being in self-isolation but is still coughing. Should I send them home?

No. If the employee has followed medical and government advice and self-isolated, they can return to work as they will be deemed no longer contagious. The cough might seem unsettling for their colleagues, but you can reassure them that the cough might persist for a few weeks afterwards and they are not contagious.

Q. What if my employee is saying that they still feel unwell after the isolation period?

Contact NHS 111

Q. How do you tell the business owner to self isolate?

In our experience, business owners are incredibly aware of their employees health and how to protect it so if you feel that a business owner should be self-isolating then you should definitely raise it with them privately.

Q. Can an employee choose to self-isolate for 7 days or should they have been advised by 111 to do this?

If they have symptoms (persistent cough or fever) then they can self-isolate for 7 days without individual medical advice.

Q. How do our employees obtain evidence that they need to isolate?

They need to visit 111.nhs.uk/isolation-note and follow the online instructions. The online certificate should be forwarded to you as their employer.

 

Working from home

Q. The Government has said we all need to work from home but I have staff who cannot do that. Do I have to pay them to stay at home and do nothing?
No. They can still attend work. The Government advice is that employees should work from home where possible. It is not mandatory working from home for all.

Q. An employee has said that they don’t want to attend work because they are worried about catching COVID-19. They want to work from home and are citing health and safety reasons. What do I do?
If they can work from home then you should allow that because that is the government guidance. If they can’t work from home, then reassure them that you will always follow government guidance and that they should attend work as usual.

Q. What if you think people that are meant to be working at home but you don’t think are actually working?

Communication is key. If you have a suspicion that the employee isn’t being as efficient as they would be in the office, then ask what’s distracting them. Maybe they just don’t have the right equipment at home or are struggling with distractions such as childcare or elderly parents to look after as they are at home. Talk about it and agree how you are going to move forward. If someone hasn’t worked from home before, we would advise having a morning and end of day call as a minimum. This helps to catch up on what’s been completed and what needs to be carried over to the next day. This also provides an opportunity for you to raise concerns if work isn’t being completed at an acceptable rate.

Q. We are in the hospitality industry, so it is not really possible to allow employees to work from home. What would you advise we do when an employee needs to be quarantined or self-isolate?

You have a number of options:

• If they are on zero hour contracts you simply do not offer them shifts.
• You could suggest that employees choose to take holiday rather than receiving SSP during this period.
• You could find projects for them to work on at home so that they still receive pay. These projects may well be outside the scope of their usual role but would be within their capabilities. If they agree, this could meet the needs of the business.
• If they start getting symptoms of coronavirus then you would revert to your sickness absence policy, as they would now be technically off sick.
• You could offer sick pay in line with ACAS best practice advice.

If you would like guidance on managing home-workers, dismissing staff, absence queries, lay-offs or short time working or any other issue mentioned above, please contact your local HR Dept office and we will help you.

Q. If there are not enough laptops for everyone to work from home, but we decide to ask everyone that has a laptop to work from home, can we ask one employee to work in the office?

Yes you can ask people who have appropriate equipment to work from home, but where this is not possible, those employees can remain in the office.

Q. Surely working from home would ask questions regarding a breach of GDPR?

You would need to consider this in a risk assessment for working from home and incorporate any rules/guidance into your working from home policy.

Q. If the Government decides that all employees need to work from home, would employees be entitled to full pay if working from home is not viable?

Boris Johnson has declared that working from home is advisable where possible. If it is not possible, continue to allow these employees to work from the company premises.

If the Government decide to enforce working from home for all then those who can’t work from home will be forced to self-isolate which means that they will likely be entitled to SSP. However, you may want to consider laying off those staff if you have no work for them to do on a temporary basis.

 

Employee conduct

Q. An employee is refusing to attend work even though they are well and have no reason to self-isolate. What do I do?

Discuss the reasons they are giving for not wanting to come to work and try to resolve them. Ultimately though, you can discipline them for their unauthorised absence from work. Please contact your local HR Dept office for advice before taking such action.

Q. Do people have to work if they are self isolated ?

If they feel well and you want them to work from home then you can pay them in full to work from home.

If they don’t feel well, then they are off sick and don’t need to do any work and they are paid statutory sick pay unless your contract of employment states otherwise.

If they feel well and you want them to work from home but they refuse, then you could potentially take disciplinary action for refusing to follow a reasonable management request. This is a Gross Misconduct offence. Please contact your local HR Dept office before taking action.

Q. With growing worries about coronavirus, if staff phone us to say that they are self-isolating, how can we check that this is legitimate?

You can ask them to contact 111 for a sick note after 7 days. Our advice is that, like any other situation, you trust your employees unless proven otherwise. If you have evidence of anything fraudulent then you can conduct an investigation. In this type of situation, as a rule, it would be difficult to prove that someone is misleading you about their symptoms or who they have been in contact with. If you have a suspicion and feel that you have evidence of any potential fraudulent action though, please get in touch with your local HR Dept.

 

Annual Leave

Q. What do we do when an employee has booked time off for holiday, but their holiday is cancelled because of a situation outside of their control (e.g. flight cancellations or the destination country status means they are advised not to travel there or their destination hotel has cancelled the booking on government advice)? Can the employee cancel their annual leave and take it again at another time?

This is at your discretion as an employer. It might be straight-forward for you to allow this with minimal business disruption. But you have no obligation to allow the cancellation. However, where possible we are sure most businesses will try to support employees in this situation.

Q. If an employer gives staff enough notice to cancel a holiday, does the employer have to help compensate the employee for the financial loss?
No. It is deemed good practice to compensate an employee for the financial loss but it is not a requirement.

 

Ill health and vulnerable people

Q. What if an employee comes in to work and I am concerned they have coronavirus?

Follow official guidance, see links above to the PHE and other official websites.

Q. How do we treat an employee in a ‘high-risk group’ (over the age of 70, those with an underlying health condition or pregnant) in the following circumstances:

a. They want to work?
They can work, but should work from home if possible.

b. They insist that they can work from home?
You don’t have to allow this if it is not practicable.

See Government guidance which states the same social distancing rules for everyone, but with stronger guidance for those deemed ‘high-risk’.

Q. How do we know what health conditions make the employee ‘high risk’?

  • Anyone instructed to get a flu jab as an adult each year on medical grounds is high risk
  • Pregnant women are high risk
  • Being aged over 70 makes the employee high risk


Q. What do we do if someone becomes ill at work and colleagues think it is coronavirus?

You should instruct the employee to take the following action:

  • Go to a room or area behind a closed door
  • Get at least two metres away from other people
  • Avoid touching anything
  • Cough/ sneeze into a tissue and put it in a bin (or use crook of elbow if no tissues are available)
  • Use a separate bathroom from others where possible
  • Seek advice from 111

If the advice indicates infection once the individual has left the premises make sure everywhere is cleaned thoroughly.

Q. Pregnant staff are deemed to be in the high-risk category, can we ask these employees to start their maternity leave earlier?

No. If the employee becomes unwell and this triggers early maternity leave in line with maternity legislation then this is fine, but you cannot ask a pregnant woman to start her maternity leave earlier just because she is in the high-risk category and she cannot work from home.

Q. Is the 12-week social distancing rule mandatory for pregnant women?

Yes. You must follow Government guidance but the social distancing rule at work specifically states that the employee should be allowed to work from home where possible which is exactly the same as any other employee at the moment. The government has declared that this will be in place for “some weeks” not specifically 12 weeks.

 

Health and safety

Q. We want to close our premises to deep clean. As this is to protect the health and safety of employees, do we have to pay them to stay away from the premises and not come to work?

Yes you must pay them because you are taking the decision to close the premises.

You could request employees work from home where possible.

If you give the appropriate notice (double the length of the holiday e.g. 1 day’s holiday requires 2 days’ notice, 2 weeks’ holiday requires 4 weeks’ notice) then you could insist employees use their holidays whilst the building is being deep cleaned. Providing that this does not contravene their contractual terms.

If you relocate to other premises for a period of time, and should it cost more for them to travel to the new premises, then you could pay travel expenses for the difference so that they can still work.

Q. If our employees have to work from home and you are saying we need to risk assess their working area at home do you have a template we can send them as to how their workstation should be set up?

Yes, contact us.

Q. If a member of staff starts getting symptoms over a weekend and then self-isolates, do we need to close the company to deep clean offices etc.?

This is not a government recommendation.

Q. If a member of staff starts getting symptoms over a weekend and then self-isolates, would other staff members need to self isolate as well?

This is not a government recommendation. The current advice as of 16th March 2020 is that family members should self-isolate if the employee has symptoms but work colleagues are not mentioned in this guidance.

Q. We run workshops for young people, should we be cancelling these?

Each workplace should carry out their own risk assessment to determine the risk to employees, visitors and others, with the necessary control measures. Base the risk assessment for the individual workplace on up to date government advice.

Q. What are the employers responsibilities when running a public venue which involves employees coming into contact with the public on a daily basis?

Carry out a risk assessment to determine the necessary precautions to protect your employees as far as reasonably practicable. Take into consideration the up to date government advice and review the risk assessment as and when changes occur.

Q. If a member of staff gets diagnosed with COVID-19 do we have to deep clean or speak to relevant authorities and take action from there?

The current advice would be to close the workplace if a member of staff has been diagnosed, seek advice from your local authority regarding any deep cleaning requirements.

Q. Is it mandatory to do a risk assessment? How detailed does it need to be? What is the risk assessment based on?

Existing Health and Safety law requires some specific groups to be risk assessed, this includes; young and pregnant workers specifically. However, individual employees may have specific health conditions that could effect their vulnerability in relation to the current situation. Visitors should also be taken into consideration. Therefore, the only way to control the risk to employees and visitors is to carry out a careful examination of what is being done and what further measures can be done to reduce risk, this is about looking after people rather than fear of prosecution.

A risk assessment does not have to be a lengthy document, it is an internal assessment of the workplace and details what the business is doing to protect others. Given that this situation is changing continually, review the risk assessment frequently and make any changes necessary based on advice being provided.

A simple way to view a ‘risk assessment’ is looking at it on a national scale, the government has assessed the risk at that level, you are doing similar but on a local level for your workplace.

Q. What do we do for company visitors?

Factor visitors into your risk assessment and identify ways to reduce likelihood of exposure to them from the type of work your business caries out. Some example considerations may include: hand sanitisers, frequent handwashing, up to date information for staff and visitors, restricting close contact; like shaking hands, video calling instead of face to face meetings, cancelling and rescheduling meetings or visits.

 

Financial queries

Q. We are losing business. This will mean an immediate reduction in revenue which has a detrimental and severe impact on our cashflow. What options do we have?

Consider short-term lay-offs. To do this you must either have an express term in their contract or get agreement through consultation. You would lay-off staff on a temporary basis to avoid redundancy, safe in the knowledge that your business will improve again in the near future. Contact your local HR Dept for advice on the process and pay for lay-offs.

  • You could dismiss short-serving staff (employees with less than 2 years’ service) without going through redundancy consultations, but it’s important you contact your local HR Dept office to discuss this first.
  • You could offer employees the opportunity to take unpaid leave.
  • You could insist employees take their holiday entitlement (please contact your local HR Dept office for advice on how to do this), so that when you get busier again your staff are there to support income generation rather than taking their holidays.
  • You could start consulting with your employees to reduce their hours for a period of time until this crisis passes.
  • If the effect turns out to be longer term you could consider redundancies, but do contact your local HR Dept office first.

Q. How much notice do we have to give an employee for lay-offs, unpaid leave, forced holiday, reduced hours etc?

These vary depending upon the circumstance, the content of your employment contract and any other policy within your handbook. Please contact your local HR Dept office for specific advice.

 

School & childcare queries

Q. What action should we take if parents can’t attend work due to school closures?

The usual rules apply for ‘time off for dependant emergency’, so parents should arrange appropriate childcare as quickly as possible. But, in the meantime, employers should allow unpaid time off for the parents.

If parents can work from home, this will help if their children are old enough to not require constant attention during working hours.

For those who have no alternatives but to stay at home with their children, we would advise that you allow the time off but unpaid. Consider the option of the parent working from home if their children are old enough to not require constant attention.

 

Lay-off queries

Q. Could you please explain lay-offs?

This is where your business has a temporary downturn in work and you don’t want to make staff redundant because you know that work will pick up again in the foreseeable future.

To conduct lay-offs, you must have a clause within your contract of employment, with your staff member allowing you to do this.

Q. Do we have to give staff notice of a lay-off?

No, unless the employment contract says otherwise.

Q. Can we just agree a lay off between us or do we have to change our employment contracts with our staff?

You don’t have to amend the employment contract, but if you do come to an agreement with any employees then you must confirm the agreement in writing to avoid confusion and prevent potential litigation later.

In order to conduct lay-offs, you must have a lay-off clause within your employment contracts. Please contact your local HR Dept office for guidance on how to do this and to obtain advice on whether or not it is appropriate for your situation.

Q. As a hotel operator, can I make different department staff follow different measures? For example, I would want my wedding sales staff to continue to work, my bedroom sales staff to work shorter days and I would want to lay-off my housekeeping staff as  there are less rooms to clean since bookings have declined?

Yes you can apply different rules to different areas of your business.

 

Coronavirus job retention scheme

Please visit our dedicated page to find out more about fulough and the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme

 

Volunteering

Q. An employee said that they would like to volunteer in the NHS if needed, do we have to give them the time off and do we have to pay them?

They would be entitled to Emergency Volunteer Leave for a maximum of 4 weeks so you should authorise unpaid absence for that period.

 

Free coronavirus awareness course

Take our free eLearning course on coronavirus awareness. It only takes 10 minutes and covers the following:

  • An understanding of what coronavirus is and what we know about it so far
  • Advice on how to reduce the risk of spreading germs
  • Information on protocol if an employee has symptoms.

Access our online coronavirus course here

If you are interested in other eLearning courses for your business, get in touch today. 

Do you run a business and have a HR question about coronavirus?

The HR Dept provide outsourced HR support to employers. If you are an employee we would suggest that you contact Acas.

Looking for expert HR support?

We can help you focus on your business by taking care of all your human resources needs.

Let us know how we can help or ask about our free initial HR review.

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