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 Thursday 28th May.

Recent news: See our coronavirus news page for recent announcements

General Advice

On 10th May 2020, we received instruction from the Prime Minister that some restrictions should be relaxed. Employers within certain sectors, who are able to ensure social distancing within the workplace and safe travel arrangements, should be encouraging staff to return to work. Those who can work from home should continue to do so. 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. Ensure daily communication (where possible) with your team to discuss workload and find out how they are coping.
  • Review and update all employee contact numbers and emergency contact details.
  • Remain current with government advice regarding self-isolation.
  • Advise employees experiencing even mild symptoms of coronavirus, such as fever or a new continuous cough or anosmia (loss of smell and can affect taste), 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. However, if they then become ill themselves during that 14 day period, they must stay at home for 7 days regardless of where they were in the original 14 day isolation period.
  • Have a homeworking policy and enable as many employees as possible to carry out their work from home.
  • For those people who are able to attend work because they cannot work from home, and following a COVID-19 risk assessment:
    – Managers should share a return to work plan.
    – Managers should be informed on 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. Encourage your staff to wash their hands regularly.
    – Think about protective resources. For example hand sanitisers/ gel and tissues should all be made available.
    – Increase general cleaning routines for handrails, door handles etc
    – Think about planned business travel and question whether it is essential.
    – Ensure social distancing can be maintained in the workplace.
  • Follow HSE guidance for appropriate H&S measures – see links above or you can contact our H&S Dept for advice.
  • Have a business continuity plan.

 

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 (SSP) from day one will be retrospectively applied back to 13th March 2020 for those who are off sick with Covid-19 or its symptoms. The Coronavirus Statutory Sick Pay Rebate Scheme opened for applications on 26th May. The scheme allows small and medium sized employers, with fewer than 250 members of staff (at 28th February 2020), to apply to recover the costs of paying coronavirus-related Statutory Sick Pay for two weeks. The repayment will cover up to two weeks of SSP from either:

  • 13 March 2020, if an employee had coronavirus, symptoms or is self isolating because someone they live with has symptoms, or
  • 16 April 2020 if an employee was shielding because of coronavirus

Details of what you need to submit your claim and how to make a claim can be found here.

Employees will not be required to submit a fit note. However, NHS111 can provide a self-isolation note via their online system, so encourage employees to do this when required. You can request a copy of their NHS / GP letter telling them to stay at home for 12 weeks.

Q. If an employee is required to self-isolate following instruction under the Test and Trace Scheme, what do they get paid?

They are entitled to statutory sick pay for 14 days if they cannot work from home.

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 and/ or a new and continuous cough or anosmia (loss of smell and can affect taste).
  • 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

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 we have a company sick pay provision in our employment contracts with our staff, do we have to pay it even when the employee is not showing symptoms?

Statutory Sick Pay rules have changed to allow SSP to be paid by employers to those who the Government have advised to self-isolate or be quarantined. This does not affect the employment contract so we do not advise that you pay company sick pay to employees who are not sick.

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, on a temporary basis until this crisis is over.

We cannot stress the importance enough 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 even though they are not unwell but someone in their household is and the guidance advises the whole household isolates?

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.

 

Self-Isolation

Q. How long should employees self-isolate for?

Please refer to the Public Health England website for latest guidance.

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 don’t have symptoms but want to self-isolate for preventative reasons because they are worried, then please contact your local HR Dept office for advice because this is a complex situation and each case will be different.

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.

Some employees who are particularly vulnerable will have received a letter from Public Health England or the NHS advising them to ‘shield’, They should send you a copy of the letter.

 

Working from home

Q. The Government has relaxed some restrictions and said that staff who cannot work from home should be encouraged to attend work. Do I ask them to return to work now and do I have to give them notice?

There is no minimum notice period required, however it is a good idea to do so if you can. Contact the employees that you want to return to work and let them know the date of return and give clear instructions on what they should do on arrival.

You may wish to consider shift work or lunch breaks to maintain social distancing rules, you should also carry out a COVID-19 risk assessment prior to employees returning to the workplace.

This will be a difficult time for staff and for you, so please contact your local HR Dept office for advice on the best way to handle this.

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 you have done a risk assessment, they should attend work as usual. If they still refuse to attend work, contact us for advice.

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. 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. Workplaces must have adequate hygiene facilities and the ability for staff to be able to keep a safe distance from others.

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.

 

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, particularly if they are worried that the workplace is not safe. 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.

 

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.

Q. There won’t be enough time for employees to take their holidays because when we get back to work, we will be incredibly busy. What can I do about that?

The Government has released new rules on carrying over holiday. The regulations will allow up to 4 weeks of unused leave to be carried into the next 2 leave years, easing the requirements on businesses to ensure that workers take statutory amount of annual leave in any one year.

 

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 ‘vulnerable’ or ‘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
  • Those who have a serious condition will have received a letter from NHS advising them to self shield.


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. My employee has received a letter advising them to ‘shield’ for 12 weeks. Do we have to allow it and what pay are they entitled to?

Yes you have to allow it. Some employees may be able to continue to work from home. If they can’t, then you can furlough them. Please refer to our page on Job Retention Scheme.

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 your local HR Dept office.

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 is that family members should self-isolate if the employee has symptoms but work colleagues are not mentioned in this guidance.

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?

Employers have a duty to report employee cases of coronavirus under RIDDOR. Further information is available from the Health and Safety Executive however in summary you must report:

– any unintended incident at work which has led to someone’s possible or actual exposure to coronavirus. This must be reported as a dangerous occurrence.

– any incident when an employee/worker has been diagnosed as having COVID 19 and there is reasonable evidence that it was caused by exposure at work. This must be reported as a case of disease.

– if an employee/worker dies as a result of occupational exposure to coronavirus e.g care workers / NHS staff/ etc

Current advice is to work from home where possible. However if this is not possible and you encounter cases of Coronavirus at work you should close the workplace and 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?

It is recommended that a specific COVID-19 risk assessment be carried out for your business.

Additionally, 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 affect 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. Ask us about our Health and Safety service.

 

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 furloughing staff through the Job Retention Scheme. Where cash flow is critical, there are other options:

  • 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?

An employer can now furlough employees who need to stay at home due to childcare.

If the employee can continue to work, despite having children at home, then you can allow them to do so if both parties are confident that this is possible.

Q. On 10th May, Boris Johnson said that school children in Reception, Year One and Year Six in England can return to school on June 1st.  We have staff who have said that they don’t want their children to return to school yet so they aren’t going to send them back which means that they cannot work. What do we do?

Let’s wait and see what the guidance says as our advice will be dependant upon government guidance at the time, as well as the rules around the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. Keep talking to any parents that you employ about this issue. Suggest they talk to the School’s head for reassurance, as they may feel more confident about sending their children to school as we get closer to the time, or the June date might be pushed back.

Schools in Scotland and Wales will remain closed.

Lay-off queries

We refer you to the Job Retention Scheme as this scheme means that you can claim back 80% of the costs of having an employee off work which might be more preferable than laying-off staff. If the scheme is not appropriate for your business for whatever reason, then please contact your local HR Dept office to discuss lay-offs or other options.

 

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.

Q. We need to open our workplace again and want all staff to return to work but we have an individual who is volunteering in the NHS and hasn’t fulfilled 4 weeks yet – what do we do?

They are entitled to Emergency Volunteer Leave and you must not take any action to their detriment because they are volunteering.

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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