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 16th August 2021.

Recent news: See our coronavirus news page for recent announcements

General Advice

  • 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. NB the rules changed on 16th August 2021 for fully vaccinated individuals for longer than two weeks.
  • 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 The Health & Safety 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 for four consecutive days. The normal qualifying days are not required for SSP. The Coronavirus Statutory Sick Pay Rebate Scheme opened for applications on 26th May 2020. 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, or
  • 16 April 2020 if an employee was shielding* because of coronavirus (*shielding is no longer a requirement)

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 if they cannot work from home. Those who have been fully vaccinated are not required to self-isolate if they do not have symptoms.

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).
    • Those who have a positive lateral flow test
    • Those who have a positive PCR test (or live with someone who has a positive PCR test if they are not fully vaccinated for at least two weeks).
    • 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.

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 unvaccinated 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 Public Health England, Health Protection Scotland or Public Health Wales 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 10 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.

Q. Do employees have to self-isolate if returning from abroad?

Employees must refer to official Government advice regarding UK travel corridors. Countries that require self-isolation upon return to the UK can change at a moment’s notice, so it is vital that any employees travelling abroad remain up to date.

Some professions are exempt from self-isolation when returning to the UK from abroad. A full list can be found on the Government website.

Q. Are fully vaccinated employees exempt from self-isolation?

Yes unless they have symptoms. They must have received their final vaccination at least two weeks before.

 

Working from home

Q. The Government has said that staff who cannot work from home can attend a COVID secure workplace. 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’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.

 

Face coverings

Q. Should I be asking my employees to wear face coverings at work?

In England there is no legal requirement to wear face coverings since the restrictions were lifted. Except in health care settings

You should conduct a risk assessment and it may well be that you identify that wearing face coverings in certain parts of the building or whilst carrying out certain tasks may help reduce transmission of the virus.

Note that the government guidance is that face coverings should be worn in enclosed spaces particularly where there are lots of people such as in public areas, or public transport. Your decision on whether to ask your employees to wear face coverings will depend on the working environment.

For Scotland please see official government guidance or contact your local HR Dept office for advice.

In Wales, face coverings are compulsory in shops and in healthcare settings, but no longer required in hospitality settings such as restaurants and cafes. See official government guidance for further information.

Q. Can I insist my employees wear face coverings at work?

In England, if it has been identified in your risk assessment and it would present a significantly increased risk of transmission, then you could have a policy.

If you have an employee who refuses to wear a face covering then you should hold a meeting with that individual to understand their concern and, if legitimate, work together on how you can get around that whilst still protecting the vulnerable colleagues identified within the risk assessment.

If there is no other option, then you could potentially take disciplinary action or dismiss but please get advice from your local HR Dept office first.

For Scotland please see official government guidance or contact your local HR Dept office for advice.

Q. What if an employee is exempt from wearing a face covering?

In England, incorporate that into your risk assessment and discuss with your staff whether there are other measures that you could take to compensate for those who are unable to wear face coverings to ensure everyone feels safe at work.

For Scotland please see official government guidance or contact your local HR Dept office for advice.

 

COVID alert levels and tiers

Q. What are the COVID alert levels and tiers?

A four-tiered system with local COVID alert levels were used for England in 2020.

The system was used to trigger additional restrictions on a local level for those areas showing the highest rates of infection. The levels used were as follows:

  • Tier 1 – Medium
  • Tier 2 – High
  • Tier 3 – Very high
  • Tier 4 – Stay at home

Business owners needed to identify their tier in order to know which rules applied.

In Scotland, five COVID protection levels with local restrictions were introduced in October 2020.

Q. What are the rules for attending the workplace in each tier?

All restrictions have been lifted regarding the instruction to work from home so all employees are now free to attend the workplace.

 

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 (from 2020), 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)?

You must conduct a risk assessment if you are insisting that they work from your premises. We advise you contact The Health and Safety Dept for advice as this is a particularly complex and high risk area.

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 suffering from COPD
    • Those who have a serious condition will have initially 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. Do I need to take any different action for a pregnant employee?

The government guidance has been updated which explains the recommendations employers should take depending on whether or not the pregnant employee has an underlying health condition and how many weeks into their pregnancy they are.

If the employee is less than 28 weeks pregnant and has no underlying health conditions, then employers should do the following:

– Workplace risk assessment (ideally in conjunction with Occupational Health). The Health and Safety Dept can help you with this.
If any identified risks cannot be removed or managed, suitable alternative work should be offered or working from home. If neither of these seem possible, then please get advice from your local HR Dept office.
– In healthcare settings, you should refer to the Public Health England Publication “guidance on infection prevention and control” and comply with that guidance also. In Scotland, please refer to Health Protection Scotland (HPS)

If the employee is more than 28 weeks pregnant or has underlying health conditions, then employers should do the following:

– Follow advice given for the “clinically extremely vulnerable” group.
– Conduct a risk assessment – contact The Health and Safety Dept for advice or to discuss the outcome of the risk assessment because our advisors may well have ideas for mitigating risks that you are unaware of.
– Allow working from home – even if this means that the individual is doing related but different work. The guidance states that “this may require working flexibly from home in a different capacity”. If it is a different level role, pay must not be reduced.
– If you cannot allow working from home, please contact your local HR Dept office for advice.

 

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 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?

Where cash flow is critical, there are 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.

Q. What’s the Kickstart Scheme?

This is a scheme that creates subsidised jobs for young people. The funding will cover the National Minimum Wage for 25 hours per week for a job placement lasting 6 months. There are criteria that the person you employ need to meet which includes that they are between the ages of 16-24, are claiming Universal Credit and at risk of long term unemployment. Employers will be able to top up the salary if they want to.

Q. What about funding for apprentices?

£3000 paid to employers for each new apprentice hired under the age of 25 (this is in addition to the £1000 payment the Govt already provides for new 16-18 year old apprentices).

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.

Preventing People Problems

Subscribe to our monthly newsletter

Office Address: CENTRAL OFFICE, The HR Dept. Ltd, First Floor, 3 Brook Office Park, Emersons Green, Bristol, BS16 7FL | VAT Number: GB821928327 | Registration Number: 04479417

Copyright © 2007 - 2020 The HR Dept Ltd. HR DEPT is a registered trademark belonging to The HR Dept Limited.

Please complete your details and we will be in touch soon.

If you are an employee please click here.