Coronavirus advice for businesses

09 Mar 2020


With the rise of confirmed Coronavirus cases in the UK steadily rising, it is important to be prepared in the event of an employee becoming infected in your workplace.

With the rise of confirmed Coronavirus cases in the UK steadily rising, it is important to be prepared in the event of an employee becoming infected in your workplace.

Coronavirus’s are common across the world. However, COVID-19 is a new strain first identified in Wuhan City, China. Symptoms of COVID-19 include coughing, difficulty breathing and fever. The virus has an incubation period of 2 -14 days which means if you have contact with an infected person and do not become ill within 14 days then you have not been infected.

The spread of Corona Virus is caused by:

  • Close contact with an infected person (within 2 metres)
  • Inhaling respiratory secretions such as coughs and sneezes.
  • Touching surfaces, objects and hands that have been touched by an infected person and then touching your own mouth, noses or eyes.

As there is currently no vaccine for COVID-19 the best recommendation is stopping the spread of the virus by:

  • Covering your mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing with a tissue or your sleeve.
  • Putting tissues into the bin directly after sneezing or coughing.
  • Washing hands regularly with soap and water – or hand sanitiser. The recommendation is 20 seconds of hand washing.
  • Avoid close contact with anyone who is unwell.
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces that are frequently touched.
  • Do not touch your eyes, mouth or nose if your hands are unclean.

Any waste that has been in contact with a possibly infected person e.g. tissues should be disposed of by tying a knot in the waste bag and placing in a second bin bag. This should then be stored in a safe place until test results come back confirming the outcome of their test. If the results prove positive then advice will be given on how to dispose of the waste, if results return negative then waste can be disposed of normally.

What to do if an employee or a member of the public becomes unwell and believe they have been exposed to COVID-19

If an employee has recently returned from China or a known affected area and starts to feel unwell at work, then the employee should be removed to an area at least 2 metres away from other people. If possible, they should be isolated in a room with the door shut and an open window for ventilation if available. The unwell person should then contact NHS 111 and wait for assistance. They should follow the guidelines about how to stop the spread of the virus as stated above. If the need to use the toilet arises then they should ideally use a separate bathroom from the rest of the employees.

What should be done if an employee or someone who has been in the workplace has a confirmed case of COVID-19?

Closure of the workplace is not recommended. Instead the management team will be contacted by Public Health England’s Local Health Protection Team who will identify people who have been in close contact, advise on precautions to take and undertake a risk assessment to advise further.

The Health Protection Team will also give advice to parties that have had close contact with the infected party including anyone in close contact to infected party, close friendship groups or workgroups or any employee living in the same household. Employees in close contact may be told to self-isolate.

How should employers prepare for a possible workplace outbreak?

  • Make sure staff contact numbers and emergency contact details are up to date.
  • Make sure managers are clear on workplace processes such as sickness and absence policies.
  • Implement NHS advice on hygiene such as encouraging everyone to wash their hands regularly and ensuring there are clean places to wash hands with soap and water.
  • Give out hand sanitiser’s and tissues to staff and encourage their use where possible.

How does absence work when dealing with COVID-19?

Medical evidence is not required for the first 7 days of sickness by law. After 7 days the employer decides what is valid evidence for sickness.

Employers should use their discretion when deciding on the need for medical evidence for a period of absence where an employee is advised to self-isolate due to suspected COVID-19, in accordance with the public health advice being issued by the government normal sick pay should be given to people suffering from Coronavirus.

If an employee is a carrier or has been in contact with an infected person, the general advice is for them to self-isolate and further advice is then given by PHE and the NHS.

Will an employee be paid when self-isolating?

If an employee is self-isolating then Aca’s (employment conciliation service) says that it is good practice to offer contractual sick pay, where this is not offered, they should receive statutory sick pay. The government has recently changed legislation for this to be paid on the 1st day of self-isolation as it counts as sickness. Previously statutory sick pay was paid on the 4th day.

What happens if the workplace must be closed?

Generally, the recommendation is that workplaces do not have to close but in the event that the workplace does have to close, employers should plan to have employees working from home on laptops and mobile phones with a way to communicate with their employer and work colleagues.

Your own experiences, questions?

If you have an experience on the impacts of the Corona Virus on your business that you wish to share or if you have any specific questions not included in above please let us know as Central Government wish to know how they can support businesses further.

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