Coronavirus – is your workplace prepared?

With the Government’s latest prediction telling us that up to a fifth of the workforce may be absent from work due to illness during the peak of the coronavirus epidemic in the UK, we asked the question: How prepared are UK employers?

In a recent press release, Nel Woolcott, recruitment partner at ACR, outlined some good practice advice for employers:

The number of those testing positive for the virus in the UK is increasing each day, with the government having now published plans on how to cope and limit its spread.

Such efforts include the delay of some non-urgent hospital care to focus on those who are affected, calling recently retired doctors and nurses back to work, school closures, reducing large scale gatherings – and working from home.

Now is the perfect time for bosses and their employees to begin implementing a more rigorous office or workplace hygiene regime; and have a robust action plan in place should staff contract the virus – say Peterborough-based Anne Corder Recruitment, which also covers the Spalding, Stamford and Huntingdon areas.

“Listening to medical advice and taking precautions is always a great place to start – and it is never too early to do so,” says Nel Woolcott, Recruitment Partner at Anne Corder.

“While UK Government advice is still not to close a workplace, even with a confirmed case of the virus, it may be tempting for an employer to do so.

“However, what would be advisable is to have employees working from home for a few days while waiting for a test result – to avoid any potential spread of the virus which is more likely to have a much bigger impact on the workforce, and business more generally.

“What is clear is that employers should prepare now for the potential impact of the virus and the isolation and quarantine guidelines on their workforce.”

Below, we outline some good practice for employers to implement:

  • Keep everyone updated on actions being taken to reduce risks of exposure in the workplace
  • Make sure everyone’s contact numbers and emergency contact details are up to date
  • Make sure managers know how to spot symptoms of coronavirus and are clear on any relevant processes, for example sickness reporting and sick pay, and procedures in case someone in the workplace develops the virus
  • Make sure there are clean places to wash hands with hot water and soap, and encourage everyone to wash their hands regularly
  • Provide hand sanitiser and tissues for staff, and encourage them to use them
  • Consider if protective face masks might help for people working in particularly vulnerable situations
  • Consider if any travel planned to affected areas is essential
  • Provide staff with laptops they can take home and use from home if necessary, allowing them also to carry out conference or video call meetings.

Nel added: “One of the key discussions will undoubtedly centre around pay. There are a number of steps employers should be taking now, to protect themselves and their staff. At present, the biggest disruption to business is likely to be self-isolation and quarantine, but in time, if that doesn’t contain the outbreak, it will be employees being off sick with the virus itself.

“If a worker is off sick, the employer must follow sickness absence procedures and policies, and pay the worker their entitlement in those circumstances. While for some that may only be statutory sick pay, for others it will be normal contractual pay. It may be worth employers giving clear guidance to staff on pay procedures for a scenarios which include self-isolation, quarantine or are stuck abroad and have been advised not to travel due to Coronavirus.”

In addition to workplace advice, Public Health England (PHE) recommends that the following general cold and flu precautions are taken to help prevent people from catching and spreading coronavirus:

  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when you cough or sneeze.
  • Put used tissues in the bin straight away
  • Wash your hands with soap and water often – use hand sanitiser gel if soap and water are not available.
  • Try to avoid close contact with people who are unwell
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces
  • Do not touch your eyes, nose or mouth if your hands are not clean.