At the end of 2019, a new strain of Coronavirus (now named COVID-19), was indentified in the Chinese city of Wuhan. As of last week, 63,000 cases had been registered with 1,300 fatalities. The condition has largely been contained within China to date with only isolated cases elsewhere. However, given the globally connected nature of the world, there is no guarantee that this will remain the case long term. In light of this, organisations should be prepared to take steps to try to minimise the dangers posed by this outbreak. So what should companies do about the threat of Coronavirus?
Travel to the impacted areas should be restricted. Organisations should keep a close eye on the travel advice posted by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. At present, travel to Hubei Province is restricted and travel to China is not advised but the position may change both in China and elsewhere. Keep checking the Gov.uk site. Also be prepared to use alternatives to face to face meetings (Skype, Zoom etc) until the all clear is given regarding the spread Coronavirus.
Employees returning from affected areas
The UK Government has indicated that it doesn’t plan to quarantine British Nationals who are returning from China. However if you are travelling from the below areas, the advice is now as follows.
Call NHS 111, stay indoors and avoid contact with other people immediately if you’ve travelled to the UK from:
- Hubei province in China in the last 14 days, even if you do not have symptoms
- Iran, lockdown areas in northern Italy or special care zones in South Korea since 19 February, even if you do not have symptoms
- other parts of mainland China or South Korea, Hong Kong, Japan, Macau, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan or Thailand in the last 14 days and have a cough, high temperature or shortness of breath (even if your symptoms are mild)
- other parts of northern Italy (anywhere north of Pisa, Florence and Rimini), Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar or Vietnam since 19 February and have a cough, high temperature or shortness of breath (even if your symptoms are mild)
What should employers do?
Employers should also advise anyone in these circumstances to go home. Where they can work flexibly, then you may wish to allow them to work from home for the duration of the quarantine period. However, if they are ill, you have a decision to make. Where your sickness absence policy states pay is at SSP rates, will you enforce it or pay full pay? If you only pay SSP, employees may seek to come to work putting other employees at risk. Seek professional advice before making that decision and before making any decision to suspend employees on full pay.
Employees who have booked annual leave
If employees have already booked annual leave, you may wish to let them postpone it at short notice. The last thing you want to do is to encourage people to travel to an impacted area. So what should companies do about the threat of Coronavirus? Plan ahead and act consistently. Also seek professional advice where needed.
What if I send staff home?
If you are telling staff to go home because of suspected Coronavirus, and they don’t have the ability to work from home, you are effectively suspending them. This should be done with pay as suspending on no pay is likely to be a breach of contract.
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