• Denise Harris

The Business and its People: Preparing for the Possible

2020 seems to have gotten off to a challenging start. From the death of Caroline Flack, through widespread flooding and now Covid-19, the UK is being faced with more challenges that are impacting employer practice. Ensuring business continuity and looking after your staff during these times of crisis is essential so what can we, as employers, do?

UK Government updates regarding Covid-19 are changing often. At the time of writing this post schools are set to close for the foreseeable future and social distancing and self-isolation are encouraged where possible. Other countries are setting a precedent for what the UK might expect over the coming weeks. As such, businesses need to start planning for any possibility to reduce disruption as much as possible, as circumstances change.

The following advice has been sourced from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) & the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS). Please be advised that minimum requirements and best practice are not always parallel with one another, by going the extra mile for your employees you will likely see increased engagement and support from staff as a result.

Home working and pay

Employers must facilitate home working as far as is reasonably practicable; companies cannot shut down without pay until they have exhausted all other possibilities.

Employers need to consider individuals who cannot work from home and whether adjustments can be made to their role or whether they can work elsewhere in the business (e.g. in manufacturing can they review and make recommendations for health & safety policies, undergo safety training, compliance updates etc.).

If employees are sent home by the organisation they are entitled to full pay until the company can source an alternative option. This is because they are acting on the reasonable instruction of their employer.

If the company cannot facilitate home working then they can force annual leave, but they have to provide employees with two days’ notice per days leave required.

  • Employers can only lay-off staff if there is a lay-off clause in the employment contract. If such a clause is already present, the employer can consider laying off staff for a number of weeks. If not, they have no legal grounds to lay-off staff and must look to home working or closing the office with full pay.

Self-isolation & Sickness

The UK government is regularly providing updates. For up to date advice and guidance, please refer to the following link: https://www.gov.uk/government/topical-events/coronavirus-covid-19-uk-government-response

  • Employees who are unable to attend work because they are following government advice to stay at home are eligible for Statutory Sick Pay (SSP). This is the case even when they are not sick. If an employee has not been advised to stay at home, but chooses to do so anyway, this is an unauthorised absence. This means that they are not entitled to pay and could face disciplinary action as a result.

  • If an employee becomes sick and exhibits early symptoms or signs of the virus, they need to go home immediately, abide by the company sickness policy and isolate for 14 days’ minimum.

  • If an employee comes into close contact with someone who is unwell, they are advised to self-isolate for 7 days and are entitled to Statutory Sick Pay if not working from home, if they do not display symptoms after those 7 days they can return to work.

  • If a member of the household becomes unwell, all members of that household must self-isolate for a minimum of 14 days from the first day the first member got sick.

  • Employees are now entitled to SSP (£94.25 per week) from day 1 regardless of length of employment. If they are sick, they need to provide evidence (this can be done via online NHS 111). Alternatively, employees can self-certify form for up to a maximum of 7 days via an online government.

  • Small and medium companies (SMEs) can claim any SSP paid out back from the government. You can find further information at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/guidance-to-employers-and-businesses-about-covid-19/covid-19-support-for-businesses

  • If an employee has symptoms and does not disclose this to the organisation it can result in disciplinary action due to a breach of duty of care requirements.

The way your business handles this challenge will have a significant impact on your employees. Ignoring the problem will not benefit your organisation and may cause as much harm culturally as it could financially.

Instead, encourage open communication, keep employees updated with what measures you are taking to ensure their safety and continuity. The clearer you are the better.

Be vigilant with signs and symptoms, train your managers on what to look out for and how to properly handle suspected cases. Do not allow this to slip into bullying or harassment. In any circumstance bullying, harassment or discrimination should not be tolerated and should be faced with disciplinary action.

Remain calm, practical and encourage positivity and sensitivity amongst your people.

To quote the bard, “Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt.”