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The UK government has increased the risk rating for Coronavirus from low to moderate.

Some businesses are considering the possibilities of having to shut down in the wake of a positive test result but are hoping the situation in the UK won’t go the same as Italy.

Italy has ordered bars, restaurants and hair and beauty salons to close in the toughest restrictions on a Western nation since World War Two. In a televised address to the nation, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said all shops would be shuttered except supermarkets, food stores and chemists, and companies must close all non-essential departments. Company canteens can remain open if they are able to guarantee a distance of at least one metre (three feet) between customers. The latest measures will take effect from today and last until 25 March. The move came after the country’s death coronavirus death toll jumped by 196 in 24 hours to 827. Confirmed cases across Italy rose to 12,462 from a previous 10,149.

  1. If any of your employees are required to travel to China, be sure to follow the updated government advice. Also, as with any H&S risk assessment, consider whether the trip can be postponed or replaced by online video meetings.
  2. Where employees have recently returned from China, or are due to, consider if and how they can work from home until they are sure they’ve not been infected.  Remember the virus can spread without symptoms being evident.
  3. Ensure good hygiene standards are enforced across the business and provide alcohol-based sanitising hand gels or wipes.

The NHS has given the following advice to the public and employers are free to share this advice with their employees. (This is also a good reminder of how a basic hygiene practice can help reduce the spread of other diseases e.g. the common cold and flu.)

  • Wash your hands with soap and water. Washing your hands should last for at least 20 seconds. 
  • Always wash your hands when you get home or arrive at work. 
  • Use hand sanitiser gel if soap and water are not available. 
  • 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 after use ad wash your hands thoroughly after handling used tissues.
  • Try and avoid contact with people who are unwell. 
  • Do not touch your eyes, nose or mouth if your hands are not clean. 

Absence Reporting

Employees should continue to follow existing company absence reporting procedures if for any reason they are unable to attend their nominated place of work and undertake their contractual duties. Given the exceptional circumstances, employers may need to be flexible if a company absence reporting procedure requires written evidence to cover a period of sickness in excess of seven days; employees may not be able to obtain this due to self-isolation.

Sick Pay – Statutory Sick Pay (SSP)

The Health Protection (Coronavirus) Regulations 2020 contain a declaration by the Secretary of State that the incidence or transmission of novel Coronavirus constitutes a serious and imminent threat to public health, and the measures outlined in these regulations are considered as an effective means of delaying or preventing further transmission of the virus. Assuming that someone who self isolates does so because they are given a written notice (see here), typically issued by a GP or by 111, they are deemed in accordance with the SSP Regulations to be incapable of work, and are therefore entitled to SSP. If the employer offers contractual sick pay, it’s good practice to provide this. If somebody chooses to self-isolate, and/or is not given that written notice, then they are not entitled to SSP.

Those told not to attend work by their employer (more akin to suspension on health and safety grounds) means subject to specialist advice, full pay should probably be paid. On 11 March 2020 the chancellor announced a budget of £2bn to support firms with fewer than 250 employees with the costs of having employees off sick. The cost of paying SSP for up to 14 days per employee will be refunded by the government for a temporary period. It’s likely that the Emergency Measures Bill at the end of the month will also extend SSP into the current three day waiting period. There is currently no legal requirement for companies to pay SSP from Day 1, although doing so voluntarily over the next couple of weeks may help stop the spread of the virus into an individual workplace by removing a ‘barrier’ to staying off.  This could provide benefits in the longer term.

From a viewpoint of what is the current minimum statutory requirement, employers should pay SSP as normal, making sure to keep careful records, and watch out for announcements (including via our blog posts) of when and how the refunds will be made.

Returning Travellers

If a colleague has returned from a specific area listed by the Government that requires 14 days self-isolation, regardless of symptoms, they should follow the Government’s advice and in the UK use the 111 online coronavirus service to find out what to do next, or in Ireland call 112. They should not go to a GP surgery, pharmacy or hospital.

If a colleague has returned from a specific area listed by the Government and they have symptoms of a cough, high temperature or shortness of breath (even if those symptoms are mild), they should follow the Government’s advice and in the UK use the 111 online coronavirus service to find out what to do next, or in Ireland call 112. They should not go to a GP surgery, pharmacy or hospital.

If the employee has visited one of these areas on your behalf, you bear some responsibility for the position in which they now find themselves. The best option is to explore opportunities to work from home. If this isn’t possible, consider paid sickness absence or even, subject to specialist advice, paid medical suspension.

Our contingency plan:

We want to reassure you that we are ready for any eventuality, to support your payroll and other essential processes that we may run for you.

  • The TopSource Group has a full business continuity plan in place to address issues that may necessitate the closure of any one or more of our office locations.
  • The Group operates from three distinct offices, reducing the potential impact of any emergency or unexpected disruption from any one location.
  • All of our systems are hosted in a Tier 4 data centre in the UK.  This allows our teams to work remotely, if required.
  • Our telecoms operate on a fully-hosted VOIP system, allowing to us re-point inbound calls to mobiles, or alternative locations if required.  This reduces the risk of communications disruption.
  • Our business continuity planning has been in place for over five years and is audited and tested regularly.  We do this as a matter of best practice and planning.

We are well prepared for potential disruptions or UK-wide precautions that may be taken.