Covid-19 (‘Corona Virus’)

How to spot Covid-19

Employees who develop normal cold symptoms such as runny nose, sore throat, cough, etc should not jump to conclude they have Covid-19.

According to Public Health England only a significantly raised temperature followed a few days later by a dry cough and then shortness of breath indicate possible Covid-19 infection.

Measures to minimise the risk of infection and transmission

In general, excellent hygiene and awareness are key.

  • Encourage employees to carry and use hand sanitiser and to wear gloves when out in public, particularly on public transport
  • Remind employees to ensure they cover their mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing and to avoid close contact with anyone showing symptoms of respiratory illness such as coughing and sneezing
  • Make alcohol based hand sanitiser available in all workplaces, ideally at the entrance and require all employees to sanitise hands upon entry
  • Check that contract cleaners are regularly cleaning high traffic areas such as desks, door handles, toilet handles, push plates and banisters
  • Where possible employees should avoid travel by air and by London Underground
  • If the prevalence and risk of infection becomes high in the area of work, or for particular employees who have to use public transport, then home working should be considered where feasible
  • Meetings in metropolitan areas with high rates of international air & rail travel should be cancelled or postponed
  • Employees should be encouraged not to attend concerts, sporting events & similar large-scale social functions or travel abroad through airports & regions where the prevalence and risk of infection are high
  • Use of video-conferencing & other means should be used as an alternative to personal travel where travel involves exposure to areas of high risk

Employees who may have Covid-19

An employee who displays the symptoms associated with Covid-19 should self isolate and promptly ring NHS 111 so they can be quickly tested. Test results typically come back very quickly, within 24 – 48 hours.

If an employee first displays symptoms at work they should:

  • get at least 2 metres (7 feet) away from other people
    go to a room or area behind a closed door, such as a sick bay or staff office
  • avoid touching anything
    cough or sneeze into a tissue and put it in a bin, or if they do not have tissues, cough and sneeze into the crook of their elbow
  • use a separate bathroom from others, if possible

The unwell person should use their own mobile phone to call either:

111, for NHS advice or 999, if they’re seriously ill or injured or their life is at risk

They should tell the operator:

  • their symptoms
  • which country they’ve returned from in the last 14 days

Entitlement to SSP

An employee who self isolates and has been given a written notice by their GP or NHS 111 service will be deemed incapable of work in accordance with the Health Protection (Coronavirus) Regulations 2020 and will be entitled to SSP.

Employees who choose to self isolate and are not given a written notice are not entitled to SSP.

As of 5th March 2020 Emergency legislation is due to be implemented temporarily amending the eligibility requirements for SSP, allowing the statutory payment to be made from the first day of sickness absence.

What if employees do not want to come to work?

Some people may be worried about catching coronavirus and therefore unwilling to come into work. If this is the case you should listen carefully to the concerns of your employees and if possible, offer flexible working arrangements such as homeworking.

Employees can also request time off as holiday or unpaid leave but there is no obligation on employers to agree to this.

If an employee refuses to attend work, you are entitled to take disciplinary action.  However, my view is that dismissal is likely to be outside the range of reasonable responses, at least for now. 

If someone refuses to come into work and the COVID-19 issues continue into the medium term, this might change.