Coronavirus guidance issued for employers

Posted: 2nd March 2020

With headlines continuing to be dominated by the global spread of coronavirus, new guidance has been released by the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) to set out the steps that employers should be taking to help protect staff.

Developed in case coronavirus (COVID-19) spreads more widely in the UK, the simple guidance provides tips on how employers can safeguard employee health and safety.

Acas advises that it Is good practice for employers to:

  • 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;
  • Give out hand sanitisers and tissues to 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.

The issue of whether employers have to pay sick pay when an employee is not sick but cannot work because they are in self-isolation or quarantine is also addressed. While there is no legal right to pay if someone is not sick but cannot work because they have been told by a medical expert to self-isolate, have had to go into quarantine or are abroad in an affected area and are not allowed to travel back to the UK, Acas advises that it is good practice. In these instances, employers are directed to treat the absence as sick leave and follow their usual sick pay policy or agree for the time to be taken as holiday. Not taking this approach could lead to employees coming into work because they want to get paid, which could spread the virus.

Also included in the Acas guidance is advice on what to do when:

  • An employee is not sick, but the employer has told them not to come to work;
  • An employee needs time off work to look after someone;
  • An employee does not want to come into work;
  • An employee becomes unwell at work;
  • An employer needs to close the workplace (although this is said to be unlikely).