Coronavirus/epidemics/pandemics – what should employers be considering?

 

Thermometer, Temperature, Measure

Coronavirus is in the news right now but good planning is required to manage any severe outbreak of illness or any other matter which might impact the continuity of your business.

Here is an update on what should you be thinking about if you employ staff by our in-house HR Consultant – Jo Brooks.

Please find some suggestions below:

    • Employers should regularly monitor the situation taking into account advice from Public Health England and the World Health Organisation.
    • Where you are thinking of making changes to how you operate because of the virus, you should try to consult with staff and their representatives, wherever you can, where appropriate.
    • Remember to put in place measures that are proportionate and reasonable when considering the risk and circumstances. Seek to remain consistent so that your team(s) know where they stand.

First of all – Consider the risk and appropriate steps you could take to mitigate that risk, perhaps the provision of hand sanitisers for staff and masks (although a recent interview on BBC News with a clinical expert indicated that masks may not be as effective as other hygiene measures). If appropriate, other measures could include requiring employees to report any symptoms and/or requiring employees returning from a high-risk area to work at home for a few weeks (or potentially those who have close contact with someone who has and is displaying symptoms). Please take care to ensure that this situation is managed carefully though, as colleagues (or customers) may be very concerned and behave differently towards a staff member believed to be at risk of having the virus.

You may need to adapt your current policies in the event of staff absences or changes in the behaviour of your customers. If you think you might need staff to work differently or at a different location talk to them about this and understand any challenges this may present for them. Ultimately you may well be able to request this of your staff contractually however, securing agreement is always the better way to go.  If you do transfer staff or redeploy them, remember to make sure that your staff are trained appropriately to carry out the new role, or their existing role in a new location, for example, if it requires operating of machinery or providing orientation of the new location is required in circumstances where the task is fast-paced or high risk.

You may need to show greater flexibility if your staff cannot attend work, for example, because they are caring for dependants, schools are shut or public transport is affected. In these circumstances consider your current policies and procedures, are they still broadly appropriate?  Ensure you meet your statutory requirements to accommodate requests for time off work or flexible working. Consider allowing staff to work from home or another location, can meetings can be conducted online?

Are you dependant on a small number of staff performing a highly-skilled role?  You may wish to think about adapting working arrangements to protect your business continuity.

Give some thought to how you might manage circumstances where staff are willing but unable to work, because they are quarantined or unable to travel; or they are able but unwilling to work because they are concerned about their chances of contracting the virus. Your response should take into account the level of risk your staff are facing and how much protection you have been able to put in place to help mitigate that risk.

For staff who are unwell, their contract will outline their entitlement to sick pay but you may need to be flexible if medical certificates cannot be provided due to staff being asked not to attend the surgery, GP surgeries being overwhelmed or in some cases closed.

You will need to think about staff travelling for work, especially if abroad, when alternative guidelines may be provided in that country.  What if staff fall ill when abroad, can you get them home, or moved? How will your travel insurance and employee liability insurance policies work?

If you want to discuss how you might go about managing this type of situation now or in the future, please contact us.

** please note – actions required may vary from country to country, dependant upon prevailing law.

Image by Wynn Pointaux from Pixabay

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