With a confirmed case of Coronavirus in Guernsey, the threat of this constantly evolving situation is becoming ever more real for businesses and employers. With an estimated impact of 20% of the UK workforce off sick during the peak of the Coronavirus impact it is important to be minded of steps that can be taken as an organisation to help prevent the spread while also thinking about your people strategy and business operations.
Practical Steps in the Workplace
Ensure hand sanitizers are readily available throughout the premises and particularly in places when entering the building. You may choose to request that this becomes standard practice for all employees and respectfully request visitors do the same.
Promote good hygiene and the ‘catch it, bin it, kill it’ practices and request employees wash their hands regularly, lasting for at least 20 seconds. Employees should avoid touching their eyes, nose, and mouth.
Where possible encourage staff not to shake hands with each other or clients in meetings. Alternatively you could explore minimising meetings with clients which are deemed to be non-essential utilising web based conferencing platforms, scheduling calls or rescheduling meetings as appropriate. The same would apply to business travel with some employers advising against travelling to affected areas.
Should you have bathroom towels, consider replacing these with paper towels for a short period.
Should hot desking be a practice which is undertaken, seek to minimise this by providing employees with designated desks during this period. Should you not have sufficient workspace due to your business involving client meetings or working from client’s premises, provide staff with the option of working from home.
Request that any employees presenting with symptoms of the coronavirus – fever, cough or difficulty breathing, to promptly seek medical attention and remain at home self-isolating until they have contacted Public Health and a medical professional, and have confirmation that it is safe to return.
When Should Staff Self Isolate & How Should Employers Respond?
Employers have a duty of care to their employees to provide a safe working environment. This includes the employees who may be self-isolating and those who remain in the office.
Should you specifically tell an employee not to come into the workplace – as the employee has been to an affected area or are presenting with symptoms – the employee would be eligible to their normal sick pay. The same is true if the employee has had to self-isolate on the basis of medical advice and can evidence this. Should the employee be following advice from a doctor they may also be entitled to social security incapacity benefit.
While not a statutory requirement in Guernsey, you may wish to follow the best practice advice from ACAS who have advised that it is in everyone’s best interests to provide pay, as staff concerned about not receiving pay for self-isolation may attempt to come into the office and pose a risk to other employees. There is no requirement to pay employees who choose to self-isolate without any written notice from a medical professional advising to take this course of action.
Employees also have a duty to look after their own health and safety and that of their colleagues which includes cooperating with the employer to ensure a safe workplace. Should an employee be adamant that they wish to return to work (despite receiving advice to the contrary) you may wish to suspend the employee on the basis of health and safety grounds, invoking your disciplinary or performance procedures due to not following reasonable instructions.
In light of the above you may think about reviewing your sickness and flexible working policies during this period. It may also be prudent to consider whether any timeframes relating to the duration of sickness and its payment should be frozen so that the two weeks an employee may be self-isolating does not impact their sick pay allowance and Bradford factor scores especially where these are linked to performance management or appraisal objectives.
For further advice on self-isolation please visit the Public Health England information and factsheets.
Business Operations – Invoking Business Continuity Plans
This may become a reality should you be are aware that one of your employees, or their relatives whom they have been in contact with, have presented with symptoms or have a confirmed case of coronavirus. Considerations as to reviewing and testing your business continuity plan are important to prepare for such an eventuality.
Where critical services are required to be performed ensure that your procedures manuals are up to date and where appropriate commence cross training of existing staff teams to assist with continuity of operational processes. Should you operate across jurisdictions – data protection and tax reasons permitting – explore whether some functions can be undertaken by members of staff within another office.
Ensure flexible and remote working practices have been established and set up for all critical staff should the functions need to be continued from home. However be minded to consider the data protection and IT security issues connected to this. You may wish to provide remote working for the short term only.
Where the employee unable to work holds a regulated position, consider how the function, whether it be a director, signatory or MLRO, will be performed and who would be appropriate, fit and proper to perform the function in their absence.
What support can I give parents if schools close?
Should the schools close, this will affect a large proportion of the workforce in Guernsey and may affect your business due to parents facing childcare difficulties. Allowing flexible and remote working practices or amending staff working hours could be the answer.
Policies and Procedures
For there not to be any confusion as to appropriate courses of action and entitlements in line with existing benefits and policies, consideration should be given to establishing policies specifically addressing the virus risks and absences. Such policies should be communicated effectively to all staff and prescribe that they will be in effect until a formal notification to rescind them. This is especially important where the policy replaces an existing policy or contractual benefit in the interim.
Should you need any assistance with reviewing your people response plans or policies and procedures, please feel free to contact one of the Focus HR Team who would be happy to assist.
Further Information and Advice
The Public Health Service provides information and advice as the situation regarding the coronavirus develops on a daily basis. Information can be found at https://gov.gg/coronavirus which includes updates on affected regions, information on transition, travel and self-isolation. Two dedicated helpline numbers have also been released for persons with any clinical questions regarding the coronavirus – 01481 756938 and 01481 756969.