The World Health Organisation has advised that we should act “as if the virus is going to show up tomorrow. [We’re] in an interconnected world.”
Planning for this has been on the agenda for global businesses for weeks but with the virus now hitting Europe, the time has come for us all to think about how we are going to cope if it ends up on our doorstep.
Some of you may have policies in place covering such a global pandemic and if you have, review them as your first port of call. I suspect most SME’s won’t have such policies.
In the absence of company guidelines, here are my initial thoughts on how you handle this as an employer:
- If your workplace is shut down due to an outbreak and you have to send your employees home, you should pay your staff on the basis that they are well enough to attend but are prevented from doing so. If possible, you could allow your employees to work from home. Alternatively, you could consider banking the hours that they have been unable to work and give them the opportunity to work them later in the year when it is safe to return to work;
- If your employees have contracted the coronavirus, their absence should be treated as sickness absence and they are entitled to SSP or company sick pay in accordance with your normal rules;
- If your employees are off work because their children’s school has been quarantined, this could be covered by emergency time off to care for dependants, which is unpaid but you may wish to offer discretionary pay, again banking hours or working from home;
- If they are quarantined because they have been exposed to people or places where the virus has been detected, I think you’re going to have to think about how you treat this absence and how you pay them. My suggestion would be to follow the advice that I provided in scenario 1 above;
- You should consider whether it is safe for employees to travel and what will happen upon their return to the UK; and
- Reinforce cleanliness in the workplace with hand-washing facilities and general hygiene standards.
As an aside, check your insurance policies to see if you are covering in the event of a loss of business due to this situation and declaring force majeure with your customers. You might also ask your suppliers what they have in place to cope with this circumstance.
Stay safe people