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HR guidance on Coronavirus

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Stephen Brown

HR Guidance Notes – Coronavirus

The risk of catching coronavirus (COVID-19) in workplaces is currently low.

It's still good practice to make sure everyone at work follows simple hygiene rules, such as:

  • washing hands thoroughly with hot water and soap
  • using tissues when sneezing or coughing and throwing them away in a bin


If employees do not want to go to work?

Some people might feel they do not want to go to work if they're afraid of catching coronavirus.

An employer should listen to any concerns staff may have.

If there are genuine concerns, the employer must try to resolve them to protect the health and safety of their staff. For example, the employer could offer flexible working where possible, such as homeworking.

If an employee still does not want to go in, they may be able to arrange with their employer to take the time off as holiday or unpaid leave. The employer does not have to agree to this.

If an employee refuses to attend work, it could result in disciplinary action.


Sick pay         

The workplace's usual sick leave and pay entitlements apply if someone has coronavirus.

Employees should let their employer know as soon as possible if they're not able to go to work.

If an employee is not sick but their employer tells them not to come to work, they should get their usual pay. For example, if someone has returned from China since the virus started and their employer asks them not to come in, just in case.

If someone cannot work because they're in self-isolation or quarantine

There's no legal ('statutory') right to pay if someone is not sick but cannot work because they've:

  • been told by a medical expert to self-isolate
  • had to go into quarantine


It is good practice for their employer to treat it as sick leave and follow their usual sick pay policy or agree for the time to be taken as holiday.  Otherwise there’s a risk the employee will come to work because they will want to get paid.


Whilst employers owe a duty of care to employees to take reasonable steps to ensure their health and safety ad protect employees against reasonably foreseeable risks, there is currently no legal obligation to impose a precautionary suspension of non-symptomatic employees returning from holiday or work in an area known to have  experiences incidences of Coronavirus.  Additionally, third party pressure from colleagues should not be regarded as a sufficient reason to impose a suspension.



Where an employer does choose to suspend a returning employee just as a precaution, it will have to on full pay unless the contract gives the employer the right to suspend the employee without pay.  Such a suspension should not be considered as a ‘medical suspension’.


Booked annual leave

Employee may wish to cancel their holiday plans at short notice if they were planning to visit affected areas and this may result in requests to postpone holiday dates that have already been agreed by the employee.  These requests should be granted where possible, otherwise employees might feel pressured to risk taking the holiday as originally planned.


Steps for employers

In case coronavirus spreads more widely in the UK, employers should consider some simple steps to help protect the health and safety of staff.

Employers should:

  • 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 and travel plans to affected areas are essential
  • consider practical alternatives to business travel to affected areas such as conducting meetings by Skype or video conferences 

If the employer takes measures such as asking staff to wear protective face masks, they must not single anyone out, for example based on their race or ethnicity.


If the employer needs to close the workplace

The employer should plan in case they need to close the workplace temporarily. For example:

  • asking staff who have work laptops or mobile phones to take them home so they can work from home
  • arranging paperwork tasks that can be done at home for staff who do not work on computers
  • making sure staff have a way to communicate with the employer and other people they work with


In some situations, an employer might need to close down their business for a short time. Unless it says in the contract or is agreed otherwise, they still need to pay their employees for this time.  Check, therefore, of your contracts of employment contain a lay off clause.

If the employer thinks they'll need to do this, it's important to talk with staff as early as possible and throughout the closure.