There is no definitive way to prevent a coronavirus outbreak impacting your business. Employees have a life outside of work. They come into contact with countless people away from the workplace. This means that you have no real way of controlling the outbreak. However, there are several steps you can take to minimise risks and encourage your employees to take responsibility for looking after themselves and their colleagues.
Follow official advice
Keep updated with Public Health England guidance, and monitor official advice from the NHS and the World Health Organization.
There are some key pieces of advice to share with all employees at your business:
- Wash hands thoroughly with warm water and soap for 20 seconds
- Cough or sneeze into a tissue (and dispose of it immediately) or the crook of your elbow
- Call 111 if you have respiratory symptoms or a fever
This information should be communicated effectively with all employees. Send an email to all staff and put up posters around your site to ensure everyone (including visitors) knows your hygiene policy.
Put hygiene first
Ensure hand sanitisers, tissues and paper towels are available throughout your site. Regularly clean your premises and provide wipes for employees to clean regularly touched surfaces before use.
If someone with confirmed coronavirus enters your premises, businesses are advised not to close the workplace down entirely. Fully decontaminate the premises and work with the PHE local Health Protection Team to identify who has been in contact with the individual. They’ll help you to decide what precautions (if any) need to be taken.
Support general health and wellbeing
If you have an Employee Assistance Programme, or a wellbeing strategy, make sure these provisions are promoted to your employees. Ensure your employees feel supported and know what services they have access to (such as helplines or wellness classes / seminars).
Allow flexibility and remote working
Utilise technology to allow people to effectively work from home. Make sure people have the equipment to do their jobs to the best of their abilities so the standard of work doesn’t suffer.
Minimise non-essential visits from external people by utilising video conferences or telephone calls.
You should develop a working from home policy, including a declaration form. This will minimise the likelihood of accident claims and will keep your employees safe while off-site, yet still under your duty of care. Develop a remote working risk assessment, checking that the employee’s working environment is suitable for the tasks they are carrying out. It is the employee’s responsibility to rectify any issues brought about from the assessment (such as ensuring there is a suitable workstation) but it is the employer’s responsibility to highlight these issues.
Treat employees who need to self-isolate fairly
You should put measures in place to allow employees to work from home if they need to self-isolate. As we mention above, create and test the technologies needed to effectively work remotely long before your business is impacted by self-isolation.
It is considered good practice to offer sick pay for employees officially advised to self-isolate. Where businesses don’t offer contractual sick leave, those medically advised to self-isolate will be entitled to statutory sick pay from day one.
Don’t penalise employees who are concerned
It’s likely many employees may feel concerned about coronavirus. However, offering employees an opportunity to work remotely or take time off simply because of anxiety about the disease should be minimised. If an employee refuses to come into work, despite not being ill or told to self-isolate, it could result in disciplinary action. However, it’s far better to communicate calmly and fairly with employees and review cases individually.
Some employees may need to take time off work to care for a dependent. You should review these instances on a case-by-case basis. Businesses are under no legal obligation to pay employees for time off to look after dependents, so employees could be offered unpaid leave or the opportunity to put in a last-minute annual leave request.
Communicate effectively with all employees
Send regular all-staff emails to your team advising of any updates. All employees should know your business’s action plan and how the coronavirus may potentially impact them and their working pattern / circumstance. If you intend to allow employees to work from home, make sure they are comfortable and familiar with any new technology and give your team chance to ask any questions.
There’s nothing worse than uncertainty, so your team should know what’s going to happen if coronavirus does impact your business. Whether that’s a plan to close your business temporarily, postpone or cancel meetings / events or alterations to the sickness absence policy, employees should be made aware of any changes.
Try to avoid panic
Handle all situations carefully and sensitively. If someone with confirmed coronavirus does enter your building, you should make all employees aware of this while ensuring confidentiality of the individual is not breached. Again, explain all action plans in simple, easy-to-digest terms and ensure your communication material is well-written and factual. Don’t use “scary” words or stats / articles that are designed to scaremonger. Creating uncertainty and panic will not help your employees act in a calm and rational manner and this could have a detrimental affect on your business.
Be extra vigilant
Cyber criminals are exploiting the situation by impersonating official authorities such as WHO, tricking people into clicking links or sharing confidential data.
Be vigilant and train your staff never to follow email links unless they know the sender and are expecting the link or attachment. For more general advice on cyber security, take a look at our cyber security whitepaper.
Are you concerned about coronavirus impacting your business?