Coronavirus has hit global headlines over the last few weeks with the death toll now at 560, with more than 28,000 confirmed cases in China (Feb 2020). There are also more than 150 cases in other countries, with three cases now confirmed in the UK.
UK businesses shouldn’t be overly concerned at this stage, as there’s no immediate question of an epidemic.
Currently, the risk to the UK population is relatively low but employers should be prepared to take steps to try to minimise the dangers posed by this outbreak.
It is also advisable for all employers to have up to date staff/company handbooks and that sickness procedures/policies are reviewed and are easily accessible to all employees.
Travel to affected areas
- Organisations should not insist that an employee travels to China for work related purposes and should advise employees against travel to such areas for both work and holiday purposes. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has advised against all but essential travel to Wuhan.
- It is understood that the virus can transfer between humans via saliva. Routine sanitisation and hygiene measures are said to be the best way to protect against becoming infected. Touching animals, or their droppings, when in China should be avoided.
- Practical alternatives to travel should include postponing a trip, and holding meetings via Skype or video conference where possible.
Employees returning from affected areas
- Any employee that has travelled to China and suffers from a flu-like illness or fever should take advice from their GP. This is best done by telephone.
- If you or your employees have travelled to Wuhan, China in the last two weeks then stay at home for at least 14 days.
- If an employee has symptoms that are consistent with flu or the Coronavirus, the employer should advise them not to return to work until the symptoms have cleared and they feel well enough to return. Employees should also be advised to follow advice from the relevant public health body about how to obtain an initial assessment of their symptoms and further advice.
- If an employee has been visiting China on business on business, an employer clearly bears some responsibility. The best option is to explore opportunities to work from home. If this isn’t possible, consider paid sickness absence.
- Should an employee have travelled to China on a personal visit/holiday, if working from home isn’t possible, you could treat any absence as sickness. In this circumstance, employers should exercise caution in counting the absence towards any absence management triggers or calculations.
- If the GP does not certify the employee unfit for work, but the organisation is still concerned, then they may consider briefly suspending them on precautionary grounds.
Other Health & Safety Measures
It’s also essential that businesses take care of general health and safety precautions for employees, such as promoting the use of antibacterial hand wash, cleaning phones, and keyboards and advising staff that if they feel too ill to come into work, they need to remain at home whilst notifying their line manager in line with any agreed sickness policy.
You may also discourage the use of air circulation systems in the office to prevent the spread of airborne pathogens.
If you need help amending your employee handbook or adjusting staff sickness policies, please get in touch. Contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org or call 020 3538 5311.