The government has just announced the following set of measures to combat the spread of the Coronavirus.  These new measures are likely to have an impact on the way that employers manage their staff and how they work over the next few weeks and months.  

The measures are:

1. Everyone to stop non-essential contact with others

Attending work is obviously going to result in contact with others.  This new guidance from the government will make employers and employees alike focus on what is essential and non-essential.  Clearly, many employees undertake work which results in contact with others which cannot easily be avoided.  Most obviously at this time any employee involved in the delivery of health care cannot avoid contact with others. Others such as manufacturing operators also cannot do their work from home. 

However, an accountant, administrator, web designer, CAD designer (and lawyer) can often work from home without too much difficulty. Where employees need to be at work employers need to look at ways of minimising contact with others.  For example, is there a need for meetings in person?  

Other ways in which meetings can still take place are by conference call and/or video conferencing (Skype, Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Cisco Meetings etc).  A risk assessment relating to the attendance of staff at training and conferences (and other similar activities) should also be assessed on a case by case basis.  However, in the current climate employers may decide to be prudent in the short term and postpone such activities for the moment.

Other steps that some employers are taking include ensuring that there is at least one spare desk or workstation between employees to ensure that the recommended space of 1m between people to reduce the risk of cross infection.

2. People should start working from home "where they possibly can"

This is now recommended government advice.  It follows that employers are likely to receive enquiries from employees who want to work from home for the period that this government advice is relevant. As already set out above, this will need to be done on a case by case basis but in light of the advice and expectation of employees, employers should be clear about who will be able to and if others cannot, why they will not be permitted to do so.  

There are of course significant practical issues that this raises.  What about the availability of computers, printers, paper, broadband and so on?  What about risk assessments and data security? 

Also, given that this is likely to be for some time you also need to have a think about how to keep everyone in contact with one another, how to ensure that the mental health and wellbeing of employees is maintained and to provide for adequate breaks.  

3. Anyone who lives with someone who has a cough or a temperature should stay at home for 14 days

This is a significant development for employers and moves us on from the position taken only on Friday 13 March by the government when we saw a change in policy for self-isolation from 14 days (based on potential exposure and location) to 7-days (based on symptoms).  This new advice from the government is that even if an individual does not have the symptoms (cough or temperature) but lives with someone who does, then they must self-isolate for 14-days.

Our view is that in this situation there will be no right to company sick pay or salary.  There will also be no right for the employer to refuse to allow the individual to work even if they know that they live with someone who has the symptoms described.  Given that the period of self-isolation is 14-days, this will have a significant impact on the finances of employees who may be unable to afford to go without pay for 2 weeks.  This is where we believe that the use of banked hours may be a popular solution.  

Banked hours can be used by employers to provide a financially neutral solution for both parties.  It allows the employee to continue to be paid at an important time.  It also ensures that once the effects of the Coronavirus have passed that the employer will then be able to call back these hours and be able to do so without the need to pay overtime rates.  In theory, the amount of production from the employee over the year will therefore be the same and it allows for the evening out of the fluctuation caused by the current circumstances.

You will need to agree such arrangements.  This can be done collectively if you have a collective agreement with a trade union, or individually with each employee.  If you require any help or assistance with the drafting of a banked hours agreement then please do get in touch.  If you are one of our annual retainer clients this will be done under the terms of your package.  

Further advice:

Our guidance note of Friday 13 March 2020 is here.  This guidance includes the legal implications of

(i) lay off clauses;

(ii) sick pay;

(iii) holidays;

(iv) unpaid leave; and

(v) banked hours

Government advice for employers is here

ACAS guidance is shown at www.acas.org.uk.coronavirus

HSE guidance is shown at www.hse.gov.uk/news/coronavirus

CIPD guidance is shown at www.cipd.co.uk/knowledge/fundamentals/emp-law/health-safety/coronavirus-factsheet (members only)

We will continue to keep you up to date on all developments.  Don't hesitate to contact us to discuss how you can manager the risk involved with the coronavirus and your employees.