Coronavirus – What should businesses do?
By Ryan Bickham - Head of Employment and Dispute Resolution
As of the 2nd March 2020, my first suggestion would be don't panic! There have only been 40 reported cases in the UK. However, it is sensible to be proactive in order to avoid risk to your staff and disruption for your business. It is an employer's duty to protect the health, safety and welfare of their employees and other people who might be affected by their business.
I would suggest the first step is review your business continuity policy and any steps you may need to take for staff to work from home, if this becomes necessary.
You should share guidance and information with your staff. The UK Government guidance is to stay indoors and avoid contact with other people immediately if people have returned to the UK from:
- Hubei province in China in the last 14 days, even if you do not have symptoms;
- Iran, lockdown areas in northern Italy or special care zones in South Korea since 19 February, even if you do not have symptoms;
- other parts of mainland China or South Korea, Hong Kong, Japan, Macau, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan or Thailand in the last 14 days and have a cough, high temperature or shortness of breath (even if your symptoms are mild;)
- other parts of northern Italy (anywhere north of Pisa, Florence and Rimini), Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar or Vietnam since 19 February and have a cough, high temperature or shortness of breath (even if your symptoms are mild).
I would suggest communicating this with staff and assess if any staff are affected.
As the virus can spread, you should advise staff to take precautions:
- cover their mouth and nose with a tissue or their sleeve (not their hands) when they cough or sneeze
- put used tissues in the bin straight away
- wash their hands with soap and water ("two times to Happy Birthday with hot water") often - use hand sanitiser gel if soap and water are not available
- try to avoid close contact with people who are unwell
- clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces
- do not touch their eyes, nose or mouth if their hands are not clean.
Hopefully this will suffice, if you or a member of staff is suspected of having contracted the Coronavirus then you will need to take additional measures. The Government guidance states that if someone becomes unwell in the workplace and has travelled to China or other affected countries, the unwell person should be removed to an area which is at least 2 metres away from other people. If possible find a room or area where they can be isolated behind a closed door, such as a staff office. If it is possible to open a window, do so for ventilation.
The individual who is unwell should call NHS 111 from their mobile, or 999 if an emergency (if they are seriously ill or injured or their life is at risk) and explain which country they have returned from in the last 14 days and outline their current symptoms.
Whilst they wait for advice from NHS 111 or an ambulance to arrive, they should remain at least 2 metres from other people. They should avoid touching people, surfaces and objects and be advised to cover their mouth and nose with a disposable tissue when they cough or sneeze and put the tissue in a bag or pocket then throw the tissue in the bin. If they don't have any tissues available, they should cough and sneeze into the crook of their elbow.
If they need to go to the bathroom whilst waiting for medical assistance, they should use a separate bathroom if available.
There is more detailed guidance from the Government here.
The Government guidance provides further details as to what to do if a member of staff tests positive for Coronavirus and whether you should close your workplace.
If you want to discuss any HR and Employment Law issues then contact our Employment team on 01743 248148 or email me the Head of Employment at firstname.lastname@example.org