COVID-19: Employer FAQ’s
Employer Frequently Asked Questions:
18 March 2020
Q: What is the difference between self-isolating, social distancing and working from home
A: Self-isolating means cutting yourself off from the rest of the world. From now on, if one person in a household starts to display flu-like symptoms - defined as a fever of above 37.8C or a persistent cough - everyone living there must stay at home for 14 days.
Social distancing means trying to avoid contact with other people. It means spending less time in public places, where a lot of people are around.
People to start working from home wherever possible:
- All unnecessary travel stopped
- Pubs, clubs, theatres and other such social venues to be avoided
- Anyone living with someone who has a cough or a temperature to stay at home for 14 days
Within the next few days, it expects to announce measures for people in at-risk groups to stay at home for 12 weeks. This affects pregnant women, people aged over 70 and those with underlying health conditions.
Working from home, at the moment, is an opportunity for employers to support the containment of the virus and protect employees who may be in the ‘vulnerable’ category or pregnant.
The parameters for home working are set by employers, whereas self-isolating is where people who show symptoms of the Coronavirus cut themselves off entirely and are following government advice for non-essential contact.
Q: What do I need to consider if my employees are working from home?
A: Ensure that employees are made to feel that you continue communication, it is important for them to feel that their attendance is not being policed.
Organise a daily team dial-in or video call to establish tasks for the day, including setting parameters around performance so employees feel as though they can continue to feel productive. Ensure that colleagues are encouraged to call one another and remind them of any Employee Assistance Programmes or Mental Health Support you have available. If you would like any help with this, reach out to us and we can support you with creating programmes to guide you in the right direction.
Q: How should we keep in touch with our employee whilst they are self-isolating?
A: The advice is similar to the above in terms of keeping in touch via phone or video call. However, we would recommend contacting self-isolating staff once every day or so to check in on their physical and mental wellbeing.
Q: An employee is unable to attend work as their colleague who they rely on bringing them in is self-isolating. What are my options?
A: Firstly, if they have been in close contact with the individual who is self-isolating, establish if this employee may need to also self-isolate. If not, and they have no means to perform their duties at home, then their leave would be unpaid.
Q: We don’t have a lay-off contractual clause, can we lay-off our staff on unpaid leave?
A: If employees don’t have this clause in their contracts then you are unable to lay employees off without pay. You may wish to consider holiday enforcement, if you are to enforce 5-day compulsory holiday you must provide double the holiday duration in notice, in this situation 10 days.
Q: We have a lay-off contractual clause, how do we implement this?
A: We advise our clients to implement this when they have considered all other alternatives, such as reducing hours, taking unpaid leave, encouraging people to use their holidays and look at alternative ways they can undertake work from home.
This is an opportunity for employers to show that they are a supportive employer that pulls together with their staff during challenging times. It is likely that you will need loyal staff going forward, and this is a good way to keep them.
Where possible, try and involve staff in the decision making around reducing staff overheads, again this will show that you are open to their thoughts and you are involving them at this difficult time.
If you have done this and are still at a point where you need to implement your lay-off clause, contact us and we will help you navigate this on an individual basis.
Q: Can I reduce my employees working hours/arrangements during this period?
A: If your employee contracts make provisions to do so, then you can embark on consultation to do so. For more guidance and support please get in touch.
Q: Contractually our employees are eligible for company sick pay, in light of Coronavirus do we still need to pay this?
A: Employees remain entitled to contractual arrangements. The Government have made provisions for those not in receipt of company sick pay to start SSP from day one. You may wish to consider the arrangements for your waiting days for company sick pay and communicate to your staff that sick pay will be paid for the 14 days advisory duration and will then be reviewed.
If you don’t think your business can afford this, reach out to us and we can help assess your options.
Q: How do we claim Statutory Sick Pay refund back from the Government?
A: You will be eligible to claim up to 2 weeks SSP per eligible employee who has been off work because of COVID-19. You will need to maintain a record of staff absences and payments of SSP. The Government are to establish the repayment mechanisms for employers as soon as possible.
Q: An employee has some annual leave booked for the Easter holidays, their holiday abroad has been cancelled and they have now cancelled their leave request, what should I do?
A: Strongly consider if you need this skill set in the business for this duration. If you do, accept the holiday cancellation. However, if you are unlikely to need this skill and are worried about holiday accruals moating as the pandemic continues, reject the holiday cancellation and encourage the employee to still take the holiday leave.
Q: An employee has said it is impossible to work from home, what provisions can we make?
A: If you have concluded that all staff will be home based you may need to consider if there is a satellite office that this employee can use in isolation. Assess if there is a need for that person to be away from the office, e.g. if they are self-isolating then working from home would be superseded with sickness absence if displaying COVID-19 symptoms.
If it is not possible to work from a satellite office or working from home, you may need to consider options such as lay-off and short-time working, unpaid leave, people taking their holiday. For more guidance on these options, please get in contact and we will assess this on a case by case basis for you.
If you have any queries which are not covered above, or are unsure about something mentioned, please get in touch.