March 19, 2020

COVID19 – Advice for Small Businesses – as at 16 March 2020

1. COMMUNICATION IS KEY:

  • Keep in contact with all staff.
  • Make sure your contact lists are up to date, ensuring you have a note of everyone’s mobile and where possible landline number. If you can get a personal email address that is good too.
  • Make sure your employees know what your policies are sickness absence, working from home, dependency leave, etc.
  • Make sure as a business leader you are accessible to answer concerns or questions from your staff.
  • Keep yourself up to date and informed on what is going on.

2. SELF-ISOLATION:

  • If an employee is in the “high risk” health category, then they can choose to self-isolate, if they are starting to show any signs of the virus. Other than that, they should attend work but monitor their general health and wellbeing.
  • Employees who voluntarily self-isolate without symptoms, and without their employer’s agreement, could be required to attend work by their employer. However, employers should take people’s concerns seriously, especially if there are underlying health conditions, including mental ill health. As an option an employer could offer for the employee to take their holiday or unpaid leave.
  • Self-isolation is for a period of 14 days.
  • If symptoms are not getting worse during those 14 days, then it is unlikely they have the virus and once they are “feeling better” they can come back to work.
  • If however the symptoms worsen, then they must contact NHS 111 for advice and guidance and remain away from work.
  • If the employee has someone they live with that is showing signs of COVID19, then all family members must self-isolate for a period of 14 days and sick pay (SSP) is payable to the staff member.
  1. STATUTORY SICK PAY (SSP)
    • In the above cases SSP, is payable to staff.
    • The new rules of paying from day 1 are not in force yet and so SSP remains to be paid from day 4, although a business can choose to pay from Day 1 if it chooses to do so.
    • If a member of staff comes to work and is showing any signs of the virus and is sent home, then they should be paid full pay and not SSP.
  1. MEDICAL CERTIFICATION
    • Currently employees can self-certificate for up to 7 days sickness and this remains in force.
    • It is usual that after 7 days an employee would be expected to produce a “Doctors Fit Note” however many GP Surgeries are either not seeing patients or not issuing “Fit Notes”, therefore businesses are being encouraged to relax their rules and not insist on a “Fit Note”.
    • NHS 111 can issue an instruction to an employer that they have advised the employee to remain off work if required but they are being overwhelmed at the moment and encouraging only the worse cases to contact them.
    • Employers should relax their requirement for “Fit Notes” and where possible to keep a track of the number of days registered as sick, to ask employees to continue to complete a self- certification form and return to the employer. If you need this form, let me know and I will send one to you.
      • It is also suggested that your payroll provider should “create a COVID19 payroll code” so (1) an employer can track the reason for sickness if an attendance review is done and (2) once the Government tells small business how to claim back SSP for any COVID19 absence it will easily identified and claimed.
  • WORKING FROM HOME

Can I ask my staff to work from home?

    • Yes, if it is practical to do so and the business and IT systems are set up to do so.
    • What if my job doesn’t allow me to do so? then no. Employees should report to work as normal.
  1. CHILDCARE AND DEPENDENCY LEAVE
    What if my child is sent home or my child’s school closes or I have a dependant relative that needs me?
    • Employees are entitled to time off work to help someone who depends on them (a 'dependant') in an unexpected event or emergency. This is usually for time short periods of time while other arrangements are made.
      This would apply to situations to do with coronavirus. For example:
    • if they have children they need to look after or arrange childcare for because their school has closed
    • to help their child or another dependant if they're sick, or need to go into isolation or hospital
    • There's no statutory right to pay for this time off, but some employers are offering to pay SSP at this time.

The amount of time off an employee takes to look after someone must be reasonable for the situation. For example, they might take 2 days off to start with, and if more time is needed, they can book holiday or can be paid SSP or continue with unpaid leave.

  1. WHAT IF AN EMPLOYEE DOES NOT WANT TO COME TO WORK?
    • Some people might feel they do not want to go to work if they're afraid of catching coronavirus.
    • An employer should listen to any concerns staff may have.
    • If there are genuine concerns, the employer must try to resolve them to protect the health and safety of their staff. For example, if possible, the employer could offer flexible working, working from home, take the time off as holiday or unpaid leave. The employer does not have to agree to this though.
    • If an employee refuses to attend work, it could result in disciplinary actio

  1. BUSINESS INSOLVENCY / LAY OFFS / REDUNDANCY
    • If you believe your business is going to become insolvent as a result of COVID19, you must inform and consult with your staff as soon as possible.
    • If you think you might have to make people redundant, you must inform and consult with your staff as soon as possible.
    • You must seek formal help from your HR provider to do this as there are specific rules that must be followed when this happens. These rules have NOT been relaxed or changed at this time and are unlikely to do so.
    • Talk to your staff as they might be able to go on short lay-off, without pay, but this MUST be done with their consent unless your contract of employment allows it to be done.
    • If you wish to do this you must get their agreement, you cannot force them, then get them to sign an agreement stating that they will accept this temporary amendment to their terms and conditions. This cannot be done indefinitely and has to be done on a voluntary basis.
    • Seek support from your HR Provider if you wish to do this.
    • If you do unfortunately go into insolvency, your employees must claim their redundancy from the Government. Here is a useful link for you to read and pass on to your employees

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/redundancy-payments-rp1-fact-sheet

FORCED LOCKDOWN

  • There are no clear guidelines from the Government of how this will be handled as far as pay and conditions are concerned yet.

10. USEFUL WEBSITE LINKS


ACAS:
https://www.acas.org.uk/coronavirus

Redundancy in times of insolvency: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/redundancy- payments-rp1-fact-sheet

NHS advice: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/


Government advice for COVID19: https://www.gov.uk/government/topical-events/coronavirus-covid-19-uk-government-response

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