Acas publishes coronavirus advice for employers

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Acas has published advice for employers on dealing with the new coronavirus outbreak, including how to handle employees who have the virus and those who do not want to come into work because they are worried about catching it.

Although the risk of catching the Covid-19 virus is currently extremely low, Acas said employers need to take steps to help protect employees’ health.

So far nine patients in the UK have tested positive for the new strain of coronavirus – eight of whom have fully recovered and have been discharged from hospital.

Chief executive Susan Clews said: “The increase in coronavirus cases is headline news around the world and there are genuine concerns around how to deal with its impact on UK workplaces.

“Employers and workers have started to get in touch with us to ask what their rights are at work when dealing with potential coronavirus cases.

“Our new advice aims to help them handle the impact of coronavirus at work. It includes guidance around sick leave, staff in quarantine and considerations for businesses in case they need to temporarily shut down.”

The guidance says normal sick pay policies apply if an employee has the virus, but if an employee is not sick and the organisation tells them not to come into work – for example, if they have recently travelled to an affected country – then they should receive their usual pay.

There is no legal obligation for an employer to pay an employee who is not sick but cannot work as they have been told by a doctor to self-isolate or have been quarantined. However, Acas says it is good practice for an employer to treat this situation as sick leave or offer the employee the option to take the period as annual leave.

The guidance also offers advice on how to deal with employees who do not want to come into work due to fears about catching the virus. Acas says employers should listen to employees’ concerns; offer reassurance; consider flexible working arrangements such as homeworking; or offer them the option to take annual leave or unpaid time off.

Its advice includes some simple steps employers can take to protecting workers’ health, including:

  • ensuring managers know how to spot symptoms of the virus and are clear on sickness reporting and sick pay and leave procedures
  • giving out hand sanitiser and tissues to staff
  • considering if any travel planned to affected areas is essential
  • encouraging staff to wash their hands regularly.

Although few people have been diagnosed with the virus in the UK, Acas says employers should still have a contingency plan in place if they need to close the workplace temporarily. They should:

  • ask staff who have work laptops or mobile phones to take them home so they can work from home
  • arrange paperwork tasks that can be done at home for staff who do not work on computers
  • make sure staff have a way to communicate with their colleagues if they need to work from home.

Should a business need to shut down temporarily, employees still need to be paid for this time.

Last week, JCB said it would cut working hours and production at its UK manufacturing plants because of a lack of components arriving from China. Jaguar Land Rover has also warned that it could run out of parts next week because of a shortage of components.

A branch of shoe retailer Clarks in Nantwich, Cheshire, closed earlier this week as an employee was being tested for the Covid-19 virus.

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