The Corona Virus outbreak is continuing to cause a widespread panic. Originating in Wuhan, China, the virus has been fatal to at least 3,000 people and infecting more than 90,000 others. The use of wet markets in China have been blamed for the virus spreading so quickly. The symptoms are a high fever, dry cough and shortness of breath. If anyone experiences these symptoms the Department of Health have advised to call 111 to seek medical advice – they shouldn’t visit A&E or their GP surgery. Due to the high level of contagiousness, self-isolation is advised as antibiotics do not work against viruses.
What do we recommend for employers?
Employers have a duty of care towards their employees as well as providing a safe environment to work. A risk assessment must be carried out if the outbreak becomes worse and a contingency plan needs to be actioned. It is important to keep your employees informed at all times. The outbreak is receiving a huge amount of coverage in the press which can be worrying for your employees. We would recommend consistent communication with your employees to keep them calm and understanding of their rights and the stance of the Company. Follow the Department of Health guidelines if your employees have travelled to the countries listed as infected or come into contact with individuals that have travelled or are showing symptoms. It is also important to reiterate the importance of hygiene and following the correct protocol to ensure germs are not spread. If you have vulnerable employees (those with long term conditions or the older generation) it would be beneficial to both parties to offer support to show willingness to help and care. We have also compiled a factsheet including the most asked questions you may receive from your employees. This includes: are employees required to work extra hours to cover those off sick? (usually a clause in the employee contract will confirm this), can immunisations be enforced? (absolutely not) and can an anxious employee refuse to come into work? (if other options can be put in place in terms of home working or going to another site, this is possible. If an employee uses this as a reason it is not enough to be acceptable. Therefore, the absence will be classed as unauthorised and the normal procedure should be followed).
What advice can you give your employees?
Continue to advise good regular hygiene – including the protocol outlined by the Department of Health. The department will regularly update their website and social media platforms with any extra important information – this includes which countries to avoid traveling to. This may interrupt holiday plans for staff as Northern Italy villages are now quarantined. If an employee advises they are experiencing symptoms, please encourage them to call 111. This service is to provide advice over the phone as opposed to visiting a hospital or GP surgery which could potentially spread the virus.
What is the risk of receiving packages from China or other infected countries?
If any packages (personal or work related) arrive from China or any other countries listed by the Department of Health, the risk of catching the virus is very low. The variation of temperature and other factors would kill any virus present. If your company regularly imports goods from China or any other countries, it would be important to check updates from the courier service to check for any delays or extra checks that may be introduced. These delays could impact business and quality of service; therefore, it is extremely important to communicate any delays to customers and clients.
The Corona Virus is being reported on daily, it is important to keep up to date as we will do our best to ensure the right information is shared with our clients. It is a worrying time and with infected cases being confirmed closer to home, action needs to be taken soon. A contingency plan should be in place if an outbreak hits your place of business. A large volume of employees off at any one time for a maximum of two weeks can be damaging if precautions are not taken. We urge you to speak to your employees now to inform them of the extra responsibilities they may have to take on if this happens. Put basic training in place to allow important job roles to be covered as necessary and forewarn them extra hours will need to be carried out. This should not be used as a scare tactic, but more focussed on showing the employees the Company is prepared and has a plan in place should this happen.
As cases continue to increase, we are expecting that the Prime Minister will be moved to declare that the Country moves to a ‘delay’ stage very soon. What this will include is unclear, but it is likely to cover the banning of large gatherings, closure of some schools, government departments and advising people to work from home – all of these have the potential to hit a small employer quite dramatically. We will have further advice in the coming days.
If you have any further questions on the Corona Virus in the workplace, please call our friendly consultants on 01206 700 690 or email firstname.lastname@example.org