Coronavirus another reason to promote home working, says lawyer

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Employers should encourage their staff to work from home if they have symptoms of Coronavirus, and to consider paying workers under quarantine, to stop the risk of the disease spreading.

That’s according to Martha McKinley, at Stephensons Solicitors LLP, who told Safety Management that certain professions could be more vulnerable than others in the event of a suspected case.

In the lower paid end of the spectrum it’s a concern. In the care industry, you have to have people physically present, you can’t sort out that person’s care needs remotely, it has to be face to face.”

She said employers should however be as flexible as possible: “If there’s concerns about symptoms, or if an employee has come back from an infected area, employers should encourage staff to manage their workload in ways that don’t have direct contact such as by home working,” she said.

China has 78,190 cases of Coronavirus, including 2718 deaths

The total number of people in the UK infected with coronavirus, known as Covid-19, reached 15 on Thursday 27 February. 

That figure has since more than doubled to 36 people who have tested positive for the virus, with the government confirming on 1 March that 35 people have now tested positive.

Globally, as of 01 March at 10am CET there are 87,137 confirmed cases, says the World Health Organisation, whose data shows in the past 24 hour period there has been an increase of 1,739 new cases globally . 

The Guardian reported a spike across Europe on Sunday, after Italy said infections had risen 40 per cent in 24 hours to 1,576, with the death toll now at 34. In Germany the number of people infected had almost doubled to 129 on Sunday. France’s total stood at 100 – up from 38 on Friday – nine of them in a serious condition.

The UK Chief Medical Officer has raised the risk to the public from low to moderate and that situation has not changed. This permits UK government to plan for all eventualities. However, the risk to individuals remains low.

McKinley, said employers needed to be prepared to offer home working for anyone who has symptoms - which include fever, a cough, fatigue and difficulty breathing. 

She said that although staff have a right to be paid for taking time off in case of illness, there are no legal obligations for an employee to be paid if they’re forced to be in quarantine and can’t come to work.

“Employers might want to take a pragmatic view and take the step of paying staff for the time they have to be in isolation. The panic engendered among other employees [if they came in] might cause problems,” she said.

Employers should provide hand sanitisers and tissues to staff, and encourage them to use them

It comes as pub chain Wetherspoons provoked backlash after an internal staff memo was leaked. Under the question: "What shall I do if I can't come into work?" staff are told they should request the time spent under quarantine or exhibiting symptoms as 'paid holiday.' They are also told that 'Statutory Sick pay rules apply', but Twitter user @LivingWageBarge, which leaked the memo, said: “The company is forcing workers to choose between public health and making rent.”

Under statutory sick pay rules, an employee is not paid for the first three days of absence, and then only if they earn at least £118 a week.

The TUC commented: "Wetherspoons is treating coronavirus like any other illness, so no sick pay for 3 days even if staff are ordered into quarantine. No one should have to worry about making ends meet at a time like this."

British Safety Council guidance says workplaces need to encourage their staff to practice good personal hygiene – following the same principles that apply to containing any disease, such as ‘flu or colds – as a basic precaution against Coronavirus.

Advice for employers includes:

  • Ensure contact numbers and emergency contact details are up to date
  • Ensure managers know how to spot symptoms of coronavirus and are clear on any relevant processes, for example sickness reporting and sick pay, and procedures in case someone in the workplace develops the virus
  • Ensure there are clean places to wash hands with hot water and soap, and encourage everyone to wash their hands regularly
  • Provide hand sanitisers and tissues to staff, and encourage them to use them
  • Consider if protective face masks might help for people working in particularly vulnerable situations
  • Consider if any travel planned to affected areas is essential.
  • Make sure everyone at work follows simple hygiene rules, such as washing hands thoroughly with hot water and soap and
  • Using tissues when sneezing or coughing and throwing them away in a bin

NHS advice for Coronavirus here

WHO situation reports on Coronavirus here




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