Are employers ready for a pandemic?

17 March 2020

Reader note — December 2020. This article refers to self-isolation periods of 14 days which was correct at the time it was written. Please note that self-isolation periods have undergone adjustment and may no longer be 14 days.

The Government has warned that “many thousands of people” — up to 80% of the population in a worst-case scenario — will contract Covid-19.

As the Government moves to the “containment” phase of its four-step strategy, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a new escalation of measures on Monday 16 March, which aims to suppress the spread of the coronavirus to reduce the pressure on the NHS.

Official advice is now to:

  • work from home where possible

  • stop any unnecessary travel

  • avoid pubs, clubs and theatres, especially in London

  • avoid contact, where possible, with others (especially those with underlying health conditions, people over 70 and pregnant women).

In terms of isolation, the guidance has now changed to state that anyone with a fever or persistent cough should stay at home for 7 days if they live alone, or 14 days if they live with others and those living with them should also self-isolate for 14 days.

The Government has said that one in five workers could be off sick at any one time. Ben Willmott, head of public policy at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), said: “This would be a huge test of UK businesses on how agile they are, how equipped they are to enable staff to work from home and how they can keep their business running with fewer staff.”

Local Government Secretary Robert Jenrick has launched a new taskforce to strengthen local plans to help tackle the outbreak. This will bring together senior experts from across key sectors including resilience, local government, public health and adult social care fields who will assess Local Resilience Forum (LRF) plans and provide support and advice to ensure they are robust.

Alan Price, CEO of BrightHR, said employers that find themselves in a potential outbreak situation should ask affected employees to self-isolate, and that communication with their co-workers should remain calm.