The COVID-19 outbreak is a continously fast-moving subject. Please refer to the GOV.UK’s website for the latest updates.

Note: This information is being continually checked and updated.

1. An employee has informed me that they are showing symptoms of the virus. What should they do?

The latest advice from Public Health England (PHE) sets out the latest official advice in COVID-19: Stay at Home Guidance as follows:

  • if someone has a new continuous cough, and/or a high temperature (+37.5°C), they should stay at home and not leave the house for seven days from when the symptoms started if they live alone; if they live with others, the whole household should self-isolate for 14 days. If anyone else in the household starts displaying symptoms, they need to stay at home for 7 days from when the symptoms appeared, regardless of what day they are on in the original 14-day isolation period.

  • they should avoid vulnerable individuals such as the elderly, the pregnant and those with underlying health conditions

  • they should stay in a well-ventilated room with a window open as much as possible to enable ventilation and air flow to keep clean air moving through the room

  • they should talk to their employer, friends and family to ask for their help to access the things they will need in order to successfully stay at home

  • if people visit with supplies or food or work items, these should be left outside the home for the self-isolated person to collect

  • on 23 March, Prime Minister Boris Johnson told the country that in order to slow the spread of the coronavirus, everyone must stay at home unless their work is vital and cannot be done from home.

2. Should I pay staff who self-isolate (stay at home)?

From 16 March 2020, anyone who is under the Government's advice to self-isolate will be entitled to receive statutory sick pay (SSP), even if they do not have the virus or have any symptoms, provided they meet the other normal SSP eligibility criteria.

The Government has also implemented legislation to enable employees with coronavirus to receive statutory sick pay (SSP) from their first day off work, rather than the fourth as is normally the case. This can be backdated to anyone whose first day of incapacity was 13 March 2020 or later.

3. I have an employee who is at risk, should they self-isolate?

Government guidance is that employees who are 70 or over should work from home where possible, along with those who are pregnant or have an underlying medical condition. If an employee can work from home, this should be arranged without delay. If they cannot work from home, then they can remain at work but you should take all precautions to maintain their health and safety.

Some individuals who are considered as very high risk have received a letter from their GP telling them to stay at home and take significant precautions for 12 weeks. This is called “shielding” and employers should accommodate this by allowing the employee to work from home.

4. What happens if I have to close my business temporarily?

If you have the relevant clause in your employment documentation, you can place employees on “lay-off”, which means that they are not required to attend to work and receive statutory guarantee pay where required. This is a payment of £29 per day for a maximum of five days in each rolling three-month period, and is only payable to those who have been with you for at least a month.

On 20 March, the Government announced an emergency coronavirus grant to cover employees’ wages. Government grants will cover 80% of the salary of retained workers up to a total of £2500 a month. This is accessible through the Job Retention Scheme and offers an alternative to lay off.

5. Can I stop my staff from travelling to affected areas?

What your employees do in their own time is largely out of your control, unfortunately. You can cancel a period of annual leave, but you risk upsetting the employee as they may already have paid for their travel. In any case, the Government has advised against all non-essential travel. Keep informed with the latest travel updates on the GOV.UK website.

6. Can I still send people to overseas on business?

Due to the guidance to avoid all non-essential travel, you would have to assess whether overseas travel is essential. In the rare case that it is, you would need to do a risk assessment involving the employee.

7. My employee's child's school has just closed but I need them at work. What can I do?

All employees have a right to take time off for dependants to deal with an emergency involving a dependant and the unexpected closure of a school would be classed as an emergency here. This means the employee has the right to take time off to sort out alternative childcare arrangements but not a right to take extended time off to look after the child while the school is shut.

Ultimately, an employee cannot be denied their right to time off for dependants but you can look to agree what happens in the long term, ie a move to flexible working or a change in working hours.

8. What hygiene measures should I take?

One of the ways you can stop the spread of a viral infection in the workplace is by promoting clean, healthy working habits. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends to:

  • cover your mouth and nose with a flexed elbow or tissue when coughing or sneezing

  • throw away used tissues into a closed bin immediately

  • clean your hands using an alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water

  • avoid close contact with anyone who has a fever and cough.

Last reviewed 30 March 2020