These are unprecedented and uncertain times. Each day is bringing more news, increased uncertainty and making it increasingly difficult to operate business as usual.
We are seeking clear, concise and useful advice from the NI Executive and the UK Government to help you navigate your way through this period.
For now, we can share some useful information from colleagues in Make UK and this very useful guide from our Manufacturing Month supporters KPMG.
Additionally, we have established short lines of communication with the Department for the Economy and need your help. We will be reporting on live and emerging issues impacting your business and our sector. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call or text Stephen on 07768480737 or Mary Meehan on 07976576517 if there are issues specifically relating to
- Customer Demand
- Supply Chain
Additionally, if there are good ideas you are implementing in your business which would be helpful to others in the sector, let us know and we will collate and share these.
For now, we encourage you to:
- Speak to your workforce and their representatives if appropriate and ask for their assistance.
- Enforce strict hygiene rules and ensure suitable and plentiful supplies of washing materials and sanitisers.
- Introduce frequent and regular cleaning regimes with particular attention on areas colleagues will be touching including clocking in systems and share facilities such as canteens and food.
- Encourage staff to bring their own food and water and to not share. Sharing of cups and cutlery should be reviewed. If they must remain, ensure they are washed at least 65 degree centigrade.
- Encourage those who have roles which don’t require presence in your production facility to work from home (ensuring proper data protection systems are in place).
- Where possible, ensure there is 3 metre distances between workers.
- Stop unnecessary travel and unnecessary visitors to your premises.
The advice from Government will change, likely on a daily basis so we will update as often as we can. In the meantime, do keep an eye on the Gov.uk website and our colleagues Make UK website - https://www.makeuk.org
There will also likely be requests to assist both Government (through supply of materials and equipment) and perhaps from other manufacturers. If you have things to offer, let us know too.
These are extraordinary times and we will do what we can to keep you informed, to press for clear and trusted advice from Government and ask for their support for your live and emerging issues. Please keep us informed.
Over recent days, the government has announced that it will introduce emergency legislation to temporarily enable statutory sick pay to be payable from the first day of absence from work, not the fourth, to minimise the risk of infection spreading. Covid-19 has also been registered as a notifiable disease.
Here we look at the government’s latest advice on self-isolation and respond to some frequently asked questions from our members.
Latest government advice on who should self-isolate
Frequently asked questions
1) If employees self-isolate, are they entitled to be paid?
Where an employee self-isolates because they have been instructed to do so by either their doctor or NHS 111, they will be entitled to receive statutory sick pay (and, if relevant, contractual sick pay), as they will have been deemed to be incapable of work. They will likely be given written guidance or advice from NHS 111 in these circumstances (which may vary in consistency).
If, however, an employee chooses to self-isolate without either symptoms or without following an instruction from a doctor or NHS 111 requiring them to do so, they will not be entitled to any sick pay (see further guidance in question 2 below).
2) What if an employee does not have symptoms, but is choosing to stay away from work because they are worried about getting coronavirus?
Employers may face a scenario where an employee shows no symptoms of coronavirus and is not in one of the groups that PHE has advised to self-isolate (see above), but is choosing to stay away from work because they are worried about being infected. This might be because, for example, an employee is worried about travelling on public transport to work, or dealing with members of the public in their role, or if one of their colleagues has recently returned from a high risk area albeit displaying no symptoms.
Where an employee has genuine concerns, the employer should listen to the employee’s concerns and, where possible, try to accommodate them. Employers have a duty to take reasonable steps to provide a safe working environment. In particular, employers should be mindful of anyone who is at higher risk of developing severe coronavirus and/or may have compromised immunity such as:
- those aged 60 or over;
- those who have an underlying condition (such as a respiratory condition, cardiovascular disease or diabetes); and
- pregnant women.
Employers also have an obligation to make reasonable adjustments where someone has a disability.
Often the simplest solution where an employee is refusing to come to work out of concern of contracting the virus will be to allow the employee to work from home receiving their normal pay, if this is possible. Alternatively, the employer may agree to the employee taking paid annual leave, or unpaid leave – if these options are realistic taking into account the employee’s role and the operational needs of the business.
If, however, an employee is self-isolating solely because they are scared of being infected (i.e. they have not received guidance from a doctor or NHS 111 to do so) generally they will not be entitled to any pay (see question 1 above). In some circumstances, it may be appropriate for an employer to consider whether an employee’s refusal to come into work in these circumstances could constitute employee misconduct.
Keeping abreast of evolving government advice on coronavirus is important for any employer who is deciding what approach to take in relation to an employee who is not willing to come to work, as the guidance may change.
3) What if an employee ignores coronavirus-related hygiene rules?
If an employer has instructed its employees to follow certain rules to contain the virus and an employee fails to comply with those instructions, the employer will be entitled to take disciplinary action.
4) Can an employer restrict an employee’s personal travel?
Employment contracts do not generally include an express right for an employer to restrict an employee’s personal travel plans. But it may be reasonable for the employer to do this where a restriction can be justified by the employer’s duty to protect the health of safety of its workforce, or those with whom the workforce comes into contact.
The proposed destination of personal travel will be important when deciding whether a restriction is justified. For example, it will be easier to justify restricting employees from travelling to countries which are categorised by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office as being higher risk. Certain organisations, such as schools and hospitals, may find it easier to justify a restriction than others.
5) What if an employee’s child’s school has closed due to coronavirus, or an employee needs to look after a child who has (or may have) the virus?
Employees have a statutory right to a reasonable amount of unpaid time off to deal with an emergency involving a dependent. “Dependent” includes a spouse, partner, child or parent, or a person who lives with the employee (but not a lodger).
So if an employee’s child’s school has closed, or an employee’s child is unwell, the employee could take emergency time off to care for the child. The employee should inform their employer as soon as reasonably practicable of the reason for their absence and how long they expect to be away from work.
If you subject an employee to detrimental treatment for taking emergency time off, or dismiss them or subsequently select them for redundancy because they took, or sought to take, emergency leave then they will be entitled to make a claim of detrimental treatment or unfair dismissal to an employment tribunal regardless of their length of service.
In the situation described, both you and the employee need to be flexible. It might be that arrangements can be made for her to work from home, or if this is not practicable, maybe working flexibly for a temporary period with staggered start and finish times may assist.
6) What legal obligations should employers keep in mind when making decisions relating to coronavirus?
In addition to express and implied obligations in employment contracts, employers should be mindful of the following duties:
- To protect the health, safety and welfare at work of the workforce and others who might be affected such as customers, suppliers and visitors. There is also a common law obligation to take reasonable care of the health and safety of their workforce.
- Not to discriminate against staff with protected characteristics, and to make reasonable adjustments for those with disabilities.
7) A final thought for now: think about attendance management policies
Attendance management policies require particular consideration, as these typically state that certain reviews will be carried out by HR/management if an employee’s levels of absence exceed set thresholds. A trigger system presents difficulties in the context of coronavirus, as strict trigger points may discourage employees who have developed (or are at risk of developing) coronavirus from staying away from work.
With this in mind, we suggest that employers may wish to make clear to employees that in most cases any period of absence for which they have received a written coronavirus notice from a doctor or NHS 111 covering the absence will not be taken into account when determining whether absence thresholds have been met. This will be particularly relevant where an individual’s disability places them at a higher risk of contracting coronavirus.
Coronavirus (Covid-19): Is your business prepared?
In this article, we:
- identify key matters that you should consider when putting together, or updating, a contingency plan to apply in the event of a coronavirus outbreak in your organisation; and
- address some of the potential employment law issues that might arise as a result of managing an outbreak of coronavirus in your organisation, or where your production is disrupted due to the impact of coronavirus on your suppliers.
Preparing a contingency plan
Involve key stakeholders at the planning stage
It is a good idea to get all key stakeholders in the business to contribute to the planning process. This would include representatives from Occupational Health, Health and Safety, Human Resources and senior management.
You should also consider involving staff representatives at this initial planning stage. and staff representatives’ involvement may well become a necessity in any event if, as part of your contingency planning, you decide to change current policies and procedures.
Early involvement of the workforce also makes for easier communication of any subsequent changes.
Key matters to consider/review
Whether or not you have a business recovery plan which you can utilise to kick-start your planning process, some of the key issues to consider include:
- Identifying business critical roles
- Establishing current levels of transferable skills within your workforce
- Will you be able to redeploy existing staff to cover gaps in critical areas? Are your existing contracts of employment sufficiently flexible to accommodate such redeployment?
- What training and knowledge-sharing needs to be undertaken now to ensure that staff are ready to cover critical roles should there be an outbreak? Would it be helpful to put a ‘buddy’ system in place – pairing up specific workers/groups of workers to maximise your potential cover for critical roles?
- Are you in a position to encourage and facilitate a high level of remote working, thereby reducing risks of contamination and helping to ensure continuation of operations/services?
- Will you need to use temporary cover/agency workers? What processes do you have in place to ensure you can secure such resources as swiftly and cost effectively as possible?
- Do you have up-to-date employee information, including emergency contact details? Make sure that relevant individuals know where this information is kept and that you are clear about who has authority to access it.
- How will you communicate with staff during an outbreak? Do you have an established and effective communication cascade process?
- What health and safety measures do you have/will you implement in the workplace? For example, could you provide tissues and hand-sanitiser and encourage their regular use, by displaying posters or circulating staff communications encouraging staff to wash their hands or use hand-sanitiser on arriving in the building after using public transport and after coughing or sneezing? Should you increase the frequency with which frequently touched communal areas, including door handles, kitchens, toilets, showers, and hot-desk keyboards, phones and desks, are cleaned?
- Think about your external customers. What would be the potential impact on your delivery of products or services if you had to operate on a skeleton staff due to large-scale sickness absence? Do you want to include your customers in any communication cascade?
- What procedures do your suppliers have in place to minimise disruption/impact on your own business?
- Ensure there is ongoing review of official/government websites at management level in order to keep up-to-date with developments in your area and any changes in government advice.
Think about your existing policies and procedures
Which policies will be most important in an outbreak situation? Would your current polices be adequate?
You may decide that you need to adapt some of your current policies and procedures, or introduce new procedures, to deal with a potential outbreak. For example, if you don’t currently operate remote working but believe that it could assist in maintaining critical roles during an outbreak, you should consider providing guidance to employees as to how you want remote/home working to operate.
Consider the status of your current policies. Although most employment policies are not contractual and reserve the right for employers to make amendments from time to time, some policies and procedures may have contractual status. Amending existing policies and procedures which have contractual status is likely to require collective consultation with s or employee representatives.
Even if policies are not contractual, you should still consult with the workforce and give sufficient notice before implementing any changes.
You should pay particular attention to the following policies:
Sickness absence policy
Is your policy clear about how to report sickness absences, whom employees should contact in the case of illness, within what timescale they should do so and how often sick employees should keep in touch?
Does your policy require employees to produce a doctor’s certificate following a certain number of days, or on return to work?
In light of government advice that individuals who display symptoms of coronavirus should not attend their GP surgeries, but instead call 111, you should consider temporarily amending your sickness absence policy to extend the length of time for employees to provide a doctor’s certificate, e.g. allowing them to provide it upon their return to work.
We recognise there is some risk of abuse by some employees in operating a more relaxed system for production of doctor’s certificates, but you can still insist on compliance with individual reporting requirements and operate return to work interviews in an attempt to manage absences.
Remote/home working policy
To assist with containment, do you want to encourage more employees to work from home where possible? If so, you should ensure you have provided sufficiently detailed instructions to regulate an increased operation of remote/home working. Who should employees report to when working remotely? How often?
Consider whether you also need to enhance your IT and Data Protection polices to ensure adequate security and compliance if there is a substantial increase in remote/home working.
Could your company’s IT infrastructure cope with a significant increase in people working remotely?
Consider what information you should be providing to employees who travel abroad on business. The government keeps its website updated as to the coronavirus situation on a country by country basis: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/wuhan-novel-coronavirus-information-for-the-public.
You might want to consider encouraging employees to minimise all business travel, including within the UK, and encourage alternatives such as increased use of video or teleconferencing.
You may see an increase in employees taking other forms of leave, either to take care of sick family members, or if they are experiencing knock on problems in childcare provision.
How will you deal with such requests in light of overall staff shortages?
Being seen to operate such policies flexibly and fairly is important. However, you may want to warn employees that, if sickness absence is exceptionally high, the company may have to temporarily refuse additional requests for annual leave.
Agree your communication plan
Once you have decided how a significant outbreak of coronavirus may affect your business, you should consider how much information you need to give to your staff and how best to communicate this.
For internal communication, use your normal communication cascade – whether via team briefings/intranet and e-mail updates/employee newsletters. Remember to include those employees who are currently off sick, on maternity leave or other family leave, or who work remotely/from home on an ongoing basis.
The level of information you need to provide to staff will depend on the nature of your business, the health and safety advice you have received and communicated to-date and your assessment of how serious the potential impact of an outbreak on your particular business will be.
However, you should be careful not to alarm staff unduly.
Key basic information that employees will need includes:
- Confirmation of health and safety measures in force
- Symptoms to look out for
- Who to contact within the company if they feel unwell
- What to do if they are displaying symptoms or have had contact with someone who is confirmed to be suffering from coronavirus
Ensure that employees have ready access to relevant policies and make employees aware if these policies have been amended, or are subsequently updated as the situation develops.