The coronavirus (or COVID-19) was first reported in December 2019 in Wuhan, China. With person-to-person transmission, reported cases have since continued to grow exponentially. As governments and public health authorities adjust their policies to respond to the challenge, companies need guidance on how best to address the situation with regards to their employees. 

Committed to supporting employers in the region, the CIPD, in collaboration with a leading law firm, has compiled a list to provide you with answers to the most commonly asked HR practice related questions.

At the moment organisations should focus on their planning and prevention measures with both urgency and calm. It’s doing what you can to immediately protect staff and to plan for possible disruptions if things escalate:

  • Firstly, be prepared and well-informed of the ongoing developments around COVID-19, as well as the official advice being distributed by the local Government. 
  • The health and well-being of an organisation’s employees should be paramount. Employers have a statutory duty of care for people’s health and safety at work. Communicate to employees that they need to take precautions, avoiding travel to affected areas or coming into contact with potentially infected individuals and animals. Advise them on what to do if they think they contract the virus (in line with official guidance).
  • Employers should develop a contingency plan to prepare for a range of eventualities regarding the business impact of the virus.
  • Appoint a pandemic coordinator or team to prepare plans and keep on top of official advice.
  • Employees who have returned from a number of areas should follow the local government advice and self-isolate for at least 14 days indoors. Check the Government websites for regions/nations affected.
  • Keep your workforce well informed of latest developments and advice – and promote resources that are available.
  • If an employee needs to self-quarantine, follow the local government’s advice accordingly.
  • Employers should use discretion around the need for medical evidence for a period of absence where an employee is advised to self-isolate in the current exceptional circumstances. 
  • Reduce the spread of infection by providing soap and hand sanitiser gels, especially in communal areas like kitchens and coffee areas. Provide staff with hand sanitisers. Think about frequent wiping down of communal spaces such as kitchens, handrails on stairs, lift buttons, door handles, etc.
  • Increase the frequency and intensity of office clearing, consider a deep clean.
  • Encourage remote working and working from home where possible. Consider making laptops available for staff who wouldn’t normally work from home. Encourage team working / external meetings through video conferencing, etc.
  • Consider staggering shifts so fewer people are in the workplace at any one time – this may help people avoid being on public transport in rush hour.
  • Consider having A and B teams to reduce the number of people in the workplace at any one time and reduce the risk of infection.
  • Maximise self-service options – eg self-service tills at supermarkets so fewer staff are needed, encouraging people to do online banking rather than going into branch, etc.
  • Some workplaces are banning handshakes.
  • Think about transferrable skills – how will you have sufficient people to keep business-critical areas going if you do face depleted staff numbers? Start training people now.

It’s important to remember that people will be worried about the virus. As employers, you do not only have a duty of care to ensure you take reasonable steps to ensure health and safety, but also the responsibility to ensure the well-being of your people. 

You may want to offer enhanced support to people more vulnerable to illness due to age and/or any underlying health conditions. It might also be useful to promote other support mechanisms you have in place, such as Employee Assistance and well-being programmes. Lastly, education remains critical and it’s important to avoid misinformation or the spread of rumours that could lead to casting away some employees or tensions within teams.

What HR basics should be followed? 

  • Make sure everyone's contact numbers and emergency contact details are up to date 
  • Make sure all staff are aware of your response as an employer
  • Continue to communicate as the situation changes
  • Make sure 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 that all potential incidents are being reported to HR so they can understand the overall risk to the business 
  • Ensure there is a designated place for people (with a closable door) should they turn sick at work.

Can we ask staff to work from home as a precaution? 

Provided this is feasible from an operational point of view, it is certainly an option in order to maintain productivity and pay. This should ideally be with an employee's agreement. There are however a number of legal implications including health and safety, immigration and insurance.

We have a global workforce. How should we respond? 

  • Encourage video conferencing rather than international travel
  • Be aware of how sick pay may differ in different territories 
  • Be mindful of the guidance being set out for citizens in each country where you have offices

Join in the discussion forums at on the CIPD Community.

Note: CIPD is not engaged in the practice of law, accounting or medicine. Any commentary in this article does not constitute and is not a substitute for legal, tax or medical advice. Readers of this article should consult a legal, tax or medical expert for advice on those matters.

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