Today the UK Government unveiled its action plan to deal with the Coronavirus threat. It has highlighted that at the peak of this event, a fifth of workers could be absent from work.

In response, Ben Willmott, head of public policy, at the CIPD, the professional body for HR and people development said:

"COVID-19 is an exceptional event and employers need to take every possible action to prevent the spread of the virus at work and to protect employees. The Government has estimated that a fifth of the workforce could be absent from work at the peak of the Coronavirus. 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.

“Employers must place the health and wellbeing of staff at the heart of their contingency planning and response. We recommend that businesses are as generous with their sick pay and leave policies as possible, both to support staff health and wellbeing, and to minimise any impact on their pay. 

“We think there may be a case for the Government to create some sort of compensation or hardship fund to help individuals such as the self-employed, temporary or low paid staff if they are not eligible for sick pay or paid leave. This could help people in less secure employment get through these exceptional events and would minimise the risk of people coming into work and spreading the virus if they have been exposed. 

“It’s vital that businesses take the necessary steps to protect their people and that they start to take action now”. 

The CIPD is recommending that as part of their contingency planning and response, organisations should:

  1. Regularly communicate with their people on the steps they are taking to protect staff, as well as on their sick pay and leave policies.
  2. Do the basics to protect staff such as ensuring they are aware of the latest public health advice, providing hand sanitisers and increasing the frequency and intensity of workplace cleaning. 
  3. Ensure they aware of individuals’ particular needs and concerns and how they can support them – this will be particularly important for people with underlying health issue and those with caring responsibilities.
  4. Minimise or delay business travel to affected areas
  5. Maximise workforce flexibility for example, ensure everybody who can work from home can do so.  
  6. Harness technology: Increase the use of video-conferencing, remote working and in retail environments employers should optimise the use of customer self-service tills and stations and online services. 
  7. Identify business-critical services and functions and the minimum staffing levels required to keep operating. 
  8. Identify staff with transferable skills who can fill in temporarily for absent colleagues in key roles and, if necessary, train additional staff so they can step into these roles. 

Further advice from the CIPD is available in our factsheet.

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