Employers should consider appointing a senior manager with responsibility for monitoring compliance with official published guidance, as well as internal policies, and who has the responsibility to communicate with health and public authorities in the event that a suspected case of the virus is identified in the employer's premises. They should also take responsibility for communicating with staff.
As employers have a duty to protect the health and safety of their staff, employers should ensure that they communicate advice to employees in line with Government advice in respect of infection prevention and hygiene. Some companies are introducing a no hand shaking policy. Adequate hand-washing facilities should be provided, along with readily accessible hand sanitiser and tissues.
It is worth noting that an employee could resign and claim constructive dismissal if they believe that their employer has not taken reasonable steps to protect the health and safety of its workforce by not introducing hygiene policies or allowing a person who should be in self isolation to come to the workplace. Equally, if employees do not follow reasonable instructions in relation to hygiene, an employer may be able to take disciplinary action against them.
It may also be advisable to carry out a risk assessment for all staff as it is the employer's duty to provide a safe working environment. Some employees, such as (for instance) those who are pregnant or have a compromised immune system, are at a higher risk of developing severe COVID-19. If an employee has a disability under the Equality Act 2010 that puts them at a higher risk of developing COVID-19, the employer has a legal duty to make reasonable adjustments to the working arrangements of that employee. Employers may wish to consider changing attendance management policies for those who are more vulnerable to contracting severe COVID-19.
If an employee does not want to come into the office due to anxiety around COVID-19, the employer should listen to the concerns carefully. Acas recommends where genuine concerns exist, the employer could offer flexible working or agree to the employee taking annual leave or unpaid leave for an agreed time period.
Employers should also carefully consider any flexible working requests, under which employees may apply to travel outside peak hours to lower the risk of infection.
Employers whose business relies on customer facing roles – such as retail, healthcare or social care – will need to consider what steps they may reasonably take to protect their employees from catching the virus from the general public in the course of their employment. For example, it may be advisable to put up signs to explain to customers that the business has a 'no handshaking' policy, or to provide employees with masks and gloves (if appropriate and the employees are given the necessary training on how to use masks).
Employers should make clear what employees should do if they are taken ill at work and exhibit symptoms of COVID-19. The Acas guidance states that they should:
- get at least 2 metres (7 feet) away from other people
- go to a room or area behind a closed door, such as a sick bay or staff office
- avoid touching anything
- cough or sneeze into a tissue and put it in a bin, or if they do not have tissues, cough and sneeze into the crook of their elbow
- use a separate bathroom from others, if possible
The unwell person should use their own mobile phone to call either:
- 111, for NHS advice
- 999, if they’re seriously ill or injured or their life is at risk
They should tell the operator:
- their symptoms
- which country they've returned from in the last 14 days