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Protect your employees from the spread of coronavirus
11 May 2020

Protect your employees from the spread of coronavirus

While the coronavirus outbreak (officially COVID-19) has raised serious health concerns, its impact on stock markets around the world has become an issue for businesses, especially as non-essential workers are urged to stay at home.

The Government previously confirmed that workers would receive statutory sick pay from the first day off work, not the fourth, and now, some businesses are being offered financial support to ensure wages are paid instead of widespread redundancies being made.

Whilst most businesses have sent their employees home, some essential workers are still expected to attend, which means employers must take steps to protect their staff during a period of ongoing uncertainty.

Reducing the risk to employees

The sensible course of action for employers to take is to note the advice given by official bodies and ensure that this is shared throughout the workforce.

If employees are still expected to come into work, then it may be wise to designate an available space as an ‘isolation room’, where sick individuals can retire to before calling 111 for further medical advice.

Other steps to take include:

  • Update the contact numbers and emergency contact details of all staff members
  • Ensure that managers are aware of the symptoms of the virus and how to spot them
  • Disseminate information across management on issues such as sick leave and sick pay
  • Ensure that facilities for regular and thorough washing of hands are in place
  • Dispense hand sanitisers and tissues to employees
  • Weigh up the pros and cons of supplying protective face masks to employees

Handwashing has been identified as an effective way to prevent the spread of the virus, so it’s important that workers are encouraged to take care when doing so, without being punished for taking longer than usual.

What to do if an employee becomes unwell

If an employee exhibits the symptoms of the virus, they should be removed from the proximity of other employees, placed in the designated ‘isolation room’ and encouraged to follow precautions.

The employee, when calling NHS 111, should be advised to give the operator the following details:

  • Their symptoms
  • When calling NHS 111, the employee should be advised to give the operator clear information about their symptoms.

Uncertainty over the exact nature of the symptoms and concern about the situation regarding issues such as sick pay may lead to some employees coming to work despite having contracted the virus, without necessary feeling unwell.

If this does happen, then an employer should contact the local Public Health England (PHE) health protection team and they will discuss the details, identify anyone who has been in contact with the employee in question, carry out a risk assessment and outline any precautions which should be taken.


The position on sick pay

If an employee is off sick with the virus then the legal situation regarding sick pay is the same as it is with any other illness however, the employee is now entitled to statutory sick pay from the first day of work, not the fourth.

The government has stated that if NHS 111 or a doctor advises an employee or worker to self-isolate then they should receive any statutory sick pay due to them or contractual sick pay if this is offered by the employer.

In some cases, employees may be able to work from home while in self-isolation. However, in many cases, if an employee cannot attend their place of work, they will be unable to work, as in the case of those working in frontline services.

In some cases, an employer might prefer an employee not to come into work, if they’ve returned from a high-risk area for example, and in these circumstances the employee should receive their usual pay.

Employees may be reluctant to come into work due to general concerns about the virus, particularly if they belong to a group at higher risk of complications, such as those with certain pre-existing medical conditions or those aged over 70.

In such cases you should offer flexible solutions such as working from home, if possible. Alternatively, although there is no legal obligation to do so, you could offer the time away from work as a holiday or unpaid leave.

With many non-essential workforces currently at home, employers should take the following steps to ensure tasks are completed:

  • Making sure that employees will be able to get in touch with the employer and any other members of staff they need to liaise with
  • Ask employees to take tablets and mobile phones home with them

It may pay organisations to review any supply contracts they have to understand the implications of their business activities being interrupted by the virus or Government advice, with the position on whether insurance would cover COVID-19 losses remaining unclear.

No time to be divisive

Employers must also take steps to ensure that no members of staff, customers or suppliers are treated differently because of their race or ethnicity.

It may be appropriate to remind staff that jokes and banter, even if light-hearted, may easily slip over the line to become unlawful harassment and/or discrimination, for which an employer may be liable.

Employers can avoid liability if they can show they took ‘all reasonable steps’ to prevent employees behaving in such a manner.

Taking reasonable steps can include having well publicised diversity and harassment policies, and training all staff on the issue. Managers must also be trained about their responsibility to identify and prevent discriminatory behaviour.


This article was featured in Pensions Aspects magazine May 2020 edition.

back to Pensions Aspects Magazine

Last update: 19 January 2021

Tina Chander
Tina Chander
Wright Hassall

Pensions & Benefits In-house Specialist, Global

Salary: £50000 pa

Location: Mix of Office (London or Birmingham, 1-day only) and Home

Pensions Manager

Salary: £50000 - £80000 pa

Location: London (Stratford)

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