Covid-19: An update for employers

As Coronavirus continues to spread, employers will face significant disruption to their businesses. In a time of great uncertainty, employers need to focus continuity planning, together with maintaining their employees’ trust and confidence. Employers should ensure that they are mitigating risk and as far as possible and manage illness, fear and anxiety.

What steps can employers take?

The basics

  • If an employee becomes unwell in the workplace with a new, continuous cough or a high temperature, they should be sent home and advised to follow official advice to stay at home
  • Employees should be reminded to wash their hands for 20 seconds more frequently and to catch coughs and sneezes in tissues
  • Frequently clean and disinfect objects and surfaces that are touched regularly, using your standard cleaning products

Practical steps for all businesses

  • Keep everyone updated on actions being taken to reduce risks of exposure in the workplace
  • Make sure everyone’s contact numbers and emergency contact details are up to date
  • Consider extra precautions for staff who might be more vulnerable, for example if someone is pregnant, aged 70 or over, or has a long-term health condition
  • 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 shows symptoms of the virus
  • Ensure there are clean places to wash hands with hot water and soap, and encourage everyone to wash their hands regularly
  • Provide hand sanitiser and tissues for staff, and encourage them to use them
  • Consider if any travel or meetings are necessary and if meetings can be held remotely via video or conference call instead
  • Employers should always ensure that they do not single anyone out unfairly

Policies employers need to consider


The advice on isolation is changing on a frequent basis and it is essential for employers to stay up to date. The most recent Government advice is clear – businesses and workplaces should encourage their employees to work at home, wherever possible.

Employees will need your support to adhere to the recommendation to stay at home to reduce the spread of coronavirus.

It is important for employers to communicate with their workforce and to ensure that the latest Government guidance is circulated and adhered to. For further information on isolation please see:

  • Public Health England – Stay at Home Guidance
  • Health Protection Scotland – Coronavirus: (COVID-19) and NHS Inform – Coronavirus (COVID-19)
  • Public Health Wales – Latest information on novel coronavirus – self-isolation advice

Working from home

Current Government advice is for everyone to try and stop unnecessary contact with other people – ‘social distancing’. This includes:

  • Working from home where possible
  • Avoiding busy commuting times on public transport
  • Avoiding gatherings of people, whether in public, at work or at home

This will affect businesses differently on a case by case basis, and not all roles lend themselves to working remotely. Despite the inability to work from home, when an employee has been advised to self-isolate, employers should ensure the individual does not come into the workplace.

With modern technology, emails, phone calls, videoconferencing and texting all available, many individuals can carry out their roles at home. Working from home can significantly reduce disruption to the business.

If businesses have not already done so, they should immediately identify which roles can be carried out remotely and risk assessments should be undertaken in relation to working from home, although a proportionate approach needs to be taken to such risk assessments.

Employers should consider whether they have a contractual right to require the employee to work flexibly. Employment contracts should be reviewed to assess whether employees can be required to

  • Work at home
  • Work at a different location
  • Take on different dutie

Where there is no flexibility within the contract, employers may need to take proactive steps to change terms and conditions (ideally by agreement with the employee).

If an employer and employee agree to working from home, the employer should:

  • Pay the employee as usual
  • Keep in regular contact
  • Check on the employee’s health and wellbeing

Risk assessments and contingency plans

Employers have a duty of care to their workforce. Risk assessments should be utilised across the business and where appropriate, implemented. The extent of the risk assessment will vary.

Employers should consider taking the following steps to ensure business continuity and the protection of employees:

  • Create a senior team to co-ordinate monitoring Government guidance, implementing measures and providing information and support to staff
  • Devise an appropriate communications plan to keep staff fully informed, even when they are absent from work, together with provision of emergency contact details
  • Ask employees to report if they are unwell or at particular risk of infection; and inform them of the steps they should then take to receive appropriate medical attention
  • Train managers on the employer’s measures and provide them with information to identify and respond to risks, as well as providing support and training to staff on key facts and risks
  • Consider alternatives to travel such as using videoconferencing or webinars
  • Identify and track employees who are abroad and consider appropriate measures to support them
  • Identify key roles in the business which are essential for business continuity and the measures necessary to ensure their resilience (for example remote working or split key teams into different locations
  • Consider any measures necessary to sustain widespread home working
  • Review relevant policies (for example home working, sickness, emergency leave) and agree changes to staff contracts to deliver flexibility
  • Consider how temporary shutdowns of premises might be managed
  • Review insurance coverage
  • Consider the business’ stance on requests to work flexibly and on self-isolation, quarantine and sickness, and ensure that it is reasonable, fair and applied consistently

Government financial support


Retail, leisure and hospitality companies with a rateable value of less than £51,000 will not pay any business rates this year. Additionally, firms in England will not pay business rates on approximately 45% of properties.

It is important that businesses recognise this scheme has been implemented by Government, but the collection of business rates is administered locally (usually by Local Authorities) so it will be important to work with your rates collector to ensure you are eligible for this relief.

Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) relief

Small employers (less than 250 employees) will be reimbursed for any SSP paid in respect of the first 14 days of sickness absence relating to COVID-19, this will amount to nearly £200 per employee


Funding of £25,000 is available for retail, hospitality and leisure businesses with property with a rateable value between £15,000 and £51,000 to mitigate the effects of Coronavirus.

Small business grant funding of £10,000 for all business in receipt of small business rate relief or rural rate relief. It is estimated that there are 700,000 small businesses eligible for either Small Business Rate Relief or Rural Rate Relief. The money will be made available to Local Authorities. Employers are advised to follow Government guidance as to how this scheme will be administered.

Cash flow

The Enterprise Finance Guarantee Scheme administered by the British Business Bank has been renamed the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme, which is a guarantee scheme for loans taken out by businesses.

Businesses can borrow up to £1.2 million and the scheme will guarantee an 80% repayment to any accredited lender (a list of accredited lenders can be found here). There will be no charge for administering the scheme, although businesses, whilst solvent, remain liable for the full amount of the borrowing.


HMRC has altered the “time to pay” tax suspension scheme, which is an agreement to suspend tax collection, and has waived the usual 3.5% annual interest on deferred tax payments. There is a dedicated hotline for businesses and self-employed to use which is 0800 0159 559.

It is vital that businesses get prior agreement with HM Revenue & Customs before suspending payment of tax.

Coronavirus and pay

The first point of call relating to pay is checking the employee’s contract of employment.

Employees infected with the virus will ordinarily be entitled to sick pay in accordance with their contract of employment.

Employees and workers must receive any Statutory Sick Pay due to them if they need to self-isolate because:

  • They have coronavirus
  • They have coronavirus symptoms, for example a high temperature or new continuous cough
  • Someone in their household has coronavirus symptoms
  • They’ve been told to self-isolate by a doctor or NHS 111

If someone has symptoms, everyone in their household must self-isolate for 14 days. Those who live alone must self-isolate for seven days.

Statutory sick pay

As noted above, small employers (less than 250 employees) will be reimbursed for any SSP paid in respect of the first 14 days of sickness absence relating to COVID-19. Those who need to self-isolate during the outbreak will be able to obtain a notification via 111 as evidence for absence from work, in order to reduce the burden on GPs.

Employers may have to take a pragmatic approach as to when an employee is deemed incapable to work as it is foreseeable that doctors and 111 will be under significant demand.

Contractual sick pay

Payment over and above SSP will depend on the terms and conditions relating to sick pay contained within the employee’s contract of employment. Acas guidance suggests that it is good practice to pay contractual sick pay.

Caring for dependants

Employees who have caring duties, for example, will need to take time off because a child’s schools is closed. Employers should consider any contractual obligations and should also be aware that there is a statutory right to unpaid leave. Employees have the right to take a “reasonable” amount of unpaid time off work to take “necessary” action to deal with particular situations affecting dependants. It is predictable that there may be some conflict over whether this leave should be paid or unpaid and how long the leave should last. Employers should prepare themselves and ensure any discretion is exercised in a non-discriminatory way.

Annual leave

In certain scenarios taking annual leave might be an appropriate option for an employee. Employees receiving less than full pay (statutory or no pay) may be keen to take annual leave in order to ensure they receive their full pay.

Employers also have the right to tell employees and workers when to take holiday if they need to. If the employer does decide to do this, they must tell staff at least twice as many days before as the amount of days they need people to take. For example, if they want to close for five days, they should tell everyone at least 10 days before. This could affect holiday staff have already booked or planned. So, employers should explain clearly why they need to close.


Where there is a reduced need for employees and there is a specific contractual term in relation to lay-off, employers can invoke the lay-off clause. This should only be used where work has reduced. Employees who are subject to lay–off remain employed and are only entitled to statutory guarantee pay (“SGP”) unless other pay is specifically provided for.

SGP is currently £29 per day for five days in any rolling three-month period. On days when a guarantee payment is not payable, employees might be able to claim Jobseekers Allowance from Jobcentre Plus.

If employees are laid off (or kept on short-time working, see below) for more than four consecutive weeks or a total of six weeks in any period of 13 weeks, they are entitled to request redundancy.

If this becomes a possibility, it’s important to talk with staff as early as possible and throughout the closure.

Short-time working

An alternative to “lay off” is “short-time” working when an employer provides the employee with less work (and in turn less pay) for a period of time. Both options provide

an alternative to dismissal in situations where there is a downturn in work, however, it is expected that work will pick up again. It is important for employers to consider the contractual position before taking any action. If there is a contractual right to lay-off or short-time working, the position is more straightforward. If an employer attempts to lay-off an employee or put them on short-time working without a contractual right to do so, they will be in breach of contract and may face claims for constructive dismissal and unlawful deductions from wages. Where employers do not have the contractual right to lay-off or short-time working, they may consider seeking employees’ consent to different working patterns. We are in an unusual position and it may be that the workforce would consider agreeing to alternative working patterns with the goal of keeping the business viable. Other alternative options might be to seek volunteers for lay-off/short-term working, offer job shares or voluntary redundancies.

How to stay up-to-date with the latest government advice and guidance:


If you are an employer or an employee looking for advice related to the potential impact of coronavirus, please get in touch.

If you need support or advice relating to this matter, please get in touch.