BMF COVID-19 bulletin - 28 February 2020

This briefing is to assist BMF members to deal with questions about coronavirus from their employees.

What is it?

Infection results in flu-like symptoms such as a cough, fever and difficulty in breathing. Most of those infected only suffer mild symptoms.

Infection is unlikely to pass through food or surface contamination, as viruses such as this cannot live outside the body for very long.

What treatment is available?

- There is no current treatment for the virus although laboratories across the world are investigating treatments and preventative medications
- The best thing those infected can do is to stay in isolation until they recover

Government guidance

The UK threat is currently low to moderate. Government guidance is updated daily. We’d recommend checking the updates here  each day.

Current guidance is for employees returning to the UK from those areas most affected by coronavirus (such as China) to self-isolate whether or not they have symptoms. For other less-affected areas, the guidance is to self-isolate only if you experience symptoms. Advice for specific countries can be found here.

Additionally, the government advises against all travel to some countries and areas and against all but essential travel to other countries and areas. Specific advice from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office can be found here.

Common questions

Are there any precautions everyone should be taking?

You should remind employees to practice good hygiene by washing hands and catching coughs and sneezes in a tissue and then throwing it away in a bin.

I have an employee who is due to return from an affected area

Ask them to ring you from home on the day they are due back so that you can let them know what to do based on current government advice and any internal policy on coronavirus you decide to operate.

If they have to self-isolate do you need to pay them?

If they are self-isolating because they have symptoms then they’ll need to be paid sick pay in line with your sick pay policy.

Where they are self-isolating but have no symptoms (and they’re not working from home), there’s no legal obligation to pay them. However, ACAS advice is that it's good practice for an employer in this situation to treat the leave as sick leave or offer the employee the option to take the period as paid annual leave.

What if I want employees to self-isolate but the government doesn’t require them to?

You’ll need to pay them full pay in these circumstances.

Do we need proof they have been to an affected country?

We’d recommend this for your own records.

What if an employee is too scared to come to work for fear of catching coronavirus?

You don’t have to agree to this but provided this is a genuine fear, you may want to suggest home working where possible and/or the option to take holiday or unpaid leave.

I have an employee who’s returned from an affected area and has been told to self-isolate but comes into work anyway, what can I do?

As an employer you have a duty of care to all your employees. If the employee has returned from an affected area but is ignoring government advice (and your instructions) by refusing to self-isolate you can suspend them (on full pay) for the period of time that self-isolation is required.