Coronavirus – Considerations for Employers

Coronavirus needs no introduction.  Its impact on businesses around the world is already obvious and may get worse.

Here are some actions employers are wisely considering worldwide.

Short term

  • Action plan
    • Travel – put tighter controls on international travel especially to impacted regions. Workers should be required to inform their manager if that have or intend to travel to any impacted regions.
    • Meetings – ask visitors to business premises to confirm that they have not travelled to affected regions in the last 14 days. If they have, ask workers to meet them offsite or via alternative means such as Skype. For the service sector, it will be impossible to impose such checks or bans.
    • Education and Office hygiene – place notices in public areas reminding workers and visitors of how they can limit the spread of Coronavirus and how to spot symptoms. Increase cleaning levels, add antibacterial soap dispensers and if necessary, implement a deep clean.
    • Contact details – ensure details are up to date so that workers can be contacted in the event of an emergency.
    • Remote working – we have seen many businesses temporally close business premises due to Coronavirus scares. Such action has been taken very swiftly. To the extent that workers are set up for remote working, they should be told to take home laptops on a daily basis. IT systems should be stress tested to ensure that they can cope with the entire workforce logging on at the same time.
  • Self-isolation
    • Many Governments have published helpful guidance on what you should do if you have travelled to an impacted region and/or displaying symptoms. Guidance states you should stay at home, do not go to work and avoid public transport. The link below is to the UK Government advice but you should check the advice given in your local employment territories.
  • Pay
    • Business decision to close – as the worker is ready and willing to work, ordinarily, staff would be entitled to receive normal pay.
    • Self-isolating – the UK Government position is “self-isolation on medical advice is considered sickness for employment purposes. That is a very important message for employers and those who can go home and self-isolate as if they were sick, because it is for medical reasons.” You should check the legal position in each of your employment territories.
    • Workers decision not to attend work – some workers may simply feel uncomfortable travelling to/or attending work. Ordinarily, such actions could constitute disciplinary action. However, if the concerns were legitimate, such action would be hard to justify. In this scenario, if remote working was not possible, consider unpaid leave/holiday.
    • School closures – many countries have seen school closures. Under UK law, there is a right to take unpaid emergency dependents leave to deal with an immediate crisis. However, this does not mean that workers are entitled to remain away from work for the entire duration of the school closure. You will need to check the legal position in your employment jurisdictions.

Medium / Long term

  • Mitigating losses
    • Temporary lay-off and Short-time working – some contracts permit businesses to reduce work or ask workers to remain away from work for a limited period. This may be a useful tool for businesses in the service and manufacturing sector.
    • Reduced working days – we have already seen businesses in Asia reducing the working week by 1 or 2 days to save costs. Again, much will depend on what the employment contract allows, failing which, worker consent will need to be obtained.
    • Unpaid Leave/ Holiday – business could ask workers to take various forms of leave if there was no work to do.
  • Reshaping business
    • Redundancy / change to terms – China has suggested that Coronavirus will not be eradicated in its country until the end of April 2020. If businesses were paralysed for 3 months, this would have a significant impact on finances. Options could include variations to pay, and in the worst case scenario redundancies. This would be a last resort due to the costs and time in running such a process. It may also be difficult for businesses to recruit after the scare has passed, especially in light of the proposed new immigration rules.
  • Commercial costs
    • Businesses may also look to reduce supplier costs be that via a reduction in cleaning or security services to reducing goods ordered. It would be prudent to review commercial agreements to see what rights you have, especially if they are subject to long notice provisions.

If you need any assistance in preparing an action plan or with any aspects of this note, please get in contact.