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Coronavirus – what should employers do?

The first cases of the Coronavirus have been confirmed in the UK, so what should employers in the UK consider?

Employers are under a legal duty to protect the health and safety of their employees and provide a safe place of work.  If the virus spreads and the risks increase, and we are advised to avoid large crowds and public transport, where will that leave employers? Of course employers have to conduct a risk assessment of the likely implications of the virus on its workplace, but for many, no specific risks will be identified.  However, it won’t be long before employees themselves seek home working, limiting travel and interaction with work colleagues and/or the wider public/large crowds.  Employers need to consider now how they would manage such scenario, from an employee trust perspective, as well as keeping the business running.

Employers might want to give more consideration to particularly vulnerable groups, with pre-existing conditions that might make them vulnerable to the virus.  Employers are also legally obligated to carry out a risk assessment for pregnant employees in the workplace and follow specific steps if a risk is identified which could result in the employee being suspended on full pay.

Employers might want to give more consideration to particularly vulnerable groups.

There may be concerns amongst staff about employees who have recently travelled from China or been in contact with others who have.  Employers should consider agreeing that the employee will work from home as a precaution until they are sure that there is no risk of infection.  Asking staff to notify them of any such contact and how they can help them continue working will help reassure everyone that the company has the situation under control.

There are already reports of Chinese children being bullied at school because of the virus and employers also need to stay alert to the possibility of potential harassment in the workplace, as employees of Chinese descent may be subjected to inappropriate comments or actions.  It would be sensible for employers to consider reminding employees of the professional and non-discriminatory standards they expect from their employees.

Information and guidance on the Coronavirus is available from the Department of Health and Social Care here.

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