Whether your business already had guidelines in place for a pandemic or had never given it a second thought, you probably could have never been prepared for what we are currently going through.
COVID-19 has hit all businesses throughout the country and it is important to know exactly what we are required to do, our legal obligations and how we protect staff and clients during the outbreak.
The Government has set strict guidelines for all businesses to follow and we are here to provide a clear, bitesize guide for all employers to make sense of these new rules.
One worry that employers have about health and safety training and awareness is that employees won’t engage fully. However, ‘health and safety has, at least to a large extent, solved this problem’, says David Rowland, the head of marketing Engage EHS. This is because the process is much more social and, if you must, you can measure your employees’ engagement in the process.
It is now a legal requirement for certain businesses to close, this includes cinemas, pubs, theatres, cafes and restaurants, shops selling non-essential items (such as clothes and electronics) and hotels that don’t house permanent residents or key workers.
All offices where staff can work from home should now be closed as well. You can read the full legislation here.
If your business is unable to operate remotely and has been classed as an essential service, you must make sure your staff are kept safe as this responsibility falls upon the employer.
Just like general health and safety obligations, you need to carry out regular risk assessments with Coronavirus in mind and make the necessary changes to accommodate this.
The most crucial thing is to prevent any further spread of the virus. Social distancing is important in every place, especially at work. If your employees can not carry out their tasks without being at least two meters away from each other, these tasks should either be avoided or reassessed so they can do so.
Stocking up on good quality hygiene products is more essential than ever. Quality hand soaps that are antibacterial are a must and providing high-alcohol hand-sanitizers for staff between handwashing is a worthy investment, despite the price tag that comes along with it at the moment.
PPE should be provided wherever needed, it is not yet mandatory to provide this to staff in every business but why risk your staff’s health? If your staff are at risk of a COVID-19 case and you do not provide proper PPE, they have the right to refuse to work until it is provided.
All non-essential travel is now banned, which means those clients who are wanting meetings with you will have to settle for a video call and any job interviews will have to be conducted in the same way.
It’s the same process as before if an employee has a health condition or illness, this is to be dealt with privacy. This could be anything from an employee self-isolating due to underlying health conditions such as diabetes or as a precautionary because they are pregnant.
Whatever reason an employee is not at work, this is a private matter and should not be disclosed to the rest of the team, unless that employee gives their consent.
If one of your employees is unfortunate enough to become infected with the virus, the European Data Protection Board has published a statement to say this can now be disclosed to your other employees without the consent of those who are infected.
However, you should let that person know you are telling everyone else before you do so. If you are unable to speak to them directly, their next of kin should be informed.
Unfortunately, there are not just health worries at the moment, Businesses and individuals are already struggling financially and this could become worse, depending on how long this all lasts.
Your cash flow might be dwindling and the thought of not being able to pay out staff can be awful. However, on 20th March, the Government put in place the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.
This means that the Government will cover 80% of all your employees’ wages, up to £2,500 a month, known as a furlough. These employees stay in your employment but are not allowed to work whilst claiming this. You can also choose to top this up to their full wage should you wish and are able.
This scheme has been set in place for three months but will be reviewed regularly depending on where we are at in July.
Working from Home
Thankfully, many businesses can operate with staff working from home and although the social side of our working day isn’t what it once was, work can still be completed as it once was.
There are some challenges when it comes to adapting to working from home, especially if staff aren’t used to it.
The first thing you should look into is an online HR system. Organizing staff times, tasks, projects, holidays and everything else can be tricky at the best of times, let alone if you can’t be in the office with original documents at hand.
This kind of software collates everything in the business into one place that you and your staff can access at any time and easily update each other on what is going on.
Although video calling is proving an essential tool at the moment, it isn’t practical if you are wanting to check on something in the evenings and weekends when staff shouldn’t be working. Using HR software means you don’t need to disturb anyone for immediate answers.
It is vital to check in on your staff, not just to see how work is progressing but also to make sure they are mentally well. Especially staff who live on their own who have not had any social contact in weeks, take the time to see how they are.
The crucial thing is making sure all staff are kept as safe as possible and physical and mental wellbeing is looked after during this difficult period. Any decisions of furlough or redundancies should not be made lightly, although this may seem like a never-ending situation, we must keep hope for the other end.