Coronavirus: CIPD and employment law experts answer your questions

11 Mar 2020 By PM Editorial

People Management put your concerns about how the outbreak might affect your workforce and business to our panel of experts

On Friday 6 March, People Management hosted a live Twitter Q&A with a panel of experts from the CIPD, and employment lawyers from HR-inform, to answer your questions and concerns about the coronavirus outbreak in the UK, and what it might mean for your workforce or business. For those not on Twitter, here's a summary of the session.

Thanks again to our panel:

  • Rachel Suff, senior employment relations adviser, CIPD @RSuff
  • Ben Willmott, head of public policy, CIPD @Ben_Willmott
  • David D'Souza, membership director, CIPD @dds180
  • Andrew Willis, head of legal, HR-inform @HRinform
  • Paul Holcroft, associate director, Croner

Q1: Should the employer be providing face masks or is it the responsibility of the individual? (from @blogger_hr)

Willmott says the gov has told employers to highlight public health advice for staff to wash their hands regularly and thoroughly, provide hand sanitisers and increase the frequency/intensity of workplace cleaning.

Q2: What is the guidance for managing absence? Do we need to ask for self certificates? Will doctors be providing fit notes? (from @susanbrimmer77)

Suff says the gov advice is for employers to show discretion in asking for written medical evidence, because people who need to self-isolate are asked not to visit healthcare environments.

Willis from also points out the government needs to clarify whether people are eligible for SSP if they self-isolate, with or without the advice of a medical practitioner.

Q3: We have a #workfromhome experiment on our hands. How many businesses are putting the right infrastructure in place to maintain efficient operations? And what does that look like for the CIPD? (from @smartworkingrev)

D'Souza says remote working is about support and working practices as much as technology, and almost all businesses the CIPD talks to are taking steps to see how they can work more flexibly

Q4: We have our quarterly member meeting in a week's time. 100 people in a conference venue central London. We are being asked if we are cancelling. Are there guidelines around holding events? (from @MartinCBaker)

D'Souza says current government advice is events can and should continue. Our advice would be to continue monitoring official guidance, communicate to your delegates and consider restricting attendance for people who've travelled to high risk areas. Comms will be key.

Q5: Self-isolation relies on people choosing to do it, how can we protect workplaces if someone chooses not to self isolate (against advice)? (from @EllieRic3)

Willis says if you were certain they had the virus you could medically suspend them on full pay. If they weren’t sure if they had the virus you can encourage them to contact 111 and follow their guidance.

Q6: My team are unsettled by this virus. What is the best way to manager their expectations positively? (from @ClaireWork2)

Suff says a lot of people will understandably have concerns. It's striking the balance between being prepared and not panicking, and it's important to listen to people's concerns and reassure them, and make sure you have up to date and accurate info, so regular comms.

Q7: I am worried that the work from home "experiment" is deemed to fail if no adequate planning is in place, including technology and organizational/cultural changes. Then, the lack of good results would be used as "proof" that remote work doesn't work. (from @erimbau)

Suff and D'Souza agree a lot of planning is needed – trust, good comms and people management are important. But when organisations have been forced to use remote working before due to external events there are  case studies of orgs realising the potential benefits

Q8: When is the Day 1 SSP entitlement in force?  Is it the 11th March?  Will they need to earn £118 to qualify, what about low earners?  What about ROI payroll, will they follow suit? What about other viruses that employees feel they are entitled to from Day 1? (from @Sue14723724)

Willmott says the government has not yet clarified when the day 1 entitlement change will come into force, and that we would urge the government to make this clear as soon as possible.

Q9: Are we able to require employees to work from home if we have to close an office (provided they are not ill of course) and they have suitable IT at home?  Do they have the right to refuse to work and/or make use of their IT? (from @helenjpower)

Suff says assuming no impediments in terms of H&S or IT, this would be a reasonable request and expectation. Always check the contract of employment first. It's definitely worth taking the time to get the person on board with the reasons for it.

Q10: Where a skeleton team has to operate due to sickness in other staff, carers off due to school closures or caring for relative, how does employer ensure fairness of those who have to continue to work? (from @CBRSol)

Willis says adjust targets for staff who remain working, and ensure they have access to an EAP. Also consider if adjustments made affect any other particular groups of employees around protected characteristics

Q11: Interested to hear if there is any guidance or thoughts for self employed / freelance HR pros around this issue? (from @fionamcbride)

Suff says this is an excellent question! The CIPD's new Responding to the coronavirus hub page has a big list of FAQs, plus other resources and factsheet to help HR freelancers to support businesses.

Q12: If an employer is locked down due to location (office or area) being infected should employees be paid for work as they are available for work or can holiday be used? (from @CBRSol)

Willmott says government advice is not to close workplaces even if an employee has the virus confirmed. But organisations should still have a plan if they need to close temporarily. Unless it says in the contract or agreed otherwise they still need to pay their employees.

If an employee is confirmed with Covid-19, the organisation will be contacted by local Health Protection Team to discuss the case, identify people at risk and advise on any actions or precautions that should be taken. See the government guidance.

Q13: What about protecting staff whose characteristics (age, health conditions etc) may put them at higher risk? Should employers be asking about existing health conditions if they don't already/haven't recently? (from @KathrynRoynonHR)

Suff says organisations have a duty of care to protect employees most at risk, including those with a disability, older, pregnant, or a weakened immune system. They could encourage home working, but risk assess this. They should also make sure they ask confidentially about health conditions.

Q14: If employees come to work with coronavirus symptoms despite being aware of the gov and employer advice not to, thus potentially spreading the virus, how should this be managed? (from @ugly_em)

D'Souza points out as an employer there is a duty of care to all of your employees. The employee should be asked to get medical advice and you should dial 111 for advice on any potential threat of spread, and if needed you could consider medical suspension.

Q15: What about steps to protect staff and service users in sectors with increased vulnerabilities, such as those working with homeless who are less able to follow measures around regular handwashing, self-isolation, etc? (from @KathrynRoynonHR)

Suff says the same advice is applicable, but it's more important in these cases. Make sure to get the basics right, e.g. cleaning, handwashing guidance, issue hand gels and to communicate this to service users. Also use risk assessments for those at higher risk.

You can also find the entire Q&A session collated in a Twitter Moment via @PeopleMgt

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