Last week saw the government launch its action plan to deal with the Coronavirus threat. As a country, in many ways we are better placed now than five years ago to accommodate contingency plans when it comes to office workers, as flexible working is more commonplace.
We discuss the steps that employers need to consider when it comes to protecting employees as much as possible and that will be essential to containing the spread of the virus’ outbreak in workplaces.
One fifth of the workplace could be absent
The confirmed number of official cases of Coronavirus continues to climb and employers need to identify how they can prepare as much as possible given the UK government’s prediction that one fifth of workers could be on sick leave because of the virus. The CIPD has issued guidance and recommended that businesses are as generous as possible with their sick pay and leave policies to support staff’s health and wellbeing whilst minimising the impact on pay for individuals.
Sick pay entitlement
The CIPD has said there is a case for the government to create a compensation or hardship fund, particularly to help the self-employed, temporary or low paid staff if they are not eligible for sick pay. With nearly three-quarters of leaders witnessing presenteeism, with people coming into work when they were ill, this risks a delay to their own recovery in addition to a real problem in the event of an outbreak of Coronavirus. In an attempt to ensure that no one is penalised for doing the right thing, the government has made statutory sick pay available from day one of self-isolation as opposed to day four under current rules.
Regular communication from employers around the measures they are taking to protect their people is of paramount importance in preventing spread from the outset. Equip line managers with clear guidance on how to minimise staff levels to functions that are business-critical where possible, through remote working and drafting in additional resource to cover absent staff. Managers should identify and accommodate those most at risk, e.g. with health issues and caring responsibilities as a priority.
Contingency planning is key, so maximising workplace flexibility, ensuring that remote working can be accommodated where possible, and minimising travel to affected areas can be factored in. Increase video-conferencing, remote working and customer self-service tills in retail to reduce the risk of passing the virus on.
Where it is not possible for employers to offer working from home in sectors such as residential care and healthcare, make sure the basics are covered such as updating staff with what they can do to protect themselves. For example, hand washing, making sure hand sanitisers are available and stepping up workplace cleaning are essential.
The evolution of benefits signals the greater responsibility employers generally take when it comes to the health and wellbeing of their workforce. Benefits have progressed over the years from predominantly purely cash and traditional forms of leave into more holistic, flexible definitions. Many are based on the wider support employers can offer to employees that take their values into consideration, such as volunteering days or ‘Give as you earn’ plans, and have recently encompassed wider financial and mental health support in the form of EAPs. This focus on the individual and how employers can support each individual in the circumstances will influence the employers’ immediate ability to respond.
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Whilst the implications of Coronavirus are unknown in the short-term, showing that the focus is on championing employee wellbeing in every way possible will strengthen employee-employer relationships in the long-term. A balance has to be struck between achieving business as usual and looking after your people, with a strong message being sent in the way organisations handle this.
Showing employees that their wellbeing is valued and a priority speaks to the culture of an organisation, engendering mutual trust and goodwill on both sides of the relationship – talk to us about contingency plans you are putting in place when it comes to workforce planning over the next few weeks.