Coronavirus in the workplace: what you need to know

On behalf of Attwaters Jameson Hill posted in Employment Law on Thursday, March 19th, 2020

Over the past few weeks, it seems that a single topic of conversation has been on the lips of the entire nation: the COVID-19, or coronavirus, outbreak. In response to the country’s concerns, new Chancellor Rishi Sunak wasted no time in outlining a £30bn fiscal stimulus package during his Spring Budget speech “to keep this country, and our people, healthy and financially secure”.

In recognition that workers and businesses were likely to be hit hard by the financial impact of the crisis, many of his emergency measures were directed at supporting workers and their employers in weathering the storm.


What support measures have been announced for employees?

Extension of Statutory Sick Pay
Firstly, to ensure that those presenting symptoms aren’t tempted to go into work for fear of not getting paid, Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) for eligible workers who are advised to self-isolate (even if they are not showing symptoms) can now be claimed from the first day off work, rather than the fourth.
Quicker and easier access to benefits for self-employed workers
To assist gig economy workers and the self-employed (who are ineligible for SSP), Mr Sunak confirmed that it will now be quicker and easier to access benefits. Therefore, those on Contributory Employment Support Allowance will be able to access it from the first day off work, rather than the eighth.


What support measures have been announced for employers?

The Chancellor stated that the best way to support workers through the crisis was to protect their jobs. As a result, he announced the following measures to assist employers:
Government to refund SSP costs for all employees affected by coronavirus
In recognition of the impact that SSP payouts could have on businesses, the Chancellor confirmed that the cost of SSP paid to any employee unwell or self-isolating due to coronavirus would be refunded by the government for up to 14 days. This relief applies to all businesses with less than 250 employees.
Loan scheme to support struggling businesses
Mr Sunak also announced the introduction of a temporary Coronavirus Business Interruption Scheme, which would make £1bn of government-backed loans available to small and medium-sized businesses struggling with cashflow problems.
Abolition of business rates for eligible retail, leisure or hospitality businesses
Recognising that the retail, leisure and hospitality industries were among the hardest hit by the crisis, Mr Sunak announced that eligible businesses in these sectors with a rateable value below £51,000 would not have to pay business rates this year.
Cash grants for recipients of small business rates relief
Many of the UK’s smallest businesses do not pay business rates, but are likely to still be affected. With this in mind, Mr Sunak announced that any business eligible for small business rates relief would receive a cash grant of £3,000 to assist them in managing their fixed costs.


What is the current government advice for employees and employers?

On Thursday 12 March, the government moved into the ‘delay’ stage of its plan to tackle the virus. Anybody with a “new, continuous cough” or a fever has now been advised to self-isolate for seven days, which will of course have a knock-on effect on the workplace.

Employees who have travelled abroad to an affected area are also advised to place themselves under self-isolation for 14 days upon their return.

Currently, employers are not being advised to close the workplace if a confirmed case is identified. Instead, employers should contact their local Health Protection Team, who will provide advice to any staff who may be affected by contact with the infected individual.

If you would like advice on how Covid-19 affects you, please contact us at enquiries@attwaters.co.uk or 0330 221 8855.

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