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Coronavirus FAQs

When should an employee self-isolate?
As of 16 March 2020 the government has stated that any person presenting with a high temperature (above 37.8) and/or a new persistent cough should self-isolate for 7 days.

In addition, employees residing with any person showing symptoms should now isolate for 14 days.

Any employee returning from a country of concern who is not showing symptoms is still asked to self-isolated for 14 days.

Countries of Concern
For returning travellers the advice is to self-isolate immediately if they have returned from: 

  • Hubei province in China in the last 14 days, even if they do not have symptoms
  • Iran, special care zones in South Korea (Daegu and Cheongdo) since 19 February, even if they do not have symptoms
  • other parts of mainland China or South Korea, Hong Kong, Japan, Macau, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan or Thailand in the last 14 days and have a cough, high temperature or shortness of breath (even if symptoms are mild)
  • All of Italy (advice changed 5/3/20), Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar or Vietnam since 19 February and have a cough, high temperature or shortness of breath (even if symptoms are mild)

Will employees who self-isolate continue to receive normal pay?
Employees who are absent due to illness will obviously be subject to normal sick pay arrangements.

Under the Green Book - employees who are prevented from attending work due to contact with an infectious disease are entitled to be paid normally and the period of absence will not count against the sick pay entitlement. Should the employee be confirmed as having contracted Coronavirus they will transfer to sick pay at this point.

However as of 12 March 2020 the government announced that routine testing of people showing symptoms will cease and testing will only take place upon hospital admission. Managers should regularly contact employees who are self -isolating to establish whether they become ill during the period.

The government announced that employees would receive sick pay from day one of absence due to coronavirus infection. Any LAs who have moved away from Green Book sick pay arrangements and do not pay for the first 3 days absence will need to ensure that the first three days are at least covered by SSP.

What about teachers?
The Burgundy Book contains different terms to the Green Book and Section 4 paragraph 10 sets out some information re infectious diseases, specifically paragraph 10.3, when someone in the household is suffering from an infectious disease and the teacher is unable to attend work this should be counted as sick leave/pay, however, if it is due to an infectious disease being in the workplace then it should not be reckoned against sick leave entitlement but would be for SSP purposes.

There has been no national guidance issued in relation to the Burgundy Book terms. We will update you in relation to any further advice.

Will absence for coronavirus count towards sickness triggers?
The NJC circular dated 6 March 2020 recommends that LAs consider discounting absence relating to Coronavirus in terms of sickness triggers due to the unprecedented nature of the outbreak.

What is the position if employees are unable to attend work due to school closures?
If employees are unable to attend work due to enforced school closures LAs will need to apply their flexible working and special leave arrangements. If it is possible for the employee to work from home this will not affect pay. Where it is not possible for an employee to work from home, special leave policies and time off for dependants entitlements will apply, however it is worth bearing in mind that this position is unprecedented and we would expect some national guidance should there be widespread school/workplace closures.

Should we send staff who are unwell home?
As of 16 March 2020 the government advice is that everyone who can work from home, should work from home. However where employees do need to attend a place of work the NJC circular dated 6 March 2020 and advice given on 12 March relating to anyone displaying symptoms of a cough or fever should be followed. These employees should be sent home at the earliest opportunity and self isolate for 7 days. The NJC circular states that consideration should be given in relation to at risk groups and extending flexible working arrangements as far as possible should be considered to both protect provision of services and to recognise the employer’s duty of care.

Who is considered high risk?
In the government announcement on 16 March 2020 high risk groups are recommended to implement the measures and restrictions. To recognise the employer’s duty of care any employees falling into the high-risk categories below should adhere to the key new measures.

High risk groups are defined as:

  • Pregnant women
  • people over the age of 70
  • those with certain health conditions (other adults who would be offered a flu vaccine)

The key new measures are:

  • Everyone should avoid gatherings and crowded places, such as pubs, clubs and theatres
  • Everyone should work from home if they can
  • All "unnecessary" visits to friends and relatives in care homes should cease
  • By next weekend, those with the most serious health conditions must be "largely shielded from social contact for around 12 weeks"

Should we ask staff to wear face masks?
Public Health England have advised that there is little robust evidence that use of masks has any widespread benefit outside of a clinical setting. Further there is evidence to suggest that wearing face masks in public could make the wearer more at risk for a number of reasons including the fact that masks could trap the virus and it gives the wearing a false sense of security and could make them more complacent.

What precautionary measures should we ask staff to take in the workplace?

Where staff are unable to work from home and need to attend a place of work they should be reminded of the following advice:

  • Maintaining good hand and respiratory hygiene such as regular hand washing and using disposable tissues when coughing or sneezing.
  • Washing hands before eating, drinking, taking medication, applying make-up, inserting contact lenses etc. 
  • Ensuring cuts and grazes are washed immediately with soap and running water and a dressing applied, and that other wounds are kept covered.
  • Disposing of tissues immediately into a bin.
  • Safe food practices
  • Avoiding close contact, when possible, with anyone showing symptoms of respiratory illness such as coughing and sneezing.

Staff who can work from home should be encouraged to ensure they have their laptops and other work equipment with them at all times to enable them to work from home should an unexpected need to stay at home arise.

What if someone with Coronavirus has come into work?

If an ill employee is subsequently diagnosed with Coronavirus Public Health England (PHE) health protection team will get in contact with the employer to:

  • discuss the details of the case
  • identify employees and other people who have been in contact with the affected person
  • carry out a risk assessment
  • advise the employer on any actions or precautions to take

What should an employer accept as evidence of the need for an employee to self-isolate?
There are no official documents being issued so LAs are free to decide whether verbal notification is sufficient or whether they require an employee to produce any evidence. Where an employee has travelled abroad to a country of concern you could seek evidence of the dates and destination of the holiday. Employees could be asked to send a screen shot of the advice to self-isolate if they have used the NHS 111 on-line service or you could email employees a short declaration form so the employee states the reason for the need to self-isolation (i.e. returning traveller, contact with known case). Discretion will be needed in establishing the facts around the need to self-isolate but as with all sickness absence, any employee falsifying such claims could be subject to disciplinary action

Should an employee come to work if their partner/someone in the household is self-isolating?
No. As per the guidance issued on 16 March 2020 anyone who lives with a person who is self-isolating due to symptoms should begin a period of self-isolation themselves for 14 days.

What is the current risk level in the UK?
As at 16 March 2020 the UK Chief Medical Officers have raise the risk level in the UK from moderate to high.

Have any WME LAs reported cases?
As at 12 March 2020 there have been no confirmed cases of any employees within our LAs. Survey returns have indicated that there are currently under 20 employees self-isolating in the region, however not all LAs have responded to the question at this point.

Have any schools in the region been closed?
As at 12 March 2020 there has been 1 confirmed school closure within the region as a precautionary measure.