Hertford Hub advises all local business owners and traders to have business continuity plans in place to cope with the possible Corona Virus epidemic. Although current Government advice is that the UK is still within the ‘containment’ phase of its four-part plan, this is expected to change to the ‘delay’ stage very soon.
What will this mean for local businesses and traders?
The Governments chief medical advisor has stated people will soon be advised to self-isolate for 7 days if they show even mild symptoms of respiratory tract infections or fever. This will have huge implications for SME’s and traders, dealing staff potentially calling in sick with no warning for long periods.
What steps can I take to prepare my business for increased staff absences?
Get a plan in place now to allow your business to function with reduced staffing levels. Suggestions:
- Try to increase online business wherever possible.
- Maximise home working potential.
- Use technology. Video conferences, facetime, emails etc should be utilised.
- Train staff to cover for their colleagues asap.
- Consider how your business could operate with minimal staffing levels. Could opening hours be adjusted? Could some aspects of the business be prioritised over others?
- Ensure there is a plan in place for if you become ill. Who will cover for you?
- Can you get key tasks done now rather than in a couple of weeks?
- Communicate with customers to keep them aware of any changes to services.
How can I manage staff calling in sick?
Have a clear and up to date absence reporting policy and circulate it to all staff. This should include details of how to call in sick/report their absence, what time they need to do this by, and who they should speak to. You can also inform staff that they will have a return to a work meeting on their first day back to discuss their absence and reasons for it. A lot of businesses don’t have a policy in place, but it’s definitely worth circulating one asap because it means everyone is aware of what they need to do, and that their absence will be treated seriously.
I’m worried staff will take advantage and stay off sick when they aren’t. What can I do about this?
You know your staff best. If someone already has a poor attendance history and/or often fails to report their absence properly, speak to them now about it. This doesn’t have to be a formal meeting, just have a chat to check they are aware of your contact details and that they must contact you by a particular time if they are unwell. You can make a note of the meeting so that you have evidence that they were made aware of what to do. This can be useful later on should it be necessary to take any action regarding their absence (seek further advice before doing this).
Staff who opt to self-isolate despite having no symptoms and have not been advised to by their GP can be informed that their absence is being treated as unauthorised and there is no requirement to pay them. However, be cautious with this approach. Government advice is changing fast on this issue. Find out why they wish to self-isolate. Perhaps they have a hidden disability or care for someone vulnerable to infection? Communication is everything in these cases.
The symptoms of the virus, the advice being given to self-isolate, and the media coverage will, unfortunately, lead to some staff (intentionally or unintentionally) taking time off unnecessarily. Always seek professional HR advice before taking action on this.
Do I need to pay my staff while they are absent?
If they are self-employed, no. But make sure they are genuinely self-employed as it’s easy to get caught out. Employment status is a constant source of potential claims for business owners. When in doubt, get advice for clarification.
For everyone else, it will depend upon their employment status and contract. Always look at their contract first. However, where there isn’t one or it’s not up to date, consider the following:
What happened last time they were absent? Were they paid? If so, you will probably need to pay them for all sickness absences.
If you decide to send someone home or ask them to stay away from their workplace as a precaution you will need to pay them as usual.
The legal minimum sick pay for most is Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) for those earning over the stipulated amount each week. Keep checking current Government advice. Last week it was announced that the first three days of sickness should be paid (statutory sick pay is normally from the 4th day of absence).
However, some will be contractually entitled to more than SSP. Look at the contract if there is one, and/or be consistent with what has happened in the past.
Try to treat everyone consistently to avoid any discrimination claims.
What if my staff are absent due to their children’s school being closed?
This doesn’t fall within the category of sick leave and therefore you will not need to pay them. However, depending on their employment status they could use Emergency or Dependants Leave. They may prefer to take annual leave if that’s an option. Communication is key. If they are off work, ensure they know when and how frequently they need to get in touch with you to give an update.
I’m worried about my staff losing out financially due to self-isolation and/or sickness/school closures? How can I help?
There is nothing to stop you from paying staff at their usual rate of pay as a goodwill gesture while absent. However, this may have implications in the future if they are absent again so it’s worth putting it in writing that this is a one-off and does not represent a permanent change in their rate of sick pay. Get the staff member to sign an acknowledgement of this.
Consider allowing staff to work from home where possible. Could they make up their hours at a later date? Some may ask to take annual leave, but this isn’t recommended if someone is ill, and can cause problems further down the line.
I can’t keep my business running at the moment and I need to close temporarily. What can I do?
This will depend on the employment status of your staff. Firstly, look at the contracts of those working for you, then look at what happens in practice. The contract and what happens in practice often differ.
The self-employed and some zero-hours contract workers staff can usually be advised there is no work available for them. Agency workers and casual workers may have some rights so always check. Employees will have the full spectrum of employment rights and you will need to get advice on how to manage this.
You may be able to utilise Short Time Working and Lay Off’s (this is not redundancy). These are designed to be short term measures for a business that must close down temporarily. However, employees must have the relevant clauses in their contracts allowing this.