Posted 05.03.20

Information about the virus

At the time of publication, there were 40 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK. The government provides the updated numbers here 

The current risk level has been raised from low to moderate. People at greater risk are those with weakened immune systems, older people, and those with long-term conditions such as diabetes, cancer, chronic lung disease etc.


Typical symptoms of coronavirus include:

  • A fever 
  • Cough or chest infection
  • Shortness of breath

It’s very unlikely to be coronavirus if:

  • you have not been in close contact with someone with confirmed coronavirus.
  • you have not been to mainland China, Thailand, Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia or Macau in the last 14 days.
  • you have not been to Iran, northern Italy, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos or Myanmar since 19 February 2020.

Advice for employers

In the event that COVID-19 / coronavirus spreads more widely in the UK, employers are should follow good practice across all employees:

  • Keep employees updated on actions to reduce the risk in the workplace
  • Ensure employee’s own and emergency contact information is up to date
  • Ensure line managers know how to spots symptoms of coronavirus 
  • Ensure line managers are up to speed on your sickness and absence policy and procedures in the event someone catches the virus
  • Ensure there are clean places for people to wash hands with hot water and encourage them to do so regularly; provide hand sanitisers and tissues wherever possible for employees to use
  • If you have employees working in vulnerable situations, review whether face masks are necessary for them
  • If any employees have travel plans to affected areas, review if these are absolutely essential. 

If your sickness policy requires employees who cannot attend work due to illness to have a sick note/fit note from their GP, you will need to consider allowances to this as any employee showing symptoms of coronavirus should not physically attend their GP surgery to prevent further infection of others. 

And if you have an employee who needs to take time off to look after someone who is affected i.e. a child or dependent, there is no right to pay them however you may want to take it into consideration. The time they take-off must be reasonable and you may want to consider letting them use holiday allowance if needed. 

If you have employees who are concerned about attending work, it is best practise to listen to their concerns and protect their health and safety. If possible, you could offer flexible working or allow them to take unpaid leave or holiday allowance if they would prefer not to attend work. 

If an employee becomes unwell at work and has returned from an affected area, they should get 2 metres away from others, go in a room behind a closed door, avoid touching anything and use a separate bathroom where possible. If they need to cough or sneeze, ensure it is done into a tissue and put it in the bin, or in the crook of their elbow. They should then call 111 for NHS advice and tell the operators their symptoms and where they have returned from. If they are concerned for their life, advise them to call 999. 

If an employee who has coronavirus comes into work, it does not mean the workplace must close. Your local Public Health England protection team will get in touch to review and advise how to handle it. If your workplace does need to close, you should let employees know as soon as possible and try to make adjustments where possible for employees to work from home. Find your local Public Health England team here- https://www.gov.uk/guidance/contacts-phe-health-protection-teams

Advice for employees

If you are showing symptoms and have recently travelled to one of the affected areas, or come into contact with someone with the virus, you should:

  • Call NHS 111, stay indoors and avoid contact with other people immediately.
  • In Scotland call your GP or NHS 24 on 111 out of hours. 
  • In Northern Ireland call 0300 200 7885.

DO NOT physically go into a GP surgery, pharmacy or hospital. 

You can also utilise the dedicated NHS 111 online coronavirus service to determine if the individual needs to self isolate. 

If you are unwell with coronavirus, your company’s sickness policy is in effect as normal, so all entitlements to sick pay will be the same. You should let your employer know as soon as possible if you will be unable to attend work. 

If your sickness policy requires a sick note from your GP, your employer will need to make accommodations as you are advised not to visit your GP surgery if you are showing symptoms. 

If you do become ill at work and have returned from an affected area, you should aim to be 2 metres away from others, go in a room behind a closed door, avoid touching anything and use a separate bathroom to others, if at all possible. If you need to cough or sneeze, the best way to prevent sharing the virus is to ensure it is done into a tissue and put it in the bin, or in the crook of your elbow.

You should call 111 for NHS advice and tell the operators your symptoms and where you have returned from for immediate advice. If you are more concerned about your health and believe there is an immediate risk, you should call 999.

Further information for employers and employees can be found here. 

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