19 Mar 2020
Corona virus (COVID-19):
employer response guide
This guide will help you plan your organisation’s response to the global health emergency
What should employers be doing in the current situation?
Organisations should focus on planning and prevention with both urgency and calm. Do
what you can to immediately protect staff and to plan for possible disruptions as things
escalate. The latest Government advice is that people should work from home wherever
possible so you should take steps to make this possible for as many people as possible.
Your employees’ health and well-being is paramount. Employers have a statutory duty of
care for people’s health and safety at work.
HR basics to follow
Make sure everyone’s contact numbers and emergency contact details are up to
Ensure that all employees know how to report any risk to themselves from COVID-19
and that all potential incidents are reported to HR so they can understand the
overall risk to the workforce.
Make sure all staff are aware of your response as an employer and what you are
doing to protect people’s health and reduce the risk of infection spreading.
Continue to communicate as the situation changes.
Make sure managers are clear on any relevant policies and processes, for example
sickness reporting and sick pay, homeworking policy and procedures in case
someone in the workplace develops the virus.
Protect your workforce
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Keep your workforce well-informed of the ongoing developments and official advice
from the Government and National Health Service and promote resources that are
Advise employees to take precautions, such as working from home where possible
and avoiding non-essential social contact. Advise them of the latest advice with
regards to self-isolation for anyone (or anyone who lives with someone) who
develops a new, continuous cough or a high temperature of 37.8 degrees or above
(in line with official guidance).
Reduce the spread of infection by providing soap and hand sanitiser gels with
alcohol, especially in communal areas like kitchens and coffee areas. Provide staff
with hand sanitisers. Increase the frequency and intensity of office cleaning; consider
a deep clean; think about frequent wiping down of communal spaces such as
kitchens, handrails on stairs, lift buttons, door handles, etc. Some workplaces are
banning handshakes.
Check the NHS and Government websites for regions/nations affected (which is
changing on a daily basis).
If an employee needs to self-isolate (on the advice of NHS 111 or a doctor) or are
sent home as a precaution, the UK Government has announced new measures that
mean these employees are entitled to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) from day one. This
includes individuals who may be a carrier of COVID-19 but may not have symptoms
and people caring for those in the same household who display COVID-19 symptoms
and have been told to self-isolate. The CIPD also recommends that employers
providing contractual sick pay should provide this if a member of staff is asked to
self-isolate by a medical professional, even if they have no symptoms. Alternative
options to providing sick pay are to allow people who are asked to self-isolate to
work from home wherever possible and continue to pay as normal. For more
information on the changes to SSP read the factsheet.
Employers should use discretion around the need for medical evidence for a period
of absence where an employee is advised to self-isolate. Employees can currently
self-certify for the first seven days. In the 11 March budget, the Government
announced it will introduce a temporary alternative to the current fit note in the
coming weeks. For more information on this change read the factsheet.
Protect your business
Employers should develop a contingency plan to prepare for a range of eventualities
regarding the business impact of the virus. CIPD members can download helpful
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templates from the Coronavirus: support materials page and a homeworking
questionnaire to prepare for a widespread move to working from home.
Appoint a pandemic coordinator or team to prepare plans and keep on top of official
Think about transferable skills –will you have enough people to keep business critical operations running if you do face staff shortages? Start training people now.
Encourage remote working and working from home where possible, in line with the
latest Government advice. Consider making laptops available for staff who wouldn’t
normally work from home. Encourage team working / external meetings through
video conferencing, etc. Make sure there’s the right IT support in place for people.
Consider creative resourcing solutions like staggering shifts so fewer people are in
the workplace at any one time – this may help people avoid being on public
transport in rush hour.
Consider having A and B teams to reduce the number of people in the workplace at
any one time and reduce the risk of infection.
Maximise self-service options – for example, self-service tills at supermarkets so
fewer staff are needed, encouraging people to do online banking rather than going
into branch, etc.
Planning your short-term response: key policies and processes to
review and communicate
Once you have taken immediate steps to protect your workforce you can look to plan
your short-term response. The government has outlined that the UK is now in the ‘delay’
phase of its response to COVID-19. You should act now so that you can continue to
protect your workforce and allow for as much business continuity as possible.
Sick leave and pay
Review your policy around absence and where possible be generous with
contractual sick pay.
Confirm to employees what will happen if they are advised by a medical professional
to self-isolate. Be clear about what sick pay arrangements will apply. If NHS 111 or a
doctor advises an employee or worker to self-isolate, the Government’s new
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measures (announced in 11 March) mean they are entitled to Statutory Sick Pay
(SSP) from day one. This includes individuals who may be a carrier of COVID-19 who
may not have symptoms and will also apply to people caring for those in the same
household who display COVID-19 symptoms and have been told to self-isolate. Refer
to our factsheet for more on this.
Update employees with any changes to your processes around reporting absence,
medical certificates and fit notes. Government advice is to show discretion in asking
for written medical evidence. It will also introduce a temporary alternative to the
current fit note in the coming weeks for the duration of the COVID-19 outbreak
whereby those in self-isolation can obtain a notification via NHS 111 to use as
evidence for absence from work.
Annual leave and pay
Review your policy around annual leave and make clear to employees what will
happen if they need to cancel their holiday due to travel restrictions.
If you ask employees to voluntarily disclose where they are planning to go on holiday
be prepared to have an open discussion about plans to travel to high-risk areas and
think about what you will do upon their return. Think about the impact self-isolation
of that employee post-visit will have on their work and their wider team.
Banning travel to high-risk areas such as parts of China, Iran, South Korea and Italy
may disproportionately affect certain groups and could be indirect race
discrimination if it affects more staff of certain ethnicity than others. See below for
more on mitigating this risk.
The NHS lists a number of countries/areas where it may be necessary to get medical
advice: check out the NHS travel advice pages and how to contact NHS 111.
Remote working
In line with the latest Government advice, support employees in working from home
wherever possible. Use the homeworking questionnaire to help you prepare.
Review health and safety arrangements for any obstacles to remote working and
work to remove these.
Consider whether you need to make adjustments for any employees with protected
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Invest in technology to facilitate remote working; look into free tools for video
Test out remote working options before it’s necessary.
Be sure that you plan remote working options for all staff groups.
Where remote working isn’t possible, think about pay/continuity etc.
Careful planning is needed, along with trust, good comms and people management.
Staff mental health and well-being
Be aware that some employees, understandably, may be very worried about
catching the virus, while others will have concerns about their family or friends.
Listen to people’s concerns and reassure them that any measures taken are to
protect people and there is no need to panic. Communicate regularly with the
workforce and ensure that line managers are regularly informed about the
organisation’s contingency plans so that they can also provide guidance reassure
Signpost employees to further advice or support, such as employee assistance
programmes and any other well-being resources you have available. Consider
providing counselling for those employees who are particularly anxious.
Keep checking in on people’s workloads and stress levels and offer support where
possible. If you can, adjust targets for employees who remain working and be flexible
with deadlines.
If a large number of employees are unable to work this could lead to other
employees working longer hours. In this case you need to ensure you still comply
with the Working Time Regulations 1998 around appropriate length of weekly and
daily working hours, night shifts and rest breaks.
Planning your long-term response: specific groups of employees and
business areas to consider
If the decision is made to remain in the ‘delay’ phase of the UK’s response for a sustained
period of time (including the use of measures such as social distancing) and if the decision
is made to move to the ‘mitigate’ phase of the UK’s response then employers and people
professionals will need to consider their long-term plans. This will include looking at
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specific groups of employees, areas of the business and perhaps changing business
If someone is caring for an elderly or sick relative with coronavirus they are advised
to self-isolate. The Government has confirmed that employees or workers in this
situation are entitled to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) which includes individuals who may
be a carrier of COVID-19 and who may not yet have symptoms.
Carers for relatives at home can also use the statutory right to request flexible
working perhaps asking to be set up to work remotely if this is possible. Employers
should look to support homeworking where possible, in line with the latest
Government advice.
Business productivity and profit will be an issue for many employers; larger
businesses might have the infrastructure and funds to cope with long-term remote
working in relation to employee absences due to caring for a relative, school
closures etc, but smaller businesses may not be able to survive to paying staff if
there is reduced productivity. In this situation it may be necessary to consider
alternatives such as short term working or lay -offs (see below).
The other main right for employees with caring responsibilities with an emergency
or unexpected problem is emergency dependant leave which enables a short unpaid
period off for example to look after ill relatives. This would cover making
arrangements to care for the dependant, including an adult family member who is ill
with coronavirus.
Employees must inform employers as soon as reasonably practicable of the reason
for their required absence and how long they expect to be absent. This type of
unpaid leave is intended for short periods. The employee will only have the right to
be paid if their contract of employment provides for pay.
Other longer-term arrangements include working from home or adjusted hours.
Employers are under no obligation to allow staff with caring responsibilities to work
flexibly but in the current situation this may help keep employees working whilst
managing their caring responsibilities.
Most of those with caring responsibilities at home will already have had a carer’s
assessment from the local authority to check the extent of help available (if any)
either for the carer or the person they care for. Some local authorities may have an
emergency plan in place.
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Professional care workers will obviously follow stringent infection control measures.
Individual carers and agencies will also need to undertake risk assessments and try
and put contingency plans in place if any of their staff are exposed to, or show
symptoms of, the coronavirus. Individual carers who have to temporarily suspend
their care duties, may need to involve other care workers or an agency as part of
their contingency plan or make cover arrangements with the person’s trusted family,
neighbours or friends.
Working parents
Schools in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are now closing due to
COVID-19. The main right for employees in this situation is emergency dependant
leave. This covers school closures and other unexpected disruptions to the
arrangements to care for the child.
Dependant leave is only for putting arrangements in place and is unlikely to be
sufficient if schools remain shut for a long time.
Other rights which may be relevant include the right to unpaid time off to look after
a child up to their 18th birthday known as unpaid parental leave.
Whilst parental leave is normally to spend more time with children or look after
them during school holidays it may also be an option during a school closure.
Each parent can take up to 18 weeks for each child in blocks of a week at a time with
a maximum of 4 weeks a year for each child.
The normal rules state that if a child has a disability parental leave can be taken
more flexibly if there is disability living allowance or personal independence payment
for the child.
Only employees (not workers) are entitled to unpaid parental leave provided that
they have worked for the employer for a year or more and have parental
responsibility for the child. This includes step-parents who have parental
Normally employees must ask the employer 21 days before parental leave starts but
employers could waive this notice requirement.
Atypical/gig workers
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The legal status of atypical and gig workers is not always clear. There have been
many highly publicised cases addressing the extent of rights for workers such as
Uber drivers or couriers. Some atypical or gig economy workers could potentially be
employees, workers or self-employed. Their status may not have been called into
question until considering their rights following the coronavirus outbreak.
Whilst employees who self-isolate can access statutory sick pay (SSP) from the first
day they are off it is unlikely this applies to some atypical or gig-economy workers.
Self-employed people who have to self-isolate, have limited protections as they are
not eligible for statutory sick pay (SSP). The precise legal rights of atypical and gig
economy workers will depend upon any contractual sick pay and terms of the
As always, the precise legal rights of these workers will depend upon both how the
arrangement operates in practice as well as the terms of the contractual
documentation. Some atypical workers may in fact be protected as employees.
Some organisations using atypical or gig economy workers may decide to offer full
or partial sick pay or goodwill cancellation payments even though they are not
obliged to do so. For example, Uber have indicated that drivers and delivery people
either diagnosed with Covid-19 or having to self-isolate will be suspended but the
company has offered some financial assistance for up to 14 days to help them cope
Depending on the organisation’s decisions and government advice, some closures
may only be for a two-week period or for longer. Some atypical workers may have
provision for payment in the event of cancellation. A goodwill, expenses or an
assistance or inconvenience payment following coronavirus closures may have long
term benefits of a harmonious, incentivised and engaged pool of workers.
The government announced in March 2020 budget that the self-employed (including
some atypical and gig economy workers) will be able to claim employment support
allowance from the first day of their isolation or illness rather than day eight.
However, it is only paid to those who are too sick to work and who meet certain
conditions. Those who are likely to benefit are fairly limited. The benefit is worth
£73.10 a week, or £57.90 for the under-25s.
The government is also temporarily changing universal credit so that the minimum
income ‘floor’ of how much the self-employed person would normally expect to earn
in a month, is ignored when calculating entitlement to universal credit. This means
some individuals will be able to claim over the telephone or online for time they
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spend off work due to sickness.
The government has also announced a new £500m fund to support economically
vulnerable people which will be allocated by local authorities.
Short-time and lay-off working
If your business is severely affected by the Coronavirus (COVID-19) situation you may
need to look at introducing temporary measures in order to protect the workforce
and the business.
These measures include moving to short time working by agreement with the
employees (where employees work less than their regular contractual hours, for
example a three-day week).
Employers can send employees home on full pay but just because work is not
available. Employers generally cannot refuse to pay them.
If the situation continues employers can also consider lay-offs (where an employer
asks employees to stay at home and not attend work or be paid for a temporary
Laying off employees can generally only be done if an appropriate clause was
incorporated into employees’ contracts. Temporary lay offs due to a shortage
historically occurs in the manufacturing sector. Any other sector which dos not have
this contractual right will face claims for breach of contract, unlawful deductions and
constructive unfair dismissal if there is any attempt to impose lay-offs without
In some cases a subsequent agreement authorising lay-offs may be concluded
between the employer and employees or any recognised union. Employees may
agree to temporary lay-offs, or a period of unpaid leave, if they appreciate the
difficulty faced by the business and feel the alternative would be the risk of
redundancy dismissals.
The main qualifying conditions for the statutory guarantee payment are that an
employee must: Be laid off for at least one full working day; Have been employed
continuously for at least one month, including part-time employees; Have an
employment contract for more than three months; Be available for work; Not refuse
any reasonable alternative work, including work that isn’t in their contract; Not have
been laid off because of industrial action.
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Employees who meet these criteria will be entitled to a small fixed statutory
guarantee payment of up to £29 per day. This is limited to five days in any three month period to partially compensate them for the reduction in salary. The right to
this payment applies only to employees, not to contract or agency workers, or the self-employed.
Employees who are affected for four or more consecutive weeks may be entitled to
redundancy pay. The employees must resign with written notice of their intention to
claim this. Employers can avoid redundancies if they guarantee employees 13
consecutive weeks of work within four weeks of receiving the employee’s notice.
Be aware that these are relatively rarely used legal provisions and can only be
implemented if there are express, correctly drafted clauses in their contracts.
However, in these uncertain times such measures are worth investigating.
In rare cases there may be an ability for an employer to lay off which is implied
because there is evidence that such a right has been established over a long period
by custom and practice.
Unfortunately, the coronavirus (COVID-19) situation may lead to some businesses
being forced to reduce the size of its workforce to survive. Several sectors have
already warned that they are massively vulnerable to the outbreak of the
coronavirus (COVID-19). Airlines have indicated they cannot sustain current levels of
employment and warned staff that job losses are likely. Other sectors immediately
affected include hospitality, entertainment, manufacturing (due to disrupted supply
chains) and retail but there will be an impact across all sectors.
The normal legal provisions apply which mean that employers are required to take
steps to avoid compulsory redundancies (see below).
Redundancy is a special form of dismissal which happens in three situations: when
an employer has a reduction in the need for employees to carry out work of a
particular kind, or the employer intends to cease, continuing the business at a
particular workplace and the actual or intended closure of the whole business, as
may occur in the coronavirus (COVID-19) situation.
Employers will have to follow a correct fair procedure. This includes following the
organisation’s own procedure (if any) and the following stages including making a
statutory redundancy payment, and a notice period payment.
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The exact redundancy procedure varies but employers who feel that the corona virus
makes redundancies inevitable may already have started the planning stage
including consultation and consideration of alternatives. The following stages are
usually then involved: identifying the pool for selection; seeking volunteers;
consulting employees individually and collectively; information to provide to the
representatives; scoring matrix; selection; individual meetings; appeals; confirming
redundancies; notification to the DTI; suitable alternative employment; time off for
interviews. redundancy payment; counselling and support.
Avoiding redundancies
The steps employers can take to avoid compulsory redundancies include seeking
applicants for voluntary redundancy or early retirement, encouraging existing staff
to work flexibly on reduced hours by agreement, freezing or restricting recruitment,
reducing or banning overtime, reallocation existing employees to any parts of the
business which are less affected by the virus.
Other possible steps include short-time working or temporary lay-offs (see above),
reduction in use of self-employed contractors, freelancers and casual workers and
pay freezes. It may also be possible to offer early retirement to volunteers (subject to
complying with age discrimination provisions).
It is a difficult time to take sabbaticals and secondments but those and any form of
unpaid or reduced pay leave are alternatives. Other possible schemes include paying
employees a reduced allowance whilst they do not work for their employer for a
specified period and are free to seek work elsewhere. Other possibilities include
executive pay cuts.
If employees agree to reduce their working hours for a defined temporary period,
the employer should confirm the exact hours to be worked, the start date of the
varied arrangement, when the employee will return to their previous working hours
and details of how pay will be affected.
For more information on redundancy visit the CIPD topic page. CIPD members can
also call the employment law helpline on 03330 431 217.
Unfortunately, the Coronavirus (COVID-19) situation may also lead to some
businesses becoming insolvent or being forced to cease trading.
The two main types of insolvency are liquidation and bankruptcy.
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Liquidation is where a company either cannot meet its liabilities as they fall due and
or where the value of company liabilities exceeds its assets. Insolvent limited
companies and limited liability partnerships follow a liquidation process to realise
the company assets and selling them to pay back creditors, This is a similar
procedure to bankruptcy but relates to companies rather than individuals. Following
the liquidation, the company is dissolved, and records struck off at Companies
House. Thereafter the company will cease to exist.
The liquidation process can be started by the company’s directors or creditors who
are owed a minimum of £750. A licensed insolvency practitioner acts as liquidator
and turns all assets into cash and distributes any proceeds amongst creditors.
Solvent companies can also be liquidated using a process known as a member’s
voluntary liquidation.
Bankruptcy only relates to individuals and not limited companies. A downturn in
business caused by the corona virus may lead to bankruptcy where the individual
cannot meet their outgoings and commitments. An individual can become bankrupt
as a result of being a member of a partnership which has hit financial problems or a
sole trader where trade has ground to a halt.
The bankruptcy process can be started by the individual or by a creditor who is
owed at least £5,000. The debtor can have a fresh start following the bankruptcy, but
major assets such as a car or house may need to be sold. Bankruptcy generally only
lasts for a year but will affect an individual’s credit rating for six years.
Bereavement leave/pay
Even though the mortality rate of Coronavirus (COVID-19) remains low the harsh
reality is that employees may face the loss of a friend or family member and you may
even lose an employee.
To prepare for this eventuality review your bereavement policy (if you have one) and
assess if you can be more generous. Be as flexible as you can about leave and pay.
There is no legal right to bereavement leave but in this unprecedented situation
employers should be as compassionate and supportive as possible.
Offer support to employees, share details of any employee assistance programmes
and be prepared to listen to concerns.
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Risks to consider
Throughout your organisation’s response to the COVID-19 global health emergency there
will be people management risks that you will need to be aware of and take steps to
Business continuity and pressure on remaining staff
The outbreak of the virus is very likely to affect employees in your organisation in
different ways. It will disproportionately affect some people, for example if schools
close and parents need to keep children at home. Some employees may need to
keep working while others self-isolate or stop working, and so think about how you
can prevent perceptions of unfairness creeping in and keep everyone on board in
these exceptional times.
If workers are asked to work extra hours to cover for absent staff, make sure you
comply with your obligations under the Working Time Regulations.
Regularly communicate how much you value everyone’s contribution. If some people
are taking on additional responsibilities to bridge gaps, make sure they feel
appreciated and this is for a relatively short time. Emphasise that you can only
succeed as an organisation and protect your people and the business if you all pull
Make sure that you are not putting unacceptable levels of demands on people and
that they have the support and resources in place to fulfil their tasks, particularly
any additional duties.
Line managers should be trained and confident to spot any early warning signs of
people experiencing stress; make sure they have regular catch ups with people (by
telephone or using video conferencing technology if working from home) to ensure
they are coping with any extra demands or workloads.
Provide clear signposting to any internal and external support for people, such as
counselling and an employee assistance programme.
Direct and indirect discrimination
Despite the unprecedented nature of this situation, employers still have to remain
aware of potential direct and indirect discrimination.
The greatest risk in the current situation arises from any move to ban travel to
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certain areas (such as identified high-risk areas like parts of China, Iran and Italy) as
this could disproportionately affect certain groups and be indirect race
discrimination if it affects more staff of certain ethnicity than others.
You may decide that your duty to protect staff is worth taking the risk of a potential
discrimination claim as employers can defend indirect discrimination claims using
the ‘proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim’ defence.
Be aware that targeting certain staff specifically and requesting them not to travel or
come to work, or to have medical checks, could lead to direct race discrimination
claims (which would not be defensible). Any request to avoid travel and not attend
work should apply to all staff regardless of nationality or ethnicity and be linked to
potential exposure to the virus not racial origins.
Another aspect of discrimination which employers could be exposed to is liability for
harassment by one employee to another. Employers must take reasonable steps to
prevent harassment and tackle inappropriate behaviour and prejudice being shown
towards those of Chinese or Italian origins with completely inappropriate misplaced
blame for the outbreak.
Another potential discrimination risk could arise from refusal of requests for flexible,
home or part time working due to school closures where women could be
disproportionately affected leading to sex discrimination claims. Alternatively, if only
parents are allowed to work from home and others are not there could be
attempted marital status or sex discrimination claims. Employers should also
especially consider the needs of any pregnant employees with particular concerns
about the risk of infection.
There is also a risk of disability discrimination claims if, for example, a delayed
decision to permit staff to work at home disproportionately affects a certain group
for example those with anxiety, asthma or those who have compromised immunity.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has advised that those who have an
underlying conditions including heart disease, respiratory conditions and diabetes,
have a higher risk of developing a severe illness from the virus. Therefore, employers
should carefully consider these employees in the light of the obligation to make
reasonable adjustments to the employee’s working arrangements and provide a
safe working arrangement.
Other potential groups affected are older workers. According to the WHO employees
aged over 60, have a greater vulnerability and may be able to show that they are
disproportionately affected if they are not allowed the option of remote working.
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Where there are genuine concerns for any reason including age, infirmity,
susceptibility and anxiety the employer must try to resolve these concerns by, for
example, offering flexible working, or taking a period of paid leave.
DISCLAIMER: The materials in this guidance are provided for general information
purposes and do not constitute legal or other professional advice. While the information
is considered to be true and correct at the date of publication, changes in circumstances
may impact the accuracy and validity of the information. The CIPD is not responsible for
any errors or omissions, or for any action or decision taken as a result of using the
guidance. You should consult a professional adviser for legal or other advice where