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As the outbreak of coronavirus spreads, we gather together the advice being offered to employers and businesses.

Already, the only thing that seems to be spreading faster than coronavirus is misinformation. So here we’ve brought together the latest advice from the likes of NHS England, GOV.UK and Acas on how your business should prepare and react.

What are the coronavirus symptoms?

You can find information about symptoms and how to access medical help if you or a member of your team displays the symptoms on the NHS website.

Where can we find the latest medical advice on coronavirus

For the very latest updates, check the Public Health England Twitter feed.

Government guides for business

The government has produced a number of guides to help sectors of the UK economy manage the outbreak. Its guidance for employers and businesses includes information on how to prevent the spread of infection, what to do if a member of staff feels unwell and believes they may have been exposed to coronavirus, and whether you should wear a facemask.

How do we minimise risk of coronavirus infection?

According to the government guidance, best practice is to avoid close contact with any potentially affected individual (ie within two metres) and maintain good hygiene. This includes washing your hands properly, in line with NHS guidelines.

What happens if one of my staff is ill with suspected coronavirus?

According to Acas, “If someone becomes unwell in the workplace and has recently come back from an area affected by coronavirus, they should:

  • Get at least 2 metres (7 feet) away from other people
  • Go to a room or area behind a closed door, such as a sick bay or staff office
  • Avoid touching anything
  • Cough or sneeze into a tissue and put it in a bin, or if they do not have tissues, cough and sneeze into the crook of their elbow
  • Use a separate bathroom from others, if possible

Using their own phone, they should call 111 (unless they believe their life is at risk, in which case they should call 999) and tell the operator their symptoms and any country they returned from in the last 14 days.

Should I encourage working from home?

At the press conference launching the government’s coronavirus battle plan, England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty was eager to stress that whilst home working is one of a number of options that remains part of the overall battle plan, acting too soon risks being ineffective and making matters worse.

At this stage, and if you can, it seems reasonable to ensure measures are in place to enable home working should it become necessary.

Should I close the business?

No. According to the government, “Closure of the workplace is not recommended.” Instead, the business will be contacted by your local PHE protection team to carry out a risk assessment.

How should payroll treat coronavirus?

If someone is off work sick with coronavirus your usual sick pay and leave entitlements should come into play.

But what if the employee isn’t sick, but has self-isolated because they believe they have come into contact with someone who is, or they are a returning traveller from one of the lockdown areas identified by the government?

According to Acas, there is no legal right for payroll to treat the absence as sickness if a member of staff is not sick but has been told to isolate or has been taken into quarantine.

It goes on to note, however, that “it’s good practice for their employer to treat it as sick leave and follow their usual sick pay policy or agree for the time to be taken as holiday.”

Taking things a stage further, Health Secretary Matt Hancock recently told MPs that, “Self-isolation on medical advice is considered sickness for employment purposes. That is a very important message for employers and those who can go home and self-isolate as if they were sick, because it is for medical reasons.”

At his press conference launching the government’s battle plan, Boris Johnson said the “we’re going to keep all options under review”.

If you need help managing the possible payroll implications of coronavirus for your business, please talk to us.

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