Charities warned: plan for coronavirus decimating workforce

Sick leave

Prepare for coronavirus worst case scenario

6th March 2020 by Robert Armour 0 Comments

Scots charities are being warned against complacency amid a potential coronavirus epidemic.

Medical professionals have been backed by the Scottish Government in relaying a when-not-if scenario of the virus spreading and becoming an epidemic, meaning thousands of employees could be off work for weeks.

Experts say a reasonable worst case would be that between 50%-80 of people could be infected with the virus, closing workplaces and sending employees home.

And charites are being warned to make sure their contingency plans are up to date.

Third sector legal expert Lindsays is working with a number of organisations to help them prepare - and warning that this must be done without delay.

Kate Wyatt, partner at Lindsays, said: “We’re seeing some worrying signs surrounding lack of forward thinking which could cause issues in the medium to long term. No-one can afford to put their head in the sand on this and think they won’t be affected.

“It’s clear that every organisation - of every size - needs to prepare for a worst-case scenario, including staff being infected, others going into self-isolation and the prospect that they may have to close the doors of their buildings, to employees and clients. Even if things do not develop to the most extreme of predictions, disruption is inevitable. But no-one wants that disruption to be catastrophic.”

She advises that to avoid confusion and risk problems both from a health and legal perspective, it’s important that organisations act now. They need to plan for dealing with illness, or fears of infection and employees must know what the policies are and the impact of them, from remote working to pay.

“Clarity is critical", said Wyatt. “No-one wants to risk an employee coming to work and potentially infecting others.

“The legal requirements on employers, however, are different depending on the scenario. A consistent approach will be vital as the number of cases rise.”

Government advice on the approach to employees who are absent because they have been medically advised to self-isolate on return from an at-risk country or after contact with an infected person, is to flex usual rules and treat - and pay them - as if they are sick.  

But the obligations on employers who ask staff who haven’t been so advised to stay away from the workplace are different.

Wyatt added: “If you instruct employees to stay off work they will generally be entitled to be paid as usual. Similarly, if the workplace is closed down and no provision is made for lay-off or short-term working in contracts of employment, staff should be paid.”

Staff are also entitled to a reasonable amount of unpaid time off to deal with emergencies involving dependants which might include school closures or sick relatives.

Employers should also make allowance for the fact that fit notes may be difficult to obtain because of NHS advice for people with symptoms of coronavirus to stay away from GP surgeries.

Concerns from people worried about going into work but otherwise well, should be treated sympathetically, with possibilities such as flexible working or unpaid leave explored.

On a practical level, businesses are encouraged to follow hygiene advice issued by the NHS and Government, including restrictions on work-based travel.