FAQs for businesses and employers on COVID-19

The Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy and Public Health England has released the following information for business about COVID-19, more commonly known as Coronavirus.

The official guidance can be used by business/employers to advise staff on the following areas:

  • Information about the novel coronavirus, COVID-19
  • The signs and symptoms of COVID-19
  • How to prevent the spread of COVID-19
  • What to do if an employee becomes unwell and may have contracted COVID-19
  • Certifying absence from work

Please find below some of the most frequently asked questions. 

To read the guidance in full, please click here.

What are the signs and symptoms of COVID-19?

The following symptoms may develop in the 14 days after exposure to someone who has COVID-19 infection.

  • cough
  • difficulty in breathing
  • fever

Generally, these infections can cause more severe symptoms in people with weakened immune systems, older people, and those with long-term conditions like diabetes, cancer and chronic lung disease.

How can business help prevent the spread of infection?

Share the following advice from Public Health England (PHE) with all employees:

  • cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when you cough or sneeze. See Catch it, Bin it, Kill it
  • put used tissues in the bin straight away
  • wash your hands with soap and water often – use hand sanitiser gel if soap and water are not available. 
  • try to avoid close contact with people who are unwell
  • clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces
  • do not touch your eyes, nose or mouth if your hands are not clean

If you are worried about an employee’s symptoms, ask them to call NHS 111. They should not go directly to their GP or other healthcare environment.

Advice is in place for what to do if someone has returned to the UK in the last 14 days from specified countries or areas which is being updated on an ongoing bases.

Further information is available on the PHE blog and NHS.UK.

What should businesses do if an employee becomes unwell?

If the person has not been to specified areas with implications for returning travellers in the last 14 days, then normal practice should continue.

If someone becomes unwell in the workplace and has travelled to China or other affected countries, the unwell person should be removed to an area which is at least two metres away from other people. If possible find a room or area where they can be isolated behind a closed door, such as a staff office. If it is possible to open a window, do so for ventilation.

The individual who is unwell should call NHS 111 from their mobile, or 999 if an emergency (if they are seriously ill or injured or their life is at risk) and explain which country they have returned from in the last 14 days and outline their current symptoms.

Whilst they wait for advice from NHS 111 or an ambulance to arrive, they should remain at least two metres from other people. They should avoid touching people, surfaces and objects and be advised to cover their mouth and nose with a disposable tissue when they cough or sneeze and put the tissue in a bag or pocket then throw the tissue in the bin. If they don’t have any tissues available, they should cough and sneeze into the crook of their elbow.

What should businesses do if a member of staff or the public with suspected COVID-19 has recently been in the workplace?

For contacts of a suspected case in the workplace, no restrictions or special control measures are required while laboratory test results for COVID-19 are awaited. In particular, there is no need to close the workplace or send other staff home at this point. Most possible cases turn out to be negative. Therefore, until the outcome of test results is known there is no action that the workplace needs to take.

What should businesses do if a member of staff or the public with confirmed COVID-19 has recently been in the workplace?

Closure of the workplace is not recommended.

The management team of the office or workplace will be contacted by the PHE local Health Protection Team to discuss the vase, identify people who have been in contact with them and advise on any actions or precautions that should be taken.

A risk assessment of each setting will be undertaken by the Health Protection Team with the lead responsible person. Advice on the management of staff and members of the public will be based on this assessment.

The Health Protection team will also be in contact with the case directly to advise on isolation and identifying other contacts and will be in touch with any contacts of the case to provide them with appropriate advice. 

What should businesses do when individuals in the workplace have had contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19?

If a confirmed case is identified in your workplace, the local Health Protection Team will provide the relevant staff with advice. These staff include:

  • any employee in close face-to-face or touching contact
  • talking with or being coughed on for any length of time while the employee was symptomatic
  • anyone who has cleaned up bodily fluids
  • close friendship groups or workgroups
  • any employee living in the same household as a confirmed case

Contacts are not considered cases and if they are well they are very unlikely to have spread the infection to others:

  • those who have had close contact will be asked to self-isolate at home for 14 days from the last time they had contact with the confirmed case and follow the home isolation advice sheet.
  • they will be actively followed up by the Health Protection Team
  • if they develop new symptoms or their existing symptoms worsen within their 14-day observation period they should call NHS 111 for reassessment
  • if they become unwell with cough, fever or shortness of breath they will be tested for COVID-19
  • if they are unwell at any time within their 14-day observation period and they test positive for COVID-19 they will become a confirmed case and will be treat for the infection.

Staff who have not had close contact with the original confirmed case do not need to take any precautions and can continue to attend work.

How do employers manage absence from work?

By law, medical evidence is not required for the first 7 days of sickness. After 7 days, it is for the employer to determine what evidence they require, if any, from the employee. This does not need to be fit note (Med 3 form) issued by a GP or other doctor.

Your employee will be advised to isolate themselves and not to work in contact with other people by NHS 111 or PHE if they are a carrier of, or have been in contact with, an infectious or contagious disease, such as COVID-19.

We strongly suggest that employers use their discretion around the need for medical evidence for a period of absence where an employee is advised to self-isolate due to suspected COVID-19, in accordance with the public health advice being issued by the government.

What is the current advice regarding sick pay?

Government has announced, as part of its emergency legislation measures, to allow the payment of Statutory Sick Pay to those asked to self-isolate. Payments will be made from the very first day employees are sick, instead of four days under the current rules. The change will be a temporary measure to respond to the outbreak and will lapse when it is no longer required. There is a range of support in place for those who do not receive Statutory Sick Pay, including Universal Credit and contributory Employment and Support Allowance

If you have any concerns about your employees coming into contact with COVID-19, please ask them to call NHS 111 for advice.

If a confirmed case of COVID-19 is discovered in your business, follow the official guidance from the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy and Public Health England.