How should I communicate with staff about COVID-19?
Many staff will be concerned about the impact of the outbreak on them, their families and friends and their work. Regular communication will be essential and should be a strategic priority.
If the communication is to be done electronically, employers should think about which employees will have access to email or mobile devices on a day to day basis, and if employers are using the employees' personal contact details, they need to make sure these are kept up to date.
If the employer has staff who do not speak English fluently, then it should consider how it will communicate with these employees to ensure that they are not disadvantaged.
It's important to ensure that staff who are off sick or on leave receive relevant communications (although employers should consider what is relevant and discuss with staff on maternity/adoption/paternity leave or long-term sick leave how best to manage this).
Employers should ensure they have identified who is the key contact responsible for monitoring developments and employee communication, and who is responsible for assessing risks as the COVID-19 outbreak develops.
What should I communicate with staff about?
Communications will include updates regarding the workplace and COVID-19 exposure, such as advice on travel arrangements, recommended hygiene practices and updates on government advice around the virus. Businesses which need to implement costs-saving measures such as furlough, lay-offs or redundancies will need to ensure that these proposals are communicated clearly, sensitively and (as far as possible) in line with legal requirements.
How can I support my staff's wellbeing during this period?
Whether furloughed, working from home, attending work or on sick leave/self-isolation, many staff will be under significant stress at present. Juggling childcare and work, dealing with financial strain and coping with the isolation of lockdown all take their toll. Some staff will be extremely busy, others worried about lack of work.
Employers cannot alleviate all of this but should do what they can to support staff under these difficult circumstances. Simple advice to home-workers about keeping active, eating healthily and avoiding neck and back strain while working at home is useful. Employers should also support employees' mental wellbeing by recommending regular small breaks from work and techniques to reduce anxiety, as well as encouraging staff to keep in touch with each other to reduce feelings of isolation. Employers can also help to reduce stress by communicating promptly and clearly, to avoid rumours spreading about their intentions.
What are my health and safety obligations to staff?
Employers have a responsibility to provide a safe work environment, as far as is reasonably practicable, and to conduct risk assessments generally (and specifically for pregnant workers).
In line with government requirements, all staff who can work from home should do so.
For staff who cannot work from home, a safe work environment now include the adequate provision of hand sanitiser, washing facilities and regularly cleaned, sanitary public spaces and lavatories. It is sensible to publicise health recommendations concerning handwashing, catching coughs and sneezes and use of hand sanitiser. Working arrangements should be adjusted to ensure that social distancing rules can be followed.
Any equipment provided to employees for use remotely or at home should be thoroughly checked for health and safety compliance and employers are required to carry out a risk assessment of an employee's home / remote working set up.
What are my duties concerning harassment and discrimination?
There are reports of racist incidents apparently linked to the COVID-19 outbreak. Employers must take swift action (including disciplinary proceedings) if any such incidents take place at work or work-related social events; and should remind employees of their Equal Opportunities and Anti-Harassment policies.