Managing your employees through the COVID-19 crisis

March 16, 2020

Until the government imposes further lockdown conditions, you need to carry out regular risk assessments based on the working conditions in your premises, whether any of your employees are suspected or confirmed as having the Coronavirus, and whether home working is a real option. Identify your ‘core’ workers without whom the business cannot function, and plan for carrying on minimum functionality in a full lockdown situation.

Considerations around remote working

You may feel it’s the responsible thing to do straight away, or you may be waiting for the government to issue a blanket proclamation – but at some point it looks like everyone who possibly can will be asked to work from home in the very near future. Whilst some businesses are set up to cater for at least some remote working, if you’ve never had to make provision for some or all of your staff to work remotely before, there a few things to think about.

First, you need to make sure employees who will remote work are provided with either company IT equipment, or are given secure access to your business IT architecture via their home computers using tools such as Citrix. This is absolutely necessary to protect against the breach of third party confidentiality obligations, the compromising of your business’ own trade secrets (through e.g. malware or other unauthorised access), or breach of the GDPR- under which you’re required to maintain appropriate security measures. Where your business deals with sensitive personal data such as healthcare records, you may need to think about quickly putting some additional protocols in place around remote handling and access of such data.

Second, it’s important to bear in mind that even when employees are remote working, you still have a legal duty to protect their health, safety and welfare. Whilst most remote working will be low risk, you still need to carry out a risk assessment to ensure any potential issues are mitigated adequately. The Health and Safety Executive has some useful guidance here.

Finally, you need to set clear expectations – will there be core hours where you expect people to be always available? If people are looking after children, they may want to work in the evenings rather than during the day – again, communication and flexibility are key.

Sick pay

It looks like there’s going to be a considerable number of people who are going to get ill with the Coronavirus, or who are going to have to care for sick family members or children whose schools have closed. Both employer and employee are going to have to be flexible and constructive, so dialogue will be vital.

In terms of sick pay, your employment contracts may have sick pay provisions, which you’ll need to comply with. Additionally, UK statutory sick pay (SSP) is a legal minimum amount of sick pay (currently £94.25 per week) available to all employees who earn more than £118 per week. After changes announced in the recent UK government Budget, SSP for Coronavirus will be handled differently to normal SSP – employees will be eligible from day 1 rather than day 4, and will be eligible not only if they are sick, but are told to stay home on government advice (e.g. if a family member is showing symptoms). You should accept that those who self-isolate with symptoms may not be able to obtain a doctor’s note, under the current circumstances.

Helpfully, the UK government also announced that small businesses with fewer than 250 employees will be able to reclaim the SSP they have to pay out for Coronavirus, for up to 2 weeks per employee.

All of these changes to SSP are still being finalised, but will apply retroactively from 13 March 2020, so you should comply with them now, and keep an eye out for further announcements from the Department of Work and Pensions.


Whilst of course everyone hopes things return to normal as soon as possible, it’s inevitable that there will be some economic headwinds and cash flow disruption to deal with as the pandemic sweeps through the UK and the wider world. If your business is so badly affected that you need to think about reducing employee numbers, at least in the short term, you need to carefully consider what action you take.

If things get so bad you feel you need to make redundancies, this is a very delicate situation which must be managed well to avoid any future claims for unfair dismissal. If you find your business in this position, you should seek legal advice as soon as possible, as there are stringent required periods of consultation and selection procedures which must be followed.

Our employment lawyers are experts in making the world of work, work for you. Find out more about our employment law offering here.

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