COVID-19: Protecting your staff and business

As the number of UK individuals affected by COVID-19 continues to rise, business owners are faced with an unprecedented challenge of protecting staff and minimising the impact to sales. Here are some top tips to help you navigate these challenging times.

As the number of UK individuals affected by COVID-19 continues to rise, business owners are faced with an unprecedented challenge of protecting staff and minimising the impact to sales. Here are some top tips to help you navigate these challenging times.

The WHO have declared COVID-19 – commonly referred to as coronavirus – a global pandemic. As the number of cases continue to rise, it’s important we all make small changes to our daily lives to help reduce the spread.

As individuals, it’s our responsibility to monitor the situation and ensure we are doing everything we can to protect ourselves and others. But it’s equally, if not more, important that businesses remain vigilant and have plans in place to best support their staff during these challenging times.

Here are some simple steps businesses can take to follow good practice and maintain a level of agility, as the situation continues to evolve. 

How to protect your workforce

Employers have a statutory duty of care to ensure their staff are safe and well-supported, but when unique situations like pandemics arise, protecting your workforce might feel like an impossible task. 

Reassure staff that their health and well-being is your top priority. Communicate your plans to ensure the business is taking the situation seriously and continue to evaluate and update your strategies on a regular basis. 

You might be wondering what these plans look like in practice. Here are some suggestions that can be easily implemented at a relatively low cost:

  • Improve sanitation – Reduce the risk of infection by supplying hand sanitizer gels (must have a minimum of 60% alcohol), and anti-bacterial wipes to wipe down workspaces and keyboards. Increase the frequency of office cleaning. Ensure the toilets are well-stocked with soap and consider a deep clean. Use the CIPD workplace poster to communicate the importance of personal hygiene. 
  • Conduct an employee survey – Evaluate your employees’ needs to help establish those who are most vulnerable. Individuals who have existing health conditions, are pregnant or provide care might need to take extra precautions or self-isolate according to the latest government advice. The survey results will help to identify individuals who are most at risk.  
  • Offer homeworking where possible – Based on the latest Government advice you should begin to plan for widespread homeworking and investigate the technology and equipment that may be necessary to support this. Make laptops available for staff if you can. Encourage team working and meetings through video conferencing. Make sure there’s the right IT support in place for people to access. You can access a homeworking questionnaire and top tips for remote working on the CIPD Coronavirus hub (https://www.cipd.co.uk/news-views/coronavirus).
  • Update staff regularly – Communication is vital. As the situation progresses, your staff will inevitably have questions. Ensure you communicate your short and long-term plans to minimise stress and panic among the workforce. 
  • Check in on staff well-being and mental health – Keep checking in on people’s workloads and stress levels. Signpost employees to further advice or support and consider providing counselling for those who are particularly anxious. 

How to protect your business 

Despite the ambiguity that surrounds the new illness, one thing is certain – businesses need to act now and put plans in place for any number of outcomes. 

Amid a global health crisis, creating a business contingency plan might be the last thing you want to do. However, the earlier you plan for ‘worst-case scenario’ (e.g. staff absences; reduced sales; supply chain disruptions), the smaller the risk will be to your business in the long run. 

You should prepare for a range of eventualities regarding the business impact of the virus. The plan can be as small or detailed as you like – but it’s important you come up with solutions for each potential risk. 

Some example business solutions are as follows: 

  • Pandemic team – appoint a pandemic coordinator or a team of employees to keep on top of the latest news and official advice. They should then communicate any important developments to senior staff.
  • Stagger shifts – this may be harder for smaller businesses, but consider having A and B teams (with a combination of skills) that can alternate shifts, to reduce the number of staff working each day. Identify employees with transferable skills that can be used for cover, if staff become ill or have to self-quarantine.
  • Home working – Can your employees carry out their usual tasks from home? Are there flexible working strategies your business can adopt to enable home working? Use the resources on the CIPD Coronavirus hub around remote working to help.

At this stage, it’s impossible to predict how long businesses and individuals will be affected by COVID-19. As more cases emerge, we are discovering new information about the virus that will help us better understand its scope and overall impact.

Due to the nature of COVID-19, information and advice from Government can change quickly. For the latest information please visit the UK Government website, the Scottish Government website, the Welsh Government website or the Northern Irish Government website.

Help and financial support for small businesses

The government has now announced a range of measures to support businesses during this unprecedented time. These include:

  • The option for businesses with fewer than 250 employees to reclaim Statutory Sick Pay paid for sickness due to Coronavirus
  • a Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme
  • deferring VAT and Income Tax payments
  • a 12-month business rates holiday for all retail, hospitality, leisure and nursery businesses in England
  • a £10,000 cash grant, delivered by local authorities for businesses that pay little or no business rates and are eligible for small business rate relief (SBBR) or rural rate relief. These businesses will be contacted by their local authority - they do not need to apply. The funding will be provided to local authorities in early April. Guidance for local authorities on the scheme will be provided shortly.
  • grant funding of £25,000 for retail, hospitality and leisure businesses with property with a rateable value between £15,000 and £51,000
  • the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme offering loans of up to £5 million for SMEs through the British Business Bank
  • a new lending facility from the Bank of England to help support liquidity among larger firms, helping them bridge coronavirus disruption to their cash flows through loans
  • the HMRC Time To Pay Scheme

Information on these support measures is available on the Government website.

A dedicated helpline has also been set up to help businesses and self-employed individuals in financial distress and with outstanding tax liabilities receive support with their tax affairs. Through this, businesses may be able to agree a bespoke Time to Pay arrangement. If you are concerned about being able to pay your tax due to COVID-19, call HMRC’s dedicated helpline on 0800 0159 559.

More information and guidance can be found in the following resources:

The CIPD Coronavirus Factsheet 

The CIPD Coronavirus FAQs 

Coronavirus: support materials page.

Guidance to employers and businesses - HMRC

Guidance for employers, employees and businesses - Gov.uk

NHS Coronavirus overview

UK Government Coronavirus latest information and advice

FSB 

Author: Natalie Baker


Explore related resources

These areas of the People Skills Hub will help you to address some of the issues covered in this blog: 

  • Flexible working: find out what you need to know about handling requests for flexible working
  • Family leave: learn about how to manage employees going on maternity, paternity, adoption or shared parental leave
  • Team building: guidance on how to build and develop your team
Top