The following guidelines are confirmed by acas: Swine flu is a worldwide concern, which has already affected most workplaces. Whether you are an employer or employee, it’s important to know what your role is and how you can help manage your own concerns, as well as those of staff and colleagues, while keeping your business running. This page contains a list of the most important things to consider when managing the impact of a pandemic on a business, as well answering some of the questions you might have about a range of related issues.
Key points to remember
- Be flexible
A more flexible approach to matters such as working hours and location may be effective as long as they are properly considered in advance and all necessary procedures are put in place in good time.
- Use information technology
Information technology could be useful in enabling a business to run effectively if many employees are absent from work.
- Deal with issues fairly
Even if businesses are damaged by the effects of a pandemic they should still ensure that any measures they take are carried out according to proper and fair procedure. This will help maintain good employment relations and help prevent complaints to employment tribunals.
Consultation Communicating and consulting with employees is essential if you are to deal effectively with important issues. Whatever the size or type of organisation people need to talk to each other; exchange views and ideas; issue and receive instructions; discuss problems and consider developments. Communicating and consulting about swine flu is no different. You will need to talk to and consult with your employees and their trade unions or other employee representatives.
Contingency planning The main problem that many businesses will face, if the epidemic starts to spread, is the threat of high levels of absence. Organisations should try to plan for this as far as possible to minimise the possible impact. You may want to consider:
- alternative patterns, hours and locations of working, in order to keep the maximum number of staff ‘at work’ (see more on this below)
- an audit of transferable skill levels of staff to see if those fit to work ‘fit’ staff can be moved to alternative jobs during high absence periods (consultation with staff and trade unions is key in this process)
- agreeing an increase in the hours of those ‘fit’ staff fit to work to ensure core work is covered (be aware of Working Time Regulations)
- a review of IT systems to see how far they could support increased numbers of staff working from home and other locations
- alternative ways of communicating, in order to limit face-to-face contact, for example, increased use of video and telephone conferencing, webcams, virtual conferencing, messenger discussions
- minimum thresholds of staff (and/or customers) to keep the organisation open – closure for a period of time may be the most feasible option
- alternative forms of transport or car parking if major transport links were suspended.
Alternative patterns of working Alternative patterns and locations of working that you may wish to consider include:
- flexible working to offer staff increased flexibility to manage their time and external pressures
- parental leave in order to look after children who are infected
- special leave
- time off for dependants – employees are legally entitled to unpaid time off to make alternative arrangements for the care of dependants
- home working to help prevent the spread of infection, and to assist with caring issues (remember IT systems will need to support it)
- alternative working locations if a particular office needs to be closed.
Absence management and return to work It is important to create a culture where people are able to inform their employer that they are unwell and take the necessary time off to recover. Employers should communicate NHS guidance to staff and ensure it is followed to try to prevent the spread of the pandemic as far as possible. If staff do require time off, agree with them how the absence will be recorded, and whether it will be paid or unpaid. If your organisation currently offers enhanced contractual sick pay, this may need to be reviewed (in consultation with staff) in the event of massive levels of sickness absence. Employers could risk legal proceedings if they were to impose such a change, although it would be open to the employer to justify it on business grounds. It would be wise to seek legal advice before taking such a step. Current guidance is for individuals not to visit a GP, so self-certification will be the basis for most absence. Under Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) rules an employer is entitled to ask for reasonable evidence of the employee’s incapacity for work, but can’t require an employee to provide a doctor’s certificate for the first seven days of sickness. If the absence goes beyond the self-certification period, but a GP statement is still not available, other forms of evidence are equally acceptable under SSP. These will need to be discussed between the employer and employee. Be aware that staff may wish to return to work as soon as possible, particularly if they are on SSP, but communicate with them to ensure that they are no longer infectious to prevent further spreading of the disease.
Duty of care Employers have a duty of care to their employees and must take steps which are reasonably necessary to ensure the safety of their employees. Many of the requirements under this duty have been mentioned already, such as hygiene precautions and contingency planning to minimise the effects of swine flu, but employers may wish to consider more specific risk assessments for the workplace, and individual staff. In particular employers should consider the potential effects on:
- pregnant employees
- employees with existing medical conditions
- employees with disabilities.
Symptoms Patients with swine flu typically have a fever or a high temperature (over 38°C / 100.4°F) and two or more of the following symptoms:
- unusual tiredness,
- runny nose,
- sore throat,
- shortness of breath or cough,
- loss of appetite,
- aching muscles,
- diarrhoea or vomiting
Call your GP if:
- you have a serious underlying (existing)illness,
- you’re pregnant,
- you have a sick child under one year old,
- your condition suddenly gets much worse, or
- your condition is still getting worse after seven days (five for a child).
For people who do not have internet access, theNational Pandemic Flu Service can be accessed by phone on: Telephone: 0800 1 513 100
Minicom: 0800 1 513 200