The Government is to promote more homeworking in recommendations announced today on how to deal with the coronavirus.
Emergency measures including more home working are included in a six-point plan to tackle coronavirus that will be announced today.
Under a ‘social distancing’ strategy aimed at delaying the peak of the outbreak until the summer months, workers who can do their jobs from home will be advised to do so and others will be told to avoid all ‘unnecessary’ travel.
It is also reported that some employers are banning hot-desking over coronavirus fears and other firms are enforcing a “handshake ban” and have advised sales staff to seal deals with a nod of the head.
At some companies workers have been issued with “zero tolerance” orders to stay at home if they feel unwell.
In addition, school closures in response to the coronavirus outbreak mean a growing number of parents have had to take time off or work from home.
Unions have expressed concern that workers may be left in dire financial circumstances if they take time off.
GMB says the Government must use existing powers to make sure all workers get full sick pay to try and halt the spread of the coronavirus. It adds that current statutory sick pay arrangements for frontline staff mean they don’t get paid for the first three days of sickness – and then get just £94 a week after that.
Nadine Houghton, GMB National Officer, said: “Leaving low paid workers with the choice of either losing their wages or coming into work despite suspected COVID-19 infections is a serious public health crisis.
“The Government could solve this today by forcing employers to pay full sick pay from day one – and offering financial assistance to smaller companies where required.”
And Unison’s eneral secretary Dave Prentis has written to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Thérèse Coffey asking her to amend the rules so employers have to recognise the time off as sick leave and provide wages for workers from day one.
He also asks employers to pay workers regardless of how much they earn or their type of job contract. The union is concerned that zero-hours staff who should be self-isolating will go into work out of fear they will be denied their earnings. They include social care staff supporting some of the most vulnerable people in society, including the elderly and sick who are most at risk if they become infected.
Official guidance from the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) states that employers are not required to pay workers if they are forced to take time off in such circumstances, but it has urged employers to be accommodating because staff who keep working “could spread the virus if they have it”.
The Government has also said that children to staffing ratios in nursery settings may have to be relaxed if the virus reaches pandemic levels. The Early Years Alliance said it understood the virus warranted unprecedented action, but added that it hoped any change was well thought through. Neil Leitch, the Alliance’s chief executive, said: “We hope any decisions made in this regard will be considered and well-thought-out, and not simply a knee-jerk reaction that ignores the specific care needs and requirements of very young children.”