There have been more than 30 confirmed coronavirus cases in the UK and fears of its spread mean three major firms have already asked hundreds of staff to work from home as a precaution.
England’s chief medical officer, Professor Chris Whitty, has warned that it is “just a matter of time” before the deadly virus spreads, with potential repercussions including cancelled events, school and work closures, and overloaded hospitals.
So far only oil giant Chevron, Crossrail and media firm OMD – all based in London – have told workers to stay away, despite health authorities claiming such precautions are unnecessary due to the limited nature of the outbreak.
Public Health England (PHE) is advising people to self-isolate only under very specific circumstances. These include anyone waiting for coronavirus test results, anyone who has come into contact with a confirmed infected person, and anyone returning from a country significantly disrupted by the virus.
Instead of sending staff home, PHE recommends that if a workplace has a confirmed case of the virus then they should wait to be contacted by a local Health Protection Team to discuss and determine what measures, if any, should be taken.
The latest government guidelines for anyone who has come in contact with a confirmed case of Covid-19 is to self-isolate at home for 14 days from the last time they had contact with the infected person. The main symptoms of coronavirus Covid-19 are a fever, cough and shortness of breath.
The guidelines state: “If they are unwell at any time within their 14-day observation period and they test positive for Covid-19 they will become a confirmed case and will be treated for the infection.”
What to know about remote working?
Many of those who have been asked to self-isolate can still work from home, presuming they are well enough and can carry out their work remotely.
A reliable internet connection is arguably the most important requirement for working remotely, as well as a backup incase it fails. This could include an adequate data plan on a mobile device that allows you to hotspot an internet connection wirelessly from your phone or tablet.
If connecting to a work server meant only for internal use, it may be necessary to set up a virtual private network (VPN) in order to access it. VPNs and anti-malware software are also advisable for anyone using a WiFi network they do not control, such as in a cafe or co-working space, however this should not be an issue for anyone in quarantine.
Establishing a routine and keeping a dedicated working space are also important when working remotely in order to avoid distractions and maximise efficiency. Time-management apps like RescueTume can help you stick to your schedule and maintain your regular hours.
What are your rights and will you still get paid?
Any staff who have been asked to self-isolate are entitled to take the time as sick leave, according to health secretary Matt Hancock. He added that self-isolation should be considered “sickness for employment purposes”.
How much pay a worker receives will depend on their contract, with most employers offering a certain number of sick days on full pay.
Even if employers do not offer sick pay, workers are entitled to statutory sick pay (SSP) for up to 28 weeks. It amounts to £94.25 per week and is paid from the fourth day of sickness.
Those hardest hit will be anyone who is self-employed or who work in the gig economy, who are not entitled to SSP if they self-isolate. The Department for Work and Pensions has said that anyone deemed a public health risk could claim universal credit or contributory employment and support allowance.
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