With daily updates from the Government regarding the coronavirus, we have put together guidance for both businesses and individuals to help mitigate risk and avoid disruption.
Where can I find information?
The Government publishes daily updates which you can find via this link. It is worth keeping a close eye on these as the situation is evolving quickly.
Acas has also published a useful specific workplace guide, which you can find here.
What should your business be thinking about?
The full answer to this question depends on your particular circumstances and the risk profile of the business. However, as a minimum, you need to monitor the position and treat the duty of care you owe to protect the health and safety of your staff as paramount. This applies in the workplace but also where remote working is implemented. You should communicate regularly with staff to inform them of the steps being taken and to reassure them that contingency plans are in place.
You should encourage staff to be cautious and ensure they are following best practice hygiene requirements (e.g. washing hands, disposing of tissues and using antiseptic wipes and hand gels etc). You may also want to designate an isolation room and introduce clear protocols on what to do should someone feel unwell or has returned from (or is intending to visit) a high risk area. Although the Government has not yet made this mandatory, you may want to consider appropriate restrictions on non-essential travel and on attending large meetings or public events.
We would also recommend planning for how you would treat staff that are isolated or self-isolating in terms of pay and the practicalities of remote working. Similarly, consider your position if a member of staff does not want to attend work or an event due to fear of catching the virus, or who cannot attend work as their child’s school has been closed.
The key is to strike the right balance between being vigilant and prepared, and keeping the business running as effectively as possible.
It’s time to revisit your disaster recovery plan. The Government has indicated that it could take two to three months for the epidemic to reach peak level and then a further two to three months to come to an end. The Government is also currently recommending that a ‘reasonable worst case scenario’ is to plan for one fifth of the total workforce being ill.
Given the potential long-term effects of the coronavirus breakout, consider how you would keep staff updated with developments and also how you’ll keep them motivated and performing consistently. You should assess whether your supply chain is robust, or at least ensure you can secure access to critical items. We recommend discussing contingency planning with key suppliers and customers as soon as possible.
One might hope that businesses will work collaboratively to address any significant impacts of the epidemic, but there may come a time when each business has to look strictly to its own position to protect itself.
If your contracts of supply or purchase are at risk of disruption, you should review their detailed terms to assess where liability may lie and who has to bear the cost of the disruption. You should also check if each contract has a ‘force majeure’ clause and, if so at what stage the outbreak may constitute ‘force majeure’ i.e. a circumstance or event beyond either party’s reasonable control, meaning a party cannot meet one or more of its contractual obligations. This will come down to the drafting of the particular force majeure clause in each contract. It is also important to consider any contractual notice provisions when serving notice of a force majeure event.
Whether you’re in occupancy of business premises or are letting them out, it would be sensible to review the terms of your leases and other property documents and to discuss with your landlords or tenants how best to manage the current situation to minimise risk and what would happen if the building had to be closed.
Now is also a good time to review what insurances you hold, such as business interruption, and obtain confirmation from your insurers on your level of cover and any important exclusions. UK Government has helpfully confirmed that it will designate coronavirus as a notifiable disease in England. This is a requirement for most insurance policies. It’s also essential you confirm with your insurers what actions you need to be taking to ensure any cover remains valid and how to notify them in the event of a claim.
We are keeping a close eye on the situation ourselves and can assist with any legal questions you may have. We can also help you prepare a robust disaster recovery plan, so please do not hesitate to get in touch should you require any assistance.