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How can employers help with adapting to COVID-19?

The spread of COVID-19 (coronavirus) put the world and the world of work on its head. What can HR do to ensure the safety of their workers?

The spread of COVID-19, commonly referred to as the coronavirus, is an exceptional event that has become a public and workplace priority around the world, not just while a high number of infections are reported but also in regards to how a safe return to work can be ensured. Employers will be called on to take every possible action to protect workers while maintaining business operations.

Organisational responsibility:

Employees’ health, safety and well-being during a global health emergency like COVID-19 should be paramount for organisations and their leaders. Employers have a duty of care for the health and safety of their people, and to provide a safe place to work. There is also a strong moral responsibility to ensure that employees feel safe and secure in their employment. Employers need to be proactive to protect their people and minimise the risk of the virus spreading.

Leaders should work with the key functions of their organisations, including HR to:

  • Keep up to date and follow official medical advice as it’s updated. Reassure employees if they have concerns, and keep them well informed about your organisation’s policies and contingency plans, particularly in relation to the specific guidelines for employees who have returned from affected areas, or have been in contact with an infected person or with an individual who has returned from affected areas. Everyone, including managers, must understand which sick pay and leave policies apply and how these will be implemented. Actively communicate this advice with your people, customers and suppliers.
  • Create an internal communication strategy so that employees are aware of measures being taken to manage the situation in your organisation. Understand that some people may have real concerns about catching the virus, while others may have worries about family or friends stranded in, or returning from, an affected area. It’s important to strike the balance between ensuring everyone is prepared for the spread of the virus whilst reassuring people that there is no need to panic. Ensure that line managers are regularly informed about the organisation’s contingency plans and how they should discuss the situation with any concerned employees. They should also be aware where to signpost people to for further advice or support, including employee assistance programmes and/or counselling if they are anxious.
  • Promote resources you have available to support people’s health and well-being.
  • Be prepared to increase the level of support you provide to staff and adjust your resourcing plans accordingly. Keep in mind anyone who may be more vulnerable due to a pre-existing health condition, or disability, age, or pregnancy, and be aware of the additional duties you have as an employer to these specific groups of employees.

The CIPD is urging businesses to ensure they can meet three key tests before bringing their people back to the workplace:

  • Is it essential? If people can continue to work from home they must continue to do that for the foreseeable future. If they cannot work from home, is their work deemed essential or could the business continue to use schemes such as the Government’s Job Retention Scheme (in the UK) for longer, giving them the time needed to put safety measures and clear employee guidance and consultation in place?
  • Is it sufficiently safe? Employers have a duty of care to identify and manage risks to ensure that the workplace is sufficiently safe to return to. Employers should take their time with gradual returns to work to test health and safety measures in practice and ensure they can work with larger numbers before encouraging more of their workforce back.
  • Is it mutually agreed? It’s vital that there is a clear dialogue between employers and their people so concerns, such as commuting by public transport, can be raised and individuals needs and worries taken into account. There will need to be flexibility on both sides to accommodate different working times or schedules as ways of managing some of these issues.

Further free CIPD resources can be found on the CIPD website including recordings of our regular webinars.

Further free resources on returning to the workplace can also be found on the CIPD website.

In Week 3 of this course, we will also look at responsibilities and actions that can be taken to support employees during the COVID-19 outbreak.


How is your organisation dealing with this new situation? What has been done that you find has been very useful and has worked well?

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