Many people are concerned about the novel coronavirus that originated in Wuhan, China and has since spread to countries as diverse as Australia, Canada and closer to home France, Germany and Italy. 
As coronavirus has gained increasing media coverage and with 8 cases reported in the UK at the time of writing, we want to help you understand how best to manage the risks involved and any impact that business or personal travel may have on your employees. 
 
Travelling to areas at high risk of coronavirus 
 
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has now advised against all travel to Hubei Province (home to Wuhan) and only essential journeys to the rest of mainland China. As many airlines including British Airways and Virgin Atlantic have suspended all flights to China, it is unlikely that your employees will be flying there in the coming days. The same advice is given for parts of Malaysia, while many countries in the region are stopping entry for anyone who has been in China within the last 14 days. These include Thailand, The Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan and Vietnam. 
It is therefore essential that you do not insist on any travel to the region at this time. For more advice, go to the FCO Travel page. 
 
Employees returning from areas affected by the coronavirus 
 
The fact that an employee has returned from an area that has recorded multiple incidents of coronavirus should not cause panic in your organisation. There is no legal requirement to impose a precautionary suspension on a returning employee who displays no virus symptoms. It is also important that you do not give in to pressure from other employees to suspend the returning colleague from the workplace. 
If a returning employee does show symptoms of potential exposure (fever, breathing difficulties, kidney and liver problems), they should be referred to their GP immediately and if diagnosed as symptomatic, certified as unfit for work and managed by your usual company sickness policy. If any other employees have come into contact with an employee with symptoms, they should be advised of the symptoms and advised to contact their GP. 
 
If an employee is not declared unfit for work but you are still concerned, you may consider a brief suspension for precautionary purposes. 
Does an employer have to pay an employee suspended as a precaution against coronavirus? 
You will need to suspend an employee on full pay unless your Contract of Employment specifically gives you the right to do so for this reason without pay. A precautionary suspension cannot be considered a ‘medical suspension’. 
 
Can an employee refuse to come to work due to coronavirus concerns? 
 
It is, of course, your duty as an employer to ensure the health and safety of your employees. If you have taken the necessary measures (e.g. following Government and Public Health advice) in your company to ensure the risks of virus outbreak have been controlled and minimised, it is reasonable for you to expect all of your staff to come to work when contracted to do so. Unless an employee has a valid basis not to attend, they can be considered in breach of contract and you have a legal right to ask them to come to work. It is worth considering, however, that in a time of heightened concerns, you will benefit from a more flexible approach and find ways of helping concerned employees work from home where possible. 
Can you insist on an employee seeing a doctor about possible coronavirus symptoms? 
As your obligations are to the health and safety of all of your employees, it is fair and reasonable to insist that an employee displaying possible symptoms does visit their GP. This may also be covered in your Contract of Employment, thus providing contractual grounds to do so. 
 
Cancelling annual leave due to coronavirus 
 
It is quite possible that employees have booked holidays that you have approved, to a country affected by the outbreak of coronavirus. It is important that you provide the necessary flexibility to accept cancellation requests at short notice to avoid your employees not feeling pressured to taking those holidays in risk areas. 
 
Should employees take any additional precautions against coronavirus? 
 
There are good practices that apply to all virus outbreaks that you can advise your staff to follow.  
These are as follows -  
Employees should wash hands regularly with either alcohol-based handwashes or soap and water and then dry hands thoroughly with paper towels or dryers. If you do not already do so, you should provide handwash dispensers around your offices. 
 
Employees with coughs should ensure they cover their mouths, preferably with a tissue or piece of clothing, maintain a distance from others when coughing and wash hands thoroughly as above after a coughing episode. 
 
Further advice and information: 
More information from CIPD can be found here  
 
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