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What should retail employers do if employees cannot work due to coronavirus?

As the country prepares to ease the lockdown and reopen the businesses on our high streets, maintaining business operations safely is still of paramount importance. In this article from The Retail Mutual, we look at the different aspects of a return to work for employees, in particular, what employers should do if members of staff cannot return to work due to coronavirus:

What to do if a member of staff develops coronavirus symptoms

If a member of staff develops coronavirus symptoms, whilst at work, it is their responsibility to inform you immediately and you should then send them home immediately, avoiding the use of public transport.

If a member of staff develops coronavirus symptoms whilst at home, they must not go to work and they should inform you as soon as possible.

If a member of staff is required to self-isolate because someone in their household has coronavirus symptoms or because they have been advised to by NHS Test and Trace due to coming in contact with someone with coronavirus symptoms, they must not go to work.

If any members of staff have come into contact with the employee who has developed symptoms, they will also need to self-isolate.

You can view the latest guidance on self-isolation timescales here.

As an employer, you must not ask an employee who is self-isolating or who has coronavirus symptoms to come to work.

If an employee has developed coronavirus symptoms, you do not need to close but you should carry out a deep clean and follow the strict cleaning guidelines. Your staff will want peace of mind that these measures are in place before returning to the workplace. There are guidelines for working safely during the coronavirus pandemic set out by the Government specifically for people running shops or similar environments.

Supporting staff who need to self-isolate

As an employer, you must support all workers who are sick or in isolation due to coronavirus and not ask them to attend work. It is possible that an employee may have to self-isolate on more than one occasion.

You should pay them Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) while they are in isolation. As they are unable to perform their job roles from home, retail staff are eligible for SSP from day one of the isolation period.

Although not essential, it is good practice to obtain a self-isolation certificate from each employee after every bout of self-isolation. They can obtain this from the NHS website.

What is the Statutory Sick Pay Rebate Scheme?

You will be able to claim back the Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) paid to your employees, current or former, who have been off work due to the virus.

All types of employment contracts are covered by the scheme and include full and part-time employees, those on agency, flexible, zero hour and fixed-term contracts, with the latter applicable up to the date when the contract ends.

The online service is now available, and you will receive the rebate within six working days if your claim is valid.

See more information on the Statutory Sick Pay Rebate scheme

What should you do as an employer if an employee needs time off work to look after someone?

Employees are entitled to have time off work to look after a dependent in the case of an emergency or unexpected event. The dependent does not have to live in the same household. As an employer, there is no statutory requirement to pay them for the time taken off although payment may be offered depending on their contract or the workplace policy. The time taken off work must be deemed reasonable for the situation. However, if a dependent, which could be a child, partner or relative in the same household, develops coronavirus symptoms, they should receive SSP as a minimum.

Click here for more information from ACAS on time off work to look after someone

What is the NHS Test and Trace system?

The NHS Test and Trace system aims to identify, contain and control the virus to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

There are two parts to the service:

Part one – for someone with symptoms of coronavirus

  • Isolate
  • Test
  • Results
  • Share contacts

Anyone who tests positive will be contacted by NHS Test and Trace and asked to share information about people they have recently been in close contact with. This could include members of their household, other people they have been in contact with, and those they have been within two metres of for more than 15 minutes.

Part two – if you are contacted by the NHS Test and Trace service because you have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for coronavirus

  • Alert
  • Isolate
  • Test, if needed

Anyone who has come into contact with an infected person must stay at home, even if they are not displaying any symptoms. If a person starts to show symptoms while self-isolating, they can book a test or call 119.

For more information on how the NHS Test and Trace system works, visit

How to order a test

If you have symptoms, you will need to get a test as soon as possible. Tests are available for everyone including essential workers and employers.

There are many ways that people can be tested:

  • Drive-through regional testing sites
  • Mobile testing units
  • Test kits delivered to your home
  • Hospital-based testing for NHS patients and staff
  • Dedicated testing centres in other care settings (e.g. care homes)

What is contact tracing?

If an employee has been in contact with someone who has coronavirus, they will be contacted by text, email or telephone and told to self-isolate for a number of days. People will need to do this even if they are not displaying any symptoms as it is aimed at stopping the virus from spreading. Communication in the workplace with colleagues is key as well as communication with customers. This could be particularly applicable to businesses such as bridal shops where contact with the clientele can be for longer periods of time.

What is the role of employers in the NHS Test and Trace system?

The NHS Test and Trace system has been established to prevent the virus from re-emerging and employers have a key role to play by making the workplace as safe as possible, encouraging employees to self-isolate if contacted and supporting them once they are in isolation. Although this may appear to be detrimental and disruptive to the running of a business, it is ultimately better than periods in lockdown and an explosion of COVID-19 cases.

Click here for more guidance on the NHS Test and Trace service for employers, businesses and workers

Click here for more information on reopening your shop, including key points for carrying out a risk assessment

How will the retail workplace change and what will be the impact on operating systems?

For many employees, a return to retail after lockdown will be different – a workplace that is not quite as they left it. Staff will have to adjust to new ways of working and interaction with colleagues and customers will not be the same. Communication with your staff and of course your customers is key. You will have to consider more flexible hours for your staff as you try to encourage them to plan safe travel arrangements, avoiding public transport where possible, and potentially accommodate staff who need to self-isolate.

  • Staff rotas will require extra planning
  • Regular handwashing and sanitising routines will have to be incorporated into work shifts
  • Plan how to work around restricted access
  • Social distancing regulations will have to be implemented
  • Advanced cleaning routines will need to be incorporated into the daily schedule
  • Remote systems may need to be used for staff meetings
  • Pair the same people for tasks that are a two-person operation
  • Stagger breaks and lunchtimes – staff should be on their own or outside

Click here for more information on how to prepare to reopen your shop

What can The Retail Mutual do for your business?

This is certainly a difficult and frustrating time for retail business owners and we recognise the difficulties that you may experience with staff being unable to return to the workplace for a number of reasons. The NHS Test and Trace system should help to keep your employees working and prevent the spread of COVID-19.

At The Retail Mutual, we have a comprehensive, dedicated resource hub, which may help to answer recurring questions and contains useful Government information and links and a library of informative articles aimed at helping you navigate your way through this pandemic.

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