Priority 1 : Looking after your employees

COVID-19 Coronavirus

Written by Glenn Elliott

Last published at: November 11th, 2020

The health, safety and wellbeing of your employees is naturally the first priority for you and us.

What is the risk to employees?

For 80% of cases, symptoms are mild and it is now thought that one third of people get no symptoms at all.

But for 20% of people the illness is significant and this includes people that are under 60 and who have no underlying health conditions.

Data from the New York outbreak shows that around 20% of hospitalisations are for people aged 20 to 50. The average time in hospital is around 15 days.

  • About 14% of cases develop severe symptoms (including pneumonia or shortness of breath). This category of cases will require medical care in a hospital, but probably not intensive care.
  • About 6% develop critical symptoms (shock, respiratory failure, etc).  This category of cases will require care in an ICU or similar.

How does COVID-19 differ from seasonal flu?

COVID-19 is not like seasonal flu. It differs in three key ways:

  • COVID-19 spreads much more quickly than seasonal flu as no one has existing immunity. This means the number of people infected at any one time can be high
  • COVID-19 infection requires hospital treatment in around 5% of cases which is very much higher than seasonal flu. This is why it is overwhelming heath systems around the world and causing governments to build emergency temporary hospitals.
  • COVID-19 has a 10x high death rate compared to seasonal flu and whilst deaths are predominantly in older people they are not exclusive older people. That is what is causing governments in affected cities to have to build temporary morgues.

We won't know the exact death rate from COVID-19 until the pandemic is over, but the hospitalisation rate is as much a cause of great concern today.

Risk of loss of life

The risk of loss of life across all people is estimated by WHO at around 2% but this number varies widely between groups in the population.

People aged 70-79 have an 8% chance of death and people aged 80+ have between a 15 and 22% chance of death. Many of your staff may be worried about older relatives.

Within your workforce the risk of death increases for people with certain pre-existing heath conditions. The table below shows the risk of someone dying if they have each of the following conditions.

Asthma is a chronic respiratory disease:


Some things to consider :

  • Identify higher risk staff.
    WHO analysis shows that the people must at risk of serious complications and loss of life are those with pre-existing health conditions. You should identify staff who have pre-existing conditions shown above and prioritise their health first. Can they work from home or otherwise reduce contact with people? Could you make them aware of the additional risk they have and make sure they understand how to protect themselves.

  • Acknowledge mental health and stress
    With constant reporting and hour by hour updates on COVID-19 in the media, including some misinformation on social media, many staff will be concerned, afraid and could be suffering from anxiety.

    The WHO has a useful PDF (see below) that you can download, email or print for staff to help with COVID-19 stress and anxiety. If you have an Employee Assistance Programme they will also likely have geared up to help and may have additional resources. 

    See our articles and templates on Communicating with employees and keep communication regular, honest and factual. A key way to reduce stress is to share factual, science based, non sensationalised content from trusted sources like BBC, WHO, NHS and Gov.UK.

  • Review your sick pay terms and process
    A key way to minimise the spread of the virus and therefore the impact on other staff, customers and your business is to endure any staff who could be ill stay at home and immediately self quarantine for 14 days. You should review your sick pay terms and consider if they support this or could encourage staff to stay working when ill. You may wish to change terms or introduce a temporary change. 

    On 4th March, the government announced that statutory sick pay will be paid from the first day off work, not the fourth, to encourage people to self isolate. If you rely on SSP you should ensure that your staff know this.

    Also consider making sure everyone understands sick pay terms.

  • Ensure staff have practical guidance on how to reduce their chance of being infected.
    Washing hands carefully is a key way to reduce virus transmission, as is social distancing.

    Make sure that bathrooms have good supplies of soap and have alcohol base hand sanitiser at entry points and other gathering points in the office. Sanitisers with alcohol content of 60% and above are effective against COVID-19.

    The WHO has produced a series of videos that may be helpful here.

  • Be a visible leader and communicate regularly
    Fear always fills a vacuum so keep talking to and listening to your staff. Being visible, accessible and available will reduce stress and anxiety and will encourage staff to share concerns and ideas about how you can protect each other and the business.

PDF poster from WHO on COVID-19 anxiety

https://www.who.int/docs/default-source/coronaviruse/coping-with-stress.pdf