How local small businesses can survive the coronavirus pandemic

PUBLISHED: 12:11 04 May 2020

Through the Railings Eastgate Street, Chester (c) yerfdog/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Through the Railings Eastgate Street, Chester (c) yerfdog/Getty Images/iStockphoto

yerfdog

Chris Manka, FSB North West regional chairman, with advice for small businesses on working from home and managing the coronavirus.

Current government advice is that the public risk of catching the Covid-19 virus is high. Employees must work from home wherever possible, and thousands of businesses in Cheshire have been forced to close their doors.

Almost overnight, cafés, pubs and restaurants, nightclubs, cinema, theatres, gyms and leisure centres and, finally, community spaces and most shops fell silent. Some businesses deemed essential struggle on depleted of employees, forced to furlough workers and run on a skeleton staff.

Takeaway and delivery services remain open and operational, presumably to feed everyone stuck at home, as does some online retail, but swathes of the UK’s self-employed and small employers suddenly woke up to the reality of having to run their businesses entirely from the bedroom and, for many, manage a home-based workforce. There is a great deal of confusion about the rights and responsibilities of employers in such circumstances.

Employers have a legal duty to take practical steps to ensure the health, safety and welfare of their employees, including those at risk for any reason. In turn, staff members have a duty to take reasonable care of their own health and safety and that of their colleagues, and must co-operate with their employer’s reasonable instructions – such as telling them to stay at home if they show symptoms of coronavirus, in which case they will be eligible for Statutory Sick Pay (SSP).

Alternatively, where employees are fit enough to carry out some work while self-isolating and it is practicable for them to do so, it is expected employees would be paid their normal wages for the period they are carrying out work.

Where it is reasonably suspected employees have been in contact with confirmed cases, the advice on undergoing a period of 14 days of self-isolation applies. They will be entitled to SSP, subject to meeting the eligibility criteria.

Employers may choose to go further and ask employees to stay away when they are not sick or are not self-isolating in accordance with current Public Health advice. In all cases of an employer asking staff to stay at home, working or not, their normal salary must be paid.

Many firms are resolutely facing up to doing business via videoconference, and there are several dos and don’ts for running meetings or even events online, muting the microphone when not speaking, etc, which are readily available. I’d say it’s preferable than trying to dial-in on the phone, particularly with large numbers.

But on top of the health threat of this deadly virus represents, the reality is that Cheshire’s business owners face losing their livelihoods and, effectively, their pensions. Their staff face losing their jobs. What’s important now is that the support and funding from government for both is made available and accessible as quickly as possible.

There is a lot of support out there. I’m pleased to say Cheshire East and Cheshire West Councils, the Cheshire and Warrington Local Enterprise Partnership, Cheshire Business Group and the community as a whole are working closely together. Full FSB guidance for businesses is available at www.fsb.org.uk/campaign/covid19.html

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