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Kate Palmer

Peninsula

HR Advice and Consultancy Director

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Should employers be worried about monkeypox?

Reported cases of monkeypox have been cropping up across the country, but should employers be worried?
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Reported cases of monkeypox have been cropping up across the country. And after two years of lockdown restrictions, social distancing and mixed messaging, it’s no wonder many might be feeling concerned. 

But should employers be worried?

Words like ‘outbreak’ and ‘isolation’ – both terms currently being used in the press in relation to monkeypox – will have many of us recalling the trepidation of the last few years.

However, it’s important to remember that monkeypox is not the new Covid.

If an employee has a confirmed case of monkeypox, they should isolate for 21 days.

So, what’s the risk? 

Whilst unpleasant, this virus is much less transmissible and experts believe that it poses a very low threat to the wider public.

Although rare, the virus is known to healthcare professionals and treatments are already available with patients expected to make a full recovery so there is no need for people to panic. However, as we’ve seen during the Covid-19 pandemic, things can change very quickly so it’s best for businesses to be prepared. 

Initial symptoms include fever, headache, swellings and back pain – all of which can make working a real challenge, no matter your profession.

What happens when there’s a confirmed case of monkeypox?

If an employee has a confirmed case of monkeypox, they should isolate for 21 days. During this time, it may be best for the employer to continue their duties from home where this is possible. 

If their usual work duties do not allow for homeworking, employers can consider a temporary change to duties.

However, of course, if the staff member is too ill to work, this should be treated under normal sickness rules. During this time, they will likely be entitled to receive SSP or their contractual sick pay, depending on what their contract stipulates.

What about close contacts?

It gets a little tricky when you consider those who are ‘close contacts’ of a confirmed monkeypox case. This extends to those who have had unprotected direct contact or high-risk environmental contact with a confirmed case. They are, too, advised to isolate for 21 days, though this is currently not an enforced legal requirement. 

This includes exclusion from the workplace especially if a person’s work involves contact with immunosuppressed people, pregnant women, or children. If a person can work from home this could help to keep things running smoothly. However, if this isn’t possible consider moving the employee temporarily to a different role where they won’t be in contact with medically vulnerable people.

Employers should take a look at their current self-isolation rules to ensure that all staff members know what is expected of them should they happen to come into close contact with the virus.

Are they my only options?

If someone is unable to work from home or cannot take on amended duties to avoid contact, then you will need to consider what options are available.

SSP is not viable for any isolation period unless the employee gets too ill to work during this time. 

Similar to Covid isolation rules, employers will have to decide whether they will require close contacts with a confirmed case to come to work or not during the recommended 21-day period is isolation. This will be dependent on the safety of other staff members so consider the risk that may occur if you have medically vulnerable employees.

As an employer, you should know that if you need a member of staff to stay home, you may be required to pay them their full wage. Anything less than this will likely risk an unlawful deduction claim. This is because it is the employer’s choice to temporarily withdraw work from the employee, instead of as a result of their actions.

Although mostly transferable via touch, monkeypox has been known to spread through respiratory secretions

How can I reduce risk at work?

Fortunately for employers and staff alike, transmission rates continue to be relatively low. However, employers do still have a duty of care to their employees and should consider implementing measures to minimise the risk of the virus spreading within their workplace.

Luckily, this isn’t the first time that employers have had to put these measures in place. General social distancing measures that were in place during Covid can likely be introduced at short notice and most members of staff are familiar with the rules surrounding them. 

Perspex screens, PPE and hand sanitising stations are all ways that you can ensure excellent hygiene standards within your organisation. As we’ve seen, small steps can go a long way in reducing the risk of a virus spreading and can help put your employee’s minds at ease, should the worst happen.

Although mostly transferable via touch, monkeypox has been known to spread through respiratory secretions during long periods of face-to-face contact. 

  • Consider reducing close contact by encouraging more video conferencing meetings so that staff members can minimise their risk. 
  • Consider improving ventilation systems so that a clean supply of air is flowing through your workspace. 

This can be as easy as leaving your windows open and doesn’t require any specific sophisticated equipment.

So, what next?

Although the very mention of monkeypox may sound unnerving, it’s very unlikely that the virus will lead to another pandemic, and you should remind employees of this to keep their minds at ease.

If government guidance becomes more stringent then more steps may need to be put in place, but for now, the best thing for employers is to continue to uphold high levels of hygiene standards and be prepared. Just in case.

Author Profile Picture
Kate Palmer

HR Advice and Consultancy Director

Read more from Kate Palmer
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