In many instances, the advice for contractors on the Covid-19 outbreak will follow government guidelines for the general population. However, because of particular working practices common to many contractors, we’ve put together some information that may be of particular relevance.
As of March 23, Boris Johnson has placed London and the rest of the UK into lockdown in an attempt to stop coronavirus spreading. This means that people can only leave their homes for the following reasons, or risk penalties:
- Shop for essentials, as infrequently as possible
- Exercise outdoors once per day, alone or with household members
- Receive medical treatment or provide care
- Travel to and from work, if it’s impossible to work from home
In response to coronavirus, the government advises British Nationals against all non-essential travel worldwide. This advice took effect immediately on 17 March and applies initially for 30 days. Contractors travelling on essential assignments should check travel advice for their destination regularly and sign-up to email alerts, however, they are strictly advised to work remotely where possible.
The government is advising all British Nationals travelling abroad to return to the UK while commercial flights are still available. This advice was published on 23 March and takes effect immediately. Where possible, contractors working on short term assignments abroad should return home now, as further travel restrictions are likely. Those who are unable to leave or who are based abroad on long-term assignments should follow the advice of their host country.
Contractors must also observe the need to self-isolate when returning to the UK from affected jurisdictions. If you have recently been in a country affected by the virus you may need to be quarantined, or you may not be allowed to enter or travel through a third country. Full details of the countries concerned and whether you need to self-isolate are available here.
Returned contractors who are unwell with either a high temperature or new continuous cough, and who live alone, should self-isolate for 7 days, or if they live with others, the whole household should isolate for 14 days. See the Public Health England stay at home guidance.
In addition to official government policy, many companies are implementing their own contingency measures, so contractors should also check this with their client. Naturally, companies with an international focus will be more at risk of the spread of infection, however other factors relating to working practices will also affect this.
It’s important that contractors take care to protect themselves against any unnecessary risk. In many cases, contractors may be able to continue their assignments from home and should speak with their client about alternative arrangements. Video conferencing or telephone can be effectively utilised, and contractors who are used to working remotely should take advantage of this capability to minimise disruption to projects.
How the virus affects demand for contractors will vary depending on the sector and is almost impossible to predict at this stage. Although there is an increased need for contingent staff in areas such as healthcare, in sectors that are hit hard, such as tourism and travel industries, contingency staff will almost certainly be the first to be let go. Although the virus is causing major economic instability that will result in businesses cutbacks, there’s a high probability that contractors will play an important role as the economy diversifies and adapts to meet current requirements. They will also play an important part in the economic recovery as affected sectors experience uplift following the decrease of the virus.
Contractors unable to work as a result of the coronavirus epidemic may be able to access relief courtesy of the Job Retention Scheme (JRS), or an equivalent measure currently being discussed within the House of Commons, depending on their trading model.
At least 9.9 million people in the UK now have a pension with a private scheme whose value is directly linked to investments in the stock markets, which fell dramatically as the scale and impact of the Covid-19 outbreak became clearer. Maike Currie, director for workplace pensions at Fidelity International, spoke to the Guardian newspaper, saying: “By withdrawing funds when they’re at lower levels, you are compounding any losses that you could very easily have made up. The key is not to panic.”
The early symptoms of coronavirus can easily be confused with other winter bugs including colds and flu and may include fever, shortness of breath, a dry cough, tiredness, muscle pain and a headache. 80% of people will only develop mild symptoms and will not need medical treatment. The best precaution is regular and thorough handwashing with soap and water. Avoiding close contact with infected people is also important for limiting the spread. The NHS guidance on coronavirus defines “close contact” as being within two metres of an infected person for more than 15 minutes. People who think they may be affected by coronavirus need to call the NHS 111 phone service for further advice. They should not go to their GP or A&E. The Government is issuing regular updates on the virus which you should check here.
If you’ve been affected by any of the issues in this article, ContractingWise has a range of options to help you keep your contracting career on track. We’ll be bringing you regular updates on the current situation, plus useful tips on working from home, keeping positive and up-skilling for the future. Don’t forget to check our news pages regularly, or to talk to a member of our team call: 0203 642 8679