Before we delve in to answering how will coronavirus affect employees a quick disclaimer. This article is intended as practical real world advice for Employees regarding the effect of Coronavirus on their jobs. It is not meant to be bias and I am not a medical expert. This is purely to answer the usual questions Employees will want to know and may not have clarity on from existing information sources. It is worth noting that each company will likely operate slightly differently from one another so this is intended as a general outline of what to expect and how things will pan out over the coming months.
The Coming Days (Written originally on Saturday 14th March 2020)
The current reality is that although the media is in frenzy, virtually every conversation you overhear is about Coronavirus and the Stock Markets are causing economic volatility, Coronavirus itself from a health perspective is very isolated. Most people don’t even know of anyone personally who knows anyone who has it. It seems isolated to celebrities and statistics.
But consider two rational observations without taking medical statistics into account. The first is that it spreads quickly and often has minor symptoms in most patients. Secondly how many people do you think will actually go to a doctor or hospital and get tested for it? It seems highly plausible that most people will not get tested or even broadcast that they have symptoms. Nobody will admit to that, but hiding in plain site is one of the reasons why this spreads so quickly.
Why would people choose not to get tested?
Historically whenever a virus has spread those who are known to have it are avoided. This seems obvious when worded this way. However, this isn’t a disease like the Black Plague, Ebola or Smallpox. Anyone with those diseases stand out like a sore thumb. 4 out of 5 people taken from the data available today who have Covid-19 show only minor symptoms. There are not obvious signs. If you are an employee who is responsible for paying the bills in your household and get a cold would you necessarily take a week or 2 off if you felt fine to continue working?
The governments statutory sick pay stands at £94.25 per week. That’s the equivalent of an annual salary of under £5000 or an hourly rate based on a 40 hour week of just £2.35 an hour. Coming at this from a rational perspective, how many people would simply chance going to work and keeping minor symptoms hidden because they cannot afford not to? Although nobody will freely admit it, most people under those circumstances I would argue would still go in to work.
Working from Home
The other option is working from home if you can. I personally have an issue with the army of do-gooder liberals harking on that companies should enter the 21st century and let all their staff work from home. I have this opinion for 2 reasons. 1 – Most jobs cannot be done from home and 2 – People pushing their opinion on others without considering all the angles is just unreasonable and uneducated.
How is a plumber going to work from home? In fact, here is a list of job titles off the top of my head of people who cannot work from home that are commonplace in society:
Electrician, Beat Policeman, Fire Officer, Buildings Maintenance, Labourer, Drivers, Army, Healthcare Workers, Highway Maintenance, Shop Workers, Warehouse Workers, Manufacturing Plant Operatives, Restaurant Workers, Recycling Operatives, Vehicle Maintenance, Airport Workers, Pilots, Cabin Crew, Fisherman, Border Security, Grounds people, Sports Professionals, Pharmacists, Librarians, Bar Workers, Service Engineers, Hotel Staff, Tree Surgeons, Train Workers, Window Cleaners, Power Station Staff, Accident Investigators, Reception Staff, Museum Workers, Tourist Attraction Workers. I could just go on and on.
Most Jobs cannot be done from home
If you are fortunate that you can do your job from home, then great. But let’s get real, most jobs cannot be done from home. So, stop arguing a point as if it’s solution for the masses because it’s not. Rant Over.
What to expect in the coming days from an employee’s perspective
Your company will have a disaster emergency plan in place or in the process of coming out. Or if not then they will or should have some plan of what to do if, like Italy, everyone is forced to stay at home. This plan will typically, and don’t blame your business, be reliant on the government making the call first. Do not expect your business to voluntarily close until they are forced to. And don’t blame them for it. Businesses need to make money to survive. Any business who takes the stay-at-home-until-it-blows-over angle is at heavy risk of going out of business. This is because this isn’t going to go away in the next couple of weeks.
The reason why the UK government has moved to Delay rather than Contain tactics is because it’s out there. We have gone past the stage of containing Covid-19. Unless someone miraculously comes up with a vaccine at some point whether you like it or not you will get it.
The basic principles of a Coronavirus
Covid-19 is a type of Coronavirus which belongs to the same family as Influenza and the Common Cold. Have you gone your whole life and not ever had a Cold? I doubt it. Then without wanting to worry you, you will get Covid-19 at some point. It’s already too far spread and beyond conventional disease containment powers.
When, Not If
Now we have established that you will get it at some point, let’s explore how soon that will likely be. The government estimates, and this is based on facts from studies and evidence of infection rates and incubation periods, that the peak of the outbreak in the UK will be in 3 to 4 weeks’ time. This means that you will most likely contract Covid-19 in 2-5 weeks’ time. As a generalisation at some point in April 2020 most of the UK will contract Covid-19. Do not expect April to be a month of good memories.
This period will coincide with the Easter Holidays when schools will be closed, and many people will already be off work. Until then, under the governments current plan, it’s business as usual.
What will April be like for employees then
If March is a month of talk, questions and preppers, April will be when things hit home. It will begin when the first person at your workplace contracts it or it becomes obvious that they have it. Your company will then do 1 of 2 things; most will temporarily close the site for 4 – 7 days whilst others will try to brush it under the carpet.
You see there will be two reasons why some companies will try to brush it under the carpet. If the symptoms are mild it could be argued that it’s a common cold. In the nicest way, there is a valid argument there. 33,000 people get Influenza each year in the UK whilst several Million will contract a common cold once or twice within a calendar year. As it stands today if someone came down with a cold they are at least 100 times more likely to be suffering from a common cold rather then Covid-19 on today’s numbers. The numbers don’t lie. So, there is a valid argument. Sure, it’s probably quite immoral but nevertheless it is there and someone will try to use it.
The second reason why some companies will try to brush it under the carpet is that as discussed earlier, many workers financially will not feel that they have a choice but to go to work. It’s either take £2.35 an hour or feel a bit rough for a few days at work as most people will only have mild symptoms. Therefore, even though the employee knows they might have it, as it’s become common by April, and their Line Manager might strongly suspect, neither party may broach the conversation and will simply turn a blind eye. The worker needs the money, while the business owner or manager needs to keep things going.
What if my earnings and job rely on other companies?
Let’s say you are in sales, business, supply chains etc. How will Covid-19 affect your work by April? In reality if you are involved somewhere within a supply chain then what the companies up the chain that you supply do, will affect you. It is highly likely that one of them will close, or operate on a skeleton staff at some point through April, May or even June. This will cause a chain effect. Their orders will slow and it will buffer down the supply ladder. It will likely increase in impact the further down the ladder things go. If the first company at the top of the ladder stop ordering for a period, the next company to protect themselves will not only stop ordering but put the brakes on costs and investment to protect themselves. The next company will do the same and it rolls downhill.
Your overtime, bonus or commission will take a hit. The reason the government are not shutting schools, stopping transport and putting on a lockdown is that they want to delay the big impact it will have on the economy. Whilst anyone considering health, moral or societal values will likely have a critical view on this tactic there is a justified reason for it. Covid-19 is beyond being able to be contained. We will all get it at some point so to absorb it in a manageable way, the government are trying to spread the impact over a period of time rather than slam the economy unnecessarily.
Business Vs Health
Shutting Schools and putting the country in lockdown will ease the strain on hospitals to handle the sick. This seems logical. However, take into account that this is only the very early stages. If the hospitals cannot handle it now, they have no chance when the amount of people needing attention jumps from 100’s to 10’s of thousands. By April it will be commonplace for isolation wards or off site temporary hospital locations in tents and buildings doubling as temporarily hospitals to treat people. But there is a shortage of NHS staff now. It will get to a stage, like Italy, where they will have to assess who they can and cannot treat. That will be something that no Doctor will ever want to have to do. I wouldn’t wish that decision on anyone.
The tactic of shutting schools, businesses and putting everyone on lockdown can only go on for so long. Whilst I understand countries like Italy making draconian decisions like that, it will only stave off the inevitable. It is a short-term measure to manage something out of control. Inevitably they will have to re-open everything at some point and when they do Covid-19 will simply pick up where it left off.
What if your business forces a temporary closure?
If you are ill, then you won’t be there anyway. But if you are well, have mild symptoms or have recovered then the best you can do is wait it out and take statutory sick pay. The chances are businesses will only close for a maximum of two weeks. The bigger impact from an earnings perspective will actually be over the coming months in the fallout of Covid-19. Many companies will go under and many will lose their jobs. Consider my earlier point regarding supply chains. If a companies customers go under because their customers went under it rolls downhill.
In any temporary closure, unless you are living hand to mouth even with tons overtime normally, you will probably just go in the overdraft or run up a credit card bill. It will be a temporary headache.
The Aftermath of Coronavirus
What people don’t see yet is that Coronavirus is destined to die itself. Unless it mutates which is becoming unlikely now, once everyone has had it and become immune it will have no one else to infect. It will be a disease of our era only. Therefore, things will return to normal. However, that is likely to take months rather than weeks at least.
Currently only a small number of people have it or have had it that we could name from a public knowledge perspective. Think celebrities. But in 6 months or so it will be the opposite. There will be only a small number of people we could name who have not had it. Every 4 days the cases of infections double based on current spread statistics. If there are 1000 people today with Coronavirus, the entire population of the UK will theoretically have been infected in 64 days’ time.
Will my job be safe?
If your company can survive for 3 months without making any money and be able to absorb decreased returns over the following 3 months then it will probably survive. But if it can do that, but only by making cost cuts then dependent on your position that could impact your job security. However, if your company is operating with cash flow for only 3 months or less as a buffer, I would say it could be in trouble.
When will things return to normal
On the evidence and information available at this stage, there will be three states.
Now – 2-3 weeks’ time: The build up and spread which will cause worries, concerns and business caution. This will impact workforce numbers, demand and general earning potential.
3-7 week’s time: The Peak which is when the acute impact will be most felt. Expect temporary closures, zero extra earning potential and obvious health implications.
8 weeks onwards: The aftermath. This will begin with people still infected, but progress toward a scenario where businesses will either survive and recover or struggle and die.
By the time things return to normal we will be looking toward Christmas quickly approaching. 2020 will be a tough year.
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