HR Considerations of the monkeypox virus

As cases of monkeypox begin to rise in the UK, individuals are growing increasingly concerned that this will become the new Coronavirus. However, this is far from the truth. Monkeypox is a rare disease which poses a very low threat to the wider public. It is not easily transmissible, full recovery is expected and treatment is available through the smallpox vaccine. This being said, employees may ask questions or raise concerns, so its beneficial to be as prepared as possible to manage any queries.

To assist, the government has released update guidance on treating and preventing monkeypox, which can be adapted for the workplace. First, whilst the guidance refers to “isolation,” it’s important to remember that this does not warrant the same severity or panic as Covid isolation. It may be more helpful to think of the disease in the same way as chickenpox, although the visual symptoms are considerably more unsightly and it currently seems to affect more adults rather than children.

The main symptoms of monkeypox were identified as: fever, headache, muscle/backache, swollen lymph nodes, chills, exhaustion, a rash of raised spots that later turn into blisters. The illness is usually mild, and the infection normally clears up on its own after between 14 and 21 days.

Those who are a confirmed monkeypox case should follow the advice of medical professionals. It’s like they will be too poorly to work, so their illness can be treated in line with normal sickness absence rules.

In some cases, close contacts of a confirmed case will have to follow public health guidance and isolate for 21 days. This includes those who have had unprotected direct contact or high-risk environmental contact (e.g. body fluid in contact with eyes, nose, or mouth; penetrating sharps injury from used needle; contact in room during aerosol-generating procedure without appropriate respiratory PPE; changing a patient’s bedding without appropriate PPE; sexual contact; household contact).

Similarly, those who have unprotected exposure to infectious materials, including droplet or airborne potential routes (e.g. clinical examination of patient before diagnosis without appropriate PPE; entering patient’s room without wearing appropriate PPE and within 1 metre of case; driver and passengers in shared car or taxi with case, or sitting next to case on a plane; subsequent patients in consulting room after a confirmed case was seen and prior to room cleaning), should be excluded from work for 21 days if work involves contact with immunosuppressed people, pregnant women or children.

In these cases, it is beneficial to consider whether the employee can temporarily work from home. This allows them to maintain their full, normal salary whilst minimising disruption to business operations. Where this isn’t possible, an employee who is required to stay away from the workplace will likely be entitled to full pay, unless they are unwell.

Alternatively, employers may want the individual to continue working. In these cases, it’s important to take reasonable steps to minimise the spread of the virus. For example, by providing a private workspace, asking the employee to wear a mask and/or gloves, facilitating regular cleaning and encouraging hand sanitisation.

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