Sedex guidance on COVID-19

Guidance for employers: labour standards during COVID-19 and managing impacts of COVID-19 on your workforce

COVID-19 is impacting businesses in different ways.

  • Non-essential businesses: Some companies are functioning or adapting to restrictions on movement. However, many businesses cannot trade due to the current situation and there is mass unemployment in many sectors such as retail, events, tourism and many that are “non-essential” to national responses to COVID-19. Some have scaled back production due to lower demand, a lack of raw materials, transport challenges or state restrictions. In these businesses there may be:
    • employee terminations or pressure to sign resignation letters
    • furloughing with or without pay
    • reduction of hours
    • pay rates cut.

Those in informal work or on casual contracts are likely to be among the first to lose jobs and work.

You can view what classifies non-essential business here.

  • Essential businesses: Other businesses are struggling to meet demand because of labour shortages due to the health impacts of COVID-19 and the restrictions on migration. Restrictions on movement will impact ability to hire workers, especially migrants, and many workers may have returned to hometowns. In addition, sickness and absence because of caregiving responsibilities may increase. These businesses will be looking at ways to scale up the labour force and may be considering;
    • extra overtime for workers who can work
    • Subcontracting
    • recruiting – the likelihood of child, forced and prison labour will increase.

Businesses will face different challenges depending on their situation, however adhering to international Conventions, labour law, standards and industry codes of practice continues to be essential.


Managing the impacts of COVID-19 on your workforce

The following sections outline how businesses can manage and reduce the impacts of COVID-19 on their workforce.


Worker safety during COVID-19 outbreak

All business must keep their employees and anyone who works for them (whether directly hired or through an agent, self-employed or a permanent employee) safe.

This guidance has been developed based on the ILO Standards and COVID-19  Guidance and recommendations from the World Health Organisation (WHO). Businesses should refer to the WHO for country specific guidance.

  • Hygiene and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) – Employers must take all practicable preventive and protective measures on COVID-19, including physical distancing, sufficient handwashing facilities for all workers to access them as and when needed, and the provision of PPE and equipment at no cost to the worker.[1]
    • Face masks are a key PPE item and it is important that these are fit for purpose. Ensure that workers know what the mask is for i.e. if the masks are non-surgical (likely the case while there is a global shortage and surgical masks are being reserved for healthcare professionals) ensure workers are aware, that the masks are there to reduce likelihood of passing on the virus, rather than protecting the wearer to explain the importance without giving a false sense of security. Follow WHO advice on when and how to wear facemasks here:
    • Workstations should be 1 metre apart and workers should be able to move around facilities while maintaining a physical distance of 1 metre between each other.[2]
    • Proper handwashing facilities with soap, water and antibacterial hand gel must be provided. Workers must be trained on handwashing and supervisors must allow workers the time required to wash their hands as often as required to minimise the risk of COVID-19.[3] Where workers are paid on a productivity/output basis (e.g. piece rate), ensuring rates allow for time to wash hands is important in order to ensure workers take the necessary hand-washing breaks.
  • Employers must ensure workers feel safe and know to report to their supervisors if they believe they may have or be in contact with anyone suffering from COVID-19. Workers must not be penalised for reporting this information.
  • Training and workplace communication. Workers should be informed of the risk of COVID-19 involved in their work. Employers must provide appropriate information and training on health and safety, consulting with workers and providing measures to deal with emergencies.[4] Ensure migrant workers fully understand instructions, warning and symbols related to COVID-19. Keep two-way communication going so that workers are informed on their employment terms and the steps they can take for their own protection and help contain the pandemic.[5] Many workers will experience stress and anxiety, and rumours and misinformation will likely increase so it is important that businesses enable workers to raise questions and concerns and deal with concerns appropriately.


  • Communication to workers about their rights during this period is extremely important. Workers must have access to grievance mechanisms where they can raise their concerns to management without fear of retaliation.
  • Contracting COVID-19 and development of post-traumatic stress disorder, if contracted through occupational exposure, could be considered as occupational diseases. Employees should be entitled to cash compensation and medical and allied care for incapacitation, as are families if a worker dies due to contracting COVID-19 while at work.[6]
  • Support for workers experiencing COVID-19 including:
    • Paid sick leave if suffering from COVID-19 or during period of isolation. Without paid sick leave, the risk of spreading COVID-19 is likely to increase as infected workers may go to work due to economic necessity (they cannot afford to take time off sick) and, in so doing, infect others.
    • Arranging shifts to account for those who have to care for sick relatives or are balancing additional child-care duties.
    • Support those caring for sick persons/relatives e.g. by enabling leave for care duties and other support.[7]
  • Social insurance:
    • Pay relevant social security contributions so that workers can access statutory benefits, such as sick pay and access to medical care during the pandemic.
    • Ensure access to health insurance to all workers who need this in order to access health care
  • Remember! Workers have rights regarding their health. This includes a right to:
    • remove themselves from a work situation that they believe presents an imminent and serious danger to their life or health and be protected from retaliation.[8]
    • privacy – health surveillance is increasing but must not be used for discriminatory purposes or against worker interests.[9]


Women workers

Employers should be aware of specific gender risks during COVID-19.

Women workers are more likely to care for the elderly and the sick, they are therefore at greater risk of being infected or infecting co-workers. It is important that all workers have access to paid leave.

As confinement measures are implemented, women workers are at greater risk of suffering from domestic violence. Employers should take all necessary steps to support women workers who may suffer from it by establishing relevant channels where women can raise their grievances.

Where workers are being laid-off, women workers seem disproportionately targeted first. In addition, there is a presumption of them being the last to be considered for rehiring. Employers should start tracking gender-disaggregated data to ensure they are discriminating against women when it comes to laying-off and hiring.

Previous pandemics have shown diversion of health funds has had a disproportionately high impact on women through lack of access to women’s health provisions, eg. higher mortality rate for pregnancies. Education and access to basic health provisions could be provided by employers where needed, as well as special extra care for pregnant workers.

[1] / ETI

[2] UNFA COVID-19 a Gender Lens, protecting sexual and reproductive health and rights, and promoting gender equality


Migrant workers

Employers should take measures so that migrant workers fully understand instructions regarding COVID-19[10] and should receive equal treatment to local workers in employer responses and provisions for workers. Migrant workers who are permanently employed but lose their jobs due to COVID-19 or become ill with COVID-19 shall not be returned to their country of origin unless they wish to do so. Migrants should be treated equally to nationals regarding guarantees of security of employment, the provision of alternative employment, relief work and retraining.[11] In the case of repatriation, the cost of return should not be paid by the migrant.

Please note: Incidents of racism and xenophobia are likely following the outbreak, in particular towards those from countries where the virus is more prevalent. This is to be avoided.[12] Take action to educate employees that no one is to blame for the virus and that discrimination is not allowed. Ensure workers can raise grievances and enforce consequences for any incidents identified.


For seafarers

Every seafarer shall be granted shore leave to benefit their health and well-being, and consistent with the requirements of their jobs in addition to having adequate measures for the protection of their heath, including alcohol-based hand rub, facial protection and prompt and adequate medical care whilst working on board.[13]



For those companies that transport employees to work, ensure that workers are safe from COVID-19 by enforcing health and hygiene measures. These should include:

  • Physical distancing – ensure passengers can keep at least 1 metre apart. Businesses may need to increase the number of drivers and journeys and implement a shift system in order to accommodate this.
  • Ensure that the vehicle is well ventilated and regularly cleaned.
  • Ensure that workers wear PPE and face masks where necessary.
  • Ensure workers have access to washing facilities, soap and running water and wash their hands once they have arrived at work.

For businesses whose workers travel to work on public transport, ensure that WHO and government advice is followed and that workers do not put themselves at increased risk of COVID-19 while travelling to work.



Many companies will be providing accommodation for workers during the COVID-19 outbreak and must take responsibility for ensuring residents of company provided accommodation are safe. Accommodation must be hygienic and must not further exacerbate the spread of COVID-19. To do this:

  • There needs to be sufficient space per resident and that each resident has the ability to self-isolate should they get COVID-19. This includes access to enough toilets, washing facilities and the kitchen to allow COVID-19 safety measures to be implemented. To enable physical distancing and improved safety, consider increasing the space provided in accommodation per person. This should not be charged back to the residents.
  • Any workers that are vulnerable to COVID-19 (e.g. due to age, underlying health conditions etc) should be provided with their own accommodation and not share rooms with other residents.
  • The number of residents per unit must be frequently checked to ensure overcrowding and safety issues are avoided.
  • Ensure soap, water and hand sanitiser is easily accessible at all times.
  • Ensure beds are sufficient and adequate, with enough space between beds to maintain 1 metre space between residents.
  • Cooking facilities must be sanitary and regularly cleaned. Cleaning materials must be provided for residents.
  • Provide regular training for all residents on COVID-19, including information on how to keep themselves and those they live with/near safe.
  • There must be access to sufficient food and water for all workers and that this access does not compromise resident ability to maintain physical distance and self-isolation from other workers.
  • There is a system in place for those who suspect they have COVID-19 or are in contact with someone who has it, to access food, water, toilets, wash facilities and medicine without compromising their own health or that of other


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[1] ILO Standards and COVID-19 (coronavirus) FAQ: Key provisions of international labour standards relevant to the evolving COVID-19 outbreak


[3] The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (the CDC) specifies that during the COVID-19 epidemic, everyone should clean hands: After you have been in a public place and touched an item or surface that may be frequently touched by other people, such as door handles, tables, gas pumps, shopping carts, or electronic cashier registers/screens, etc. Before touching your eyes, nose, or mouth because that’s how germs enter our bodies. This is in addition to handwashing hygiene during normal times when everyone should wash their hands: Before, during, and after preparing food, Before eating food, Before and after caring for someone at home who is sick with vomiting or diarrhoea, Before and after treating a cut or wound, After using the toilet, After changing diapers or cleaning up a child who has used the toilet, After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing, After touching an animal, animal feed, or animal waste, After handling pet food or pet treats, After touching garbage.

[4] ILO Standards and COVID-19 (coronavirus) FAQ: Key provisions of international labour standards relevant to the evolving COVID-19 outbreak

[5] ILO Standards and COVID-19 (coronavirus) FAQ: Key provisions of international labour standards relevant to the evolving COVID-19 outbreak

[6] Employment Injury Benefits Convention, 1964 (No.121) ILO Standards and COVID-19 (coronavirus) FAQ: Key provisions of international labour standards relevant to the evolving COVID-19 outbreak

[7] Workers with Family Responsibilities Recommendation, 1981 (No. 165)

[8] ILO Standards and COVID-19 (coronavirus) FAQ: Key provisions of international labour standards relevant to the evolving COVID-19 outbreak

[9] ILO Standards and COVID-19 (coronavirus) FAQ: Key provisions of international labour standards relevant to the evolving COVID-19 outbreak

[10] Para. 22 of the Migrant Workers Recommendation, 1975 (No. 151).

[11] ILO Standards and COVID-19 (coronavirus) FAQ: Key provisions of international labour standards relevant to the evolving COVID-19 outbreak

[12] ILO Standards and COVID-19 (coronavirus) FAQ: Key provisions of international labour standards relevant to the evolving COVID-19 outbreak

[13] ILO Standards and COVID-19 (coronavirus) FAQ: Key provisions of international labour standards relevant to the evolving COVID-19 outbreak and ILO C188