Sickness or Recommended Self-Isolation
If an individual has been diagnosed with COVID-19, they will be unfit for work and employers should follow their normal sickness absence procedure. This may be payment of SSP or company sick pay, depending on the employee’s contract of employment.
Where there is a company sick pay scheme and the company has the discretion to change the amount of company sick pay paid, the employer may choose to do so to limit costs.
Statutory sick pay (SSP) is also payable to those self-isolating in line with current PHE advice (namely, if you have symptoms or live with someone who has symptoms) and is now payable on day one of the employee’s absence, rather than day four.
For those who are vulnerable but not required to self-isolate, social distancing should suffice and they would not be entitled to SSP.
Very vulnerable employees who have been issued with a “stay-at-home” letter and are “shielding” may be immediately furloughed.
If workers need to stay at home beyond the 7-day period for which they can self-certify, the government has introduced a temporary alternative to a GP’s fit note. Individuals can now obtain the confirmation required to continue receiving sick pay through NHS 111 Online. Individuals must answer a number of questions and will then be issued with an electronic “isolation note” which evidences that they have been advised to self-isolate because they have symptoms of coronavirus or live with someone who is displaying symptoms.
The government have also brought forward legislation allowing small and medium-sized businesses to reclaim SSP paid due to COVID19. Employers with fewer than 250 staff members are eligible to receive a refund of up to 2 weeks’ SSP per eligible worker. A rebate scheme is being developed and further details will be provided in due course once it becomes law.
Employees do not have the right to self-isolate and claim sick pay simply due to fear about COVID-19, and they will not be entitled to normal pay if they are not working from home.
However, employers should carefully consider any concerns expressed by employees regarding attending their workplace, rather than simply pressuring them to do so, especially if they have underlying health conditions or live with those vulnerable to COVID-19 for example. In that situation, consider if you can offer flexible working (paying them for the work they are doing), paid holiday or unpaid leave.
The government has announced that employees and workers will be able to take emergency statutory volunteer leave to assist in the fight against coronavirus in the health or social care sector. This can be taken in a two, three or four-week block (in any consecutive 16-week period) and is unpaid. The government is offering compensation to employers for loss of earnings relating to those who choose to volunteer through an appropriate authority.
During such absence, employees will continue to have their usual rights and obligations, e.g. they will continue to accrue annual leave, they will remain entitled to benefits and pension contributions etc.
Please note that it will be unlawful to subject workers to a detriment for exercising their right to volunteer leave, and it would also be automatic unfair dismissal to dismiss someone for taking or proposing to take volunteer leave. Employees would not need 2 years’ continuous service to bring such a claim and compensation would be uncapped.
These notes have been prepared for the purpose of an article only. They should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice