UPDATE, 11 March 2020
* The Chancellor of the Exchequer announced on 11 March that SSP will be paid to all those who are advised to self-isolate due to Coronavirus, even if they don’t have any symptoms, and that the Government will reimburse small employers, i.e. those with less than 250 employees, any SSP they pay to employees for the first 14 days of sickness absence “due to Coronavirus”.
UPDATE, 4 March 2020
* The Prime Minister announced on 4 March 2020 that as part of the Government’s emergency Coronavirus legislation, the Health Secretary would be bringing forward measures to provide for payment of SSP from the first day of related sickness absence instead of the fourth as it generally is. Further details of this intended rule change are yet to be revealed. We will update this article when they are.
The Government is continuing to provide guidance on the current spread of Coronavirus and the effect on individuals across the UK. Here are a few key questions we have received recently and our guidance on how to manage them.
If someone can’t work because they have self-isolated or are quarantined, but have not shown any symptoms of the virus…
Following the Chancellor’s announcements on 4 and 11 March (see above) it is understood that all employees who are advised to self-isolate will be entitled to SSP from day one, and the Government will reimburse small employers (fewer than 250 employees) for the first 14 days. Employees should keep their managers informed during periods of absence in line with the Company’s Absence Procedure, but it seems to follow that they may not be able to be required to produce a Fit Note in such circumstances. If an individual requests to take part of their annual leave entitlement to cover their absence (particularly where sick pay is less than their normal earnings), this should be considered.
If someone needs time off work to care for a dependant…
The normal provisions in relation to unpaid time off work to make arrangements for the care of a dependant, where normal care arrangements are not available, will continue to apply. However, where an employee’s dependant is required to self-isolate, it is likely that the employee will similarly be required to do so, in which case SSP will be payable as outlined above.
If an employee attends work but the Company believes they should be self-isolating…
If an employee has visited an affected area within a defined time period they will be advised that they need to self-isolate for 14 days. Employers and employees can check www.nhs.uk for more details of the restrictions. If an employee attends work in such circumstances the employer may decide to send them home. Whereas an employer would ordinarily be required to pay full pay to an employee who is suspended on medical grounds, logic would seem to suggest that only SSP would be payable in such circumstances but the legal position is, as yet, uncertain.
If an employee refuses to attend work because of the risk of infection but has not self-isolated…
Care should be taken to discuss any concerns with the individual in order to establish if their concerns are warranted and genuine. Where satisfied that this is the case, flexible working arrangements such as home working should be considered.
If the employee refuses to attend work despite there being no or little risk of infection, the Company can agree with the employee for the time off to be taken as annual leave. However, this would not be an automatic right.
Should the employee refuse to attend work unnecessarily and the Company is satisfied that any concerns are unwarranted and/or non-genuine, then disciplinary action could be taken in those circumstances.
What to do in preparation…
There are a number of actions you can take now in preparation of the virus spreading more widely across the UK:
- Where employees are required to travel, consider if the travel is essential, particularly if it’s to an affected area which is not currently under quarantine.
- Remind employees about good hygiene in the workplace in order to reduce risks of exposure, placing notices and advice in key areas. The HSE has prepared posters for the Catch it, Kill it, Bin it campaign, as well as handwashing guidance.
- Ensure that facilities are in good condition, with hot water and soap readily available.
- Encourage employees to use tissues and hand sanitisers, providing them where possible.
- Ensure that managers and team members know how to spot the symptoms (i.e. cough, difficulty breathing and fever) and agree the procedure to follow if they have concerns.
- Check personal contact numbers and emergency contact numbers are up to date.
- Consider if protective face masks should be worn in high risk / vulnerable areas (although current guidance indicates that only those with the infection are required to wear a face mask).
- Identify contingency plans in respect of any shutdown that may be necessary, or where a significant group of employees become affected / are required to self-isolate.
Useful advice, guidance and materials can be accessed by following the links below: