Small and medium sized employers will be able to reclaim Statutory Sick Pay for sickness absence due to Covid-19.
The criteria for accessing this support is based on size of the employer as well as circumstances for the sick leave.
- Employers with fewer than 250 employees and based in the UK will be eligible – the size of an employer will be determined by the number of people they employed as of 28 February 2020
- The SSP refund will cover up to 2 weeks’ statutory sick pay per eligible employee (currently £94.25 per week) who has been off work because of COVID-19
- Statutory sick pay now becomes available to employees from day 1 instead of after day 3
- Employers should maintain records of staff absences and payments of SSP, but employees will not need to provide a GP fit note.
- If evidence is required by an employer, those with symptoms of coronavirus can get an isolation note from NHS 111 online and those who live with someone that has symptoms can get a note from the NHS website
- Eligible period for the scheme will commence the day after the regulations on the extension of SSP to those staying at home comes into force
The UK government have confirmed they will work with employers over the coming months to set up the repayment mechanism for employers as soon as possible.
There is no legal obligation to pay someone who is not sick however it is advisable to treat absence for self-isolation as sick leave and to follow the usual sick pay policy (to avoid the employee returning too soon in order to get paid). Employers should act in a fair and reasonable manner in such circumstances, bearing in mind not just employment law and HR, but the need to demonstrate care towards their staff.
Contracting The Virus
If an employee develops Coronavirus, the employer’s usual sick leave and pay entitlements will apply. This also applies to an employee who is asymptomatic but self-isolates and does so because they are given a written notice by their GP and/or after calling the NHS helpline.
Working From Home
Employers who have implemented flexible working arrangements should allow employees who are not sick to continue working from home and they should be paid accordingly.
Employee Fears of Coronavirus
Any concerns from employees should be listened to and reasonable adjustments made where possible, such as offering a flexible working arrangement can be made. Employees can also request time off as holiday or unpaid leave, but there is no obligation on employers to agree to this.
Although it is up to the employer whether they wish to treat a self-directed self-isolation in the same way as medically-sanctioned self-isolation, any approach taken must be clear and consistent in all cases.
The key point in all of these matters is the health and safety of your remaining staff, indeed the community at large. If employees have returned from countries where the pandemic is widespread (e.g. China, Italy, Spain) then employers and employees should act responsibly.
There is no doubt that some of the options above may be difficult depending on the nature of the employer’s business and in certain circumstances involving the wider workforce other options such as temporary lay-off may need to be considered.
Time Off for Parents
With schools closed, difficulties will arise for parents in terms of childcare. Many childcare providers have stopped working or are only providing childcare to ‘essential workers’ such as front-line NHS staff. Furthermore, it is no longer advisable for most grand-parents to be in contact with their grand-children, taking away the main source of help with childcare for lots of working families.
Parental leave also allows working parents the right to take unpaid time off work to look after a child or make arrangements for their welfare. Unless the employer’s policy or the employment contract provides otherwise, statutory parental leave or the right to time off for family and dependants remains unpaid. Employees can also take annual leave, subject to agreement with their employer.
All of the matters set out above are governed by employment law. This includes the contract of employment in place between employers and employees. Such contracts may need to be reviewed, amended and agreed between both parties in relation to policies on sick leave and sick pay especially those directly and indirectly related to the Coronavirus pandemic.
The guidance above is based on the most recent available commentary from government sources but should not be construed to be legal advice or opinion. As with all such matters, you should consult your solicitor or HR advisors before taking any action on matters pertaining to your role as employer.
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