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Coronavirus: what are your sick pay obligations if your staff self-isolate?

Coronavirus: what are your sick pay obligations if your staff self-isolate?


People are being advised to self-isolate as the threat from Coronavirus grows

As coronavirus (COVID-19) becomes more widespread, the UK is taking a ‘self-isolate’ approach to prevent further spreading.

Health secretary Matt Hancock has sent information to employers stating that employees who are told to self-isolate should be entitled to statutory sick pay.

Below, we answer some key questions around self-isolation and statutory sick pay (SSP).

When would my employee be told to self-isolate?

Your employee may be told to self-isolate when they’ve been to a country with a high risk of contracting COVID-19.

At the time of writing, the government’s high-risk countries include:

Category 1

  • Wuhan city and Hubei Province (China)
  • Iran
  • Daegu or Cheongdo (Republic of Korea)
  • Any Italian town under containment measures

Category 2          

  • Cambodia
  • China
  • Hong Kong
  • Italy: north
  • Japan
  • Laos
  • Macau
  • Malaysia
  • Myanmar
  • Republic of Korea
  • Singapore
  • Taiwan
  • Thailand
  • Vietnam

They can also be told to self-isolate if there’s a chance they’ve been exposed to the virus through contact with someone who has the virus or someone who’s recently been to a high-risk area.

Employees waiting for a COVID-19 test result will be instructed to self-isolate while they’re waiting for their results.

Keep up with advice from the government which is being reviewed and updated daily.

What happens when an employee self-isolates?

When someone is told to self-isolate, they should stay at home and avoid going to work, school or other public places. They shouldn’t have visitors to their home either.

Your employee will be unable to work if they’re carrying or have been in contact with an infectious or contagious disease. That means they have a right to statutory sick pay, which is currently £94.25 a week and can be paid for up to 28 weeks. It’s paid from the fourth day of sickness.

The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) says there’s no statutory right to sick pay if someone isn’t sick but can’t go to work because:

  • They’ve been told by a medical professional to self-isolate
  • They have to go into quarantine
  • They have travelled to an affected area and aren’t allowed back into the UK

However, the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) says that it’s still a good idea to treat it as sick leave or agree to take it as a holiday.

You might have to alter your policy to get a fit note if the employee has to self-isolate as they’ll be unable to submit it themselves. You may have to create or adjust a working from home policy while you’re there, focusing on working hours, legal rights and data protection.

If your employee has been told by a medical professional that they’ve likely been exposed to the virus, then you should carry on with sick pay procedure. Otherwise there’s a risk that employees will come into work because they can’t afford to go without pay.

In the event that an employee’s child has been told to self-isolate or their school has closed, you should make arrangements for them to have a reasonable amount of time off. However, as they are not ill, they are not entitled to statutory sick pay.

Staff staying away from work

Perhaps you want to keep your staff away from the workplace if they’ve recently travelled to a risky area, even if they show no symptoms. As you’re the one telling them to stay away, you’re still obligated to pay them their normal salary at this time. If they can work from home, this is the best option.

When an employee doesn’t want to come into work

In cases where an employee refuses to come into work because of coronavirus concerns, they are not entitled to SSP. If their worries are unfounded (i.e. you’re not in a vulnerable area) and there is strong evidence to prove that they’re just trying to get out of coming to work, it could lead to disciplinary action.

Listen to them if they do have legitimate concerns though. Try and come down on a compromise such as flexible working or working from home.

Closing the workplace temporarily

Protecting your staff is your responsibility and this may involve closing your workplace.

In the event that the coronavirus risk level increases, consider closing down the office and where possible, asking staff to work from home.

Unless an exception is outlined in your contracts, you’ll still need to pay your staff for the time that the workplace is closed.

Having business interruption insurance can help you here. It’ll cover lost income for a designated period of time.

Other advice

While you’re in the workplace, supply hand sanitiser for staff and advise them to partake in good hygiene practices.

Those worried about the spread of coronavirus should enable staff to work from home where possible. Give them the technology they need to run systems and access communications remotely and keep them updated to assuage their anxieties.

Finally, have a business continuity plan that has a specific clause on viruses. The FSB has templates and guides to help you create a plan.

Read more

Business continuity plan: What it is and why you need it



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