Employment Update: Coronavirus (COVID-19)06/03/2020
UPDATE 4th March 2020
On 4 March 2020, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that SSP will be available to workers from the first day of sickness absence (rather than from the fourth day), including those who are under written notice to self-isolate.
This change is being brought into effect by emergency legislation specifically in order to help tackle the spread of COVID-19.
Employers should still check whether individuals are entitled to enhanced sick pay during periods of sick leave.
Employers need to remain mindful of the health and safety of their workers and any individuals who operate at their premises.
Communication is Key
Employers need to calmly reassure staff while ensuring that all workers are made aware of the possible symptoms of COVID-19 and encourage vigilance regarding hand-washing and general hygiene.
Employers should ensure that all workers are aware of what action to take in the event an individual feels unwell. A clear step-by-step process which includes clear signposts to relevant organisations (such as 111) may be useful.
What If a Worker Refuses to Come Into the Office?
As a first step, employers need to ascertain whether this refusal to attend work is because the individual has received medical advice that they should self-isolate or because the individual is generally concerned about contracting COVID-19.
If a worker has not been instructed to self-isolate, but is generally concerned about working in an office environment due to the risk of COVID-19, then the employer should still consider these concerns carefully, including whether any flexible working arrangements (such as home working) may be appropriate.
There is no legal obligation for an employer to grant a worker’s request for home working; however, granting such a request in these circumstances has the benefit of ensuring that productivity is maintained while also addressing the worker’s concerns about coming into the office.
If flexible working arrangements are not practicable, then workers could request that they take the time as either paid holiday or unpaid leave, however there is no legal obligation for employers to agree to this.
Particular care should be taken where a worker has a long term condition, such as cancer or diabetes, which may lead to increased severity of symptoms of COVID-19.
What if a Worker Has Been Instructed to Self-Isolate?
On Wednesday 26 February 2020, Health Secretary Matt Hancock told the House of Commons that self-isolation should be classed as “sickness for employment purposes”.
Regulation 2 of the Statutory Sick Pay (General) Regulations 1982 also provides that an individual may be “deemed to be incapable” of working for the purposes of Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) where they abstain from work due to a “relevant infection or contamination”.
In short, the Health Protection (Coronavirus) Regulations 2020 effectively confirm that COVID-19 is a “relevant infection or contamination”.
As such, where a worker has received written notice from a medical professional (e.g. their GP, 111 or from their local Health Protection Team) employers should treat this absence as sick leave and the worker should be entitled to SSP.
Note that, for SSP to be payable, the individual should be acting on the written notice of a medical professional.
Please note: the COVID-19 situation in the United Kingdom is in a state of flux therefore guidance issued may change in the future.
Check the latest general Government Guidance here.
Check the Government Guidance regarding self-isolation here.