The current COVID-19 pandemic is causing severe disruption to businesses and the lives of individuals across the country. Many businesses have had to close, for example in the retail, leisure and hospitality sectors which in the past few days have had to shut their doors and send staff home.
Many staff working for businesses who are still operating are now working from home, however this is only a recent development. Even before this there was concern about staff contracting COVID-19 and infecting others in the workplace and so we have already witnessed the practice of individuals with the virus or at risk of passing it on having to self-isolate for periods of 7 or 14 days.
Earlier this month the Government announced that it was extending the right to claim Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) from the first day of absence in these circumstances. This was a departure from the previous rules where SSP was payable only after the third day of sickness absence. The reason for this decision was over Government concerns that employees who may have contracted the virus might have felt compelled to go to work and risk spreading the virus further.
It is clear that if a member of staff is self-isolating based on medical advice or in following Government advice then this will be considered as sickness absence as long as a fit note has been obtained and provided to the employer; the employee would therefore be entitled to SSP. (There is an NHS 111 service to enable employees to obtain a fit note).
However, there is a grey area where those who have been to effected areas or who are exposed to family and friends who have been to effected areas, decide to self-isolate for 14 days but do not display any symptoms. In such circumstances the employee might not actually be sick but is being sensible and simply taking precautions. Without a fit note there would be no legal obligation on the employer to pay SSP.
In such circumstances where individuals decide to self-isolate and are not actually sick it is recommended by us that employers show full support and pay them in full for that period.
Some employers might also have contractual company sick pay policies where qualifying employees might be entitled to their full rate of pay for a set period of time.
With so many members of staff forced to remain home at the moment, many are either being paid their normal salary or are being placed on ‘Furlough’ leave as an alternative to redundancy whereby the Government pays 80% of their salary up to a cap of £2,500.
In such circumstances staff at home who fall ill might be reluctant to update their employer on their sickness status and obtain a fit note for fear that their salary will fall to SSP levels. It is open to the employer to consider implementing its disciplinary procedure to deal with cases of dishonesty, however in the current climate this move would not be seen by many as being sympathetic to staff who are already worried about their livelihoods.
SSP is currently payable at the weekly rate of £94.25 and increases to £95.85 on 6th April 2020. The earnings threshold is currently £118 per week and SSP is payable for up to 28 weeks. SSP is currently only available to employees and workers but not for those who are self-employed.
If you have any questions relating to sick pay then contact Steven Eckett, Partner and Head of Employment at Meaby & Co LLP firstname.lastname@example.org or 020 7703 5034.
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