Coronavirus – a current guide for employers

March 18, 2020


Cases of coronavirus (COVID-19) continue to increase and the risk to the UK has been raised to high.

During this unprecedented time employers need to know what to do in relation to employee absenteeism, the different reasons for it, and whether they should be paid during the time they’re not working or present at work.

Rumour and speculation can fuel anxiety, so it is important that organisations communicate effectively with their employees to keep them calm, provide good quality information, and set down clear guidelines of what they can and cannot do during this confusing and difficult time.

We have put together the below Q&A to address important questions you may have about your workforce:

In what circumstances do employers have to pay Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) to employees?

SSP is payable to employees who are absent from work due to incapacity. The government introduced temporary emergency legislation stating that a person is deemed incapable of work where they are “isolating themself from other people in such a manner as to prevent infection or contamination with coronavirus disease, in accordance with guidance published by Public Health England, NHS National Services Scotland or Public Health Wales and effective on 12 March 2020”.  This means that in most cases an employee who is in quarantine or self-isolation due to COVID-19 (and who is not working from home) will be treated as being incapable of working for SSP purposes.

In these circumstances SSP will be payable to employees from the first day of sickness absence rather than the fourth day. Small employers with fewer than 250 employees will be reimbursed for any SSP paid to employees in respect of the first 14-days of sickness related to the coronavirus.

Employers should also check their contracts of employment and sickness absence policies to see whether their employees are entitled to any contractual sick pay in addition to SSP.

Can employers send employees home from work to self-isolate?

If you reasonably suspect that an employee has been exposed to COVID-19, you can send an employee home from work to self-isolate until the risk has passed because you have a duty to protect the health and safety of other employees.

If an employee is ordered to self-isolate or quarantined but they’re not sick, can their employer ask them to continue to work from home?

Where an employee is legally obliged to stay away from the workplace, but they are well enough and have the facilities to work from the quarantined location, then there is no problem with asking them to continue to work from home.

Should an employee be paid if they’re stranded overseas following a holiday?

If an employee is stranded overseas because they have contracted COVID-19 and are either not permitted to travel or too unwell to do so, then you should treat them as being on sick leave in terms of pay. The employee will also be entitled to take annual leave if they prefer to do so (as long as they have enough holiday left for your current holiday year), but you can’t compel them to do so.

If the employee cannot travel home because they are subject to lockdown or precautionary isolation and unable to access transport, their entitlement to pay will depend upon whether they could still continue to work, and if not whether it’s sensible to treat them as being on sick leave.

Can employers require employees to use their holiday entitlement to cover periods of absence?

Your employees may prefer to take annual leave where they would otherwise only be entitled to SSP or no pay at all. They’re entitled to take statutory annual leave during sickness absence but you can’t compel them to do so. However, for employees who are not on sick leave you can instruct them to take statutory annual leave (as long as they have enough leave left for your holiday year) provided you give them the required level of notice – at least twice the length of the period of leave that you’re instructing your employees to take.

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