As lockdown gradually eases and employees begin to return to work, there will continue to be individuals who are unwell or required to self-isolate due to Covid-19. This article answers some of the most frequently asked questions about sickness absence and sick pay.
Do we have to pay employees who are off sick with diagnosed Covid-19?
Yes, employees will be entitled to the employer’s usual sick leave and pay provisions, including statutory sick pay (SSP). Even if the employee only has mild symptoms, they must self-isolate for ten days at home and are entitled to SSP.
What if they have symptoms but have not been diagnosed?
If the employee has symptoms which mean they are too unwell to come to work they will be entitled to the employer’s usual sick leave and pay provisions, including SSP.
What if an employee becomes sick while on furlough?
It is up to the employer to decide whether to move the employee to SSP or keep them on furlough. If the employee remains on furlough, the employer can continue to claim their salary through the furlough scheme. However, if the employee is moved onto SSP, the employer will have to pay this and can no longer claim their salary through the furlough scheme.
What if the employee is not sick, but is self-isolating due to medical/government advice?
If the employee is self-isolating based on medical or government advice, they will be entitled to pay. The main situations would be where the employee: lives with or is in a support bubble with someone who has symptoms or tested positive for Covid-19; or has been notified that they should self-isolate under the NHS test and trace system. This does not apply to other contact tracing systems (e.g. one set up privately by an employer).
The government has now “paused” shielding for clinically extremely vulnerable people from 1 August. This means that the right to SSP for those shielding ended from 1 August unless the employee is in a lockdown area and has been advised to shield again by the government.
There have been various amendments to SSP regulations which have extended SSP to cover those self-isolating to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
Employers should consider whether to apply the new SSP rules to company sick pay as well. You should check the wording of your sick pay rules. It is important to treat everyone consistently to avoid grievances or claims of discrimination.
What about employees who do not want to come to work because they are vulnerable?
It is advised that people who are considered vulnerable should take particular care to minimise contact with others outside their household. However, vulnerable employees who choose to not go to work are not entitled to SSP unless they fall within the government’s guidance to self-isolate because they have symptoms, live in a household or are in a support bubble with someone who has symptoms or have been contacted under NHS “test and trace”. The exception would be if the employee has been advised to shield by the government (but for most people, this has been paused from 1 August).
If working at home is not feasible, employers should consider the position with the employee and consider being flexible for example by allowing the employee to be furloughed or take a period of unpaid leave.
Employers should also consider whether they have any health and safety obligations for example, there will be specific obligations owed to pregnant employees.
We have tried to cover the frequently asked questions in this area at the moment. If you have any specific questions you would like advice on, then please contact: Abi.Frederick@lewissilkin.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.