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Covid-19: Government suggests employers should offer sick pay from Day 1

Covid-19:  Government suggests employers should offer sick pay from Day 1

With Boris Johnson’s announcement this week detailing the Government’s emergency plans to cope with a wider UK outbreak of Covid-19, our attention turns to his suggestion that potentially one fifth (20%) of workers could be absent from their place of employment simultaneously if transmission rates increase dramatically, and the practical impact this would have on employers.

Vaishali Thakerar, Employment solicitor at Lawson-West Solicitors sets out two main areas for consideration:

 

1    DOES STATUTORY SICK PAY APPLY?

The Government’s current legislation says that employees off sick from work are entitled to the following:

£94.25 per week Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) if too ill to work. Paid by the employer for up to 28 weeks of illness. Employees need to qualify for SSP and have been off work sick for 4 or more days in a row (including non-working days).

However, in light of Covid-19, the Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, said this week that employers should view the isolation of employees as sick leave. Boris Johnson added to the discussion on 4th March saying it should apply from the first day of leave, not the fourth.

 

Self-Isolation, no symptoms

Under the law, employees are not currently entitled to sick leave, unless they either have a sympathetic employer, or can possibly work from home on full pay. This would include people returning from affected countries abroad and those returning from holiday destinations where the virus was active, and worried employees who have taken it upon themselves to self-isolate but with no symptoms evident.

However, Matt Hancock has said that even though people have no symptoms, an employee is technically off work for “medical reasons” and therefore employers should seek to pay employees sickness pay. 

The GMB trade union has called for the Government to introduce a statutory right to normal pay during self-isolation by amending the Employment Rights Act 1996.

Rehana Azam, national secretary at the union said:

"Statutory sick pay is woefully inadequate at the best of times, but the outbreak of Covid-19 has highlighted the risks posed to workers and the public at large.”

“Ministers already have the emergency powers to stem this crisis by forcing employers to pay full sick pay from day one - and to offer financial assistance to smaller companies where required." - Boris Johnson added to the discussion on 4th March saying it should apply from the first day of leave, not the fourth.

ACAS has said it's "good practice" for your employer to treat it as sick leave or agree for the time to be taken as holiday.

This is an area of debate where we shall see further clarification in the coming days as there is clearly pressure being placed on ministers to make employers offer sick pay to their employees, even with the economic impact that would bring for UK businesses.

Self-Isolation, with symptoms

You are entitled to employment sick leave and Statutory Sick Pay applies from Day 4 of sickness. An employer would need to see a doctor’s certificate, unless a special certificate or new employment rule was introduced by the authorities to cover Covid-19.

Boris Johnson added to the discussion on 4th March saying it should apply from the first day of leave, not the fourth.

Imposed Isolation, with symptoms

When employees have been told to stay at home by the authorities, doctors or HR teams, they are legally entitled to sick pay. You are entitled to employment sick leave and Statutory Sick Pay applies from Day 4 of sickness. An employer would need to see a doctor’s certificate, unless a special certificate or new employment rule was introduced by the authorities to cover Covid-19.

Boris Johnson added to the discussion on 4th March saying it should apply from the first day of leave, not the fourth.

 

2    WHAT IF SICK PAY DOESN’T APPLY?

Business Secretary, Alok Sharma, suggested today that those impacted by the virus who are not covered by sick pay may be able to claim Universal Credit benefit instead, or could access a new-style employment and support allowance. This could be the case for people on zero-hour contracts for example, or those who have insecure work and may not be entitled to sickness cover. Universal Credit is claimed via the Job Centre or online at https://www.gov.uk/apply-universal-credit, however the process for claiming Universal Credit can be a lengthy application and eligibility needs to be ascertained and approved before it is paid.

The Government might have to introduce a special UC payment process for Covid-19 claims, but they will probably wait first to see how far the virus has spread, it’s impact on UK businesses, and how effective the positive containment has been.

 

If you are concerned about your employees, or how your business is going to cope with an extended outbreak, you can contact employment law Solicitor Vaishali Thakerar at vthakerar@lawson-west.co.uk or Tel: 0116 212 1059.

 
Useful Links:

https://www.gov.uk/statutory-sick-pay

https://www.acas.org.uk/coronavirus

https://www-bbc-co-uk.cdn.ampproject.org/c/s/www.bbc.co.uk/news/amp/business-51628524

https://www.gmb.org.uk/news/coronavirus-nhs-trusts-must-ensure-sick-pay-outsourced-staff 

https://www.gmb.org.uk/news/governments-coronavirus-battle-plan-episode-dads-army 

https://www.birminghammail.co.uk/news/midlands-news/coronavirus-workers-could-claim-universal-17854411

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