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COVID-19: Understanding sick pay and self-isolation

As the government response to the COVID-19 epidemic evolves, businesses are increasingly concerned about how to manage sick pay when it comes to those who are self-isolating or fall ill with the virus.

The UK government’s strategy for handling the outbreak is “contain, delay, research and mitigate”. The aim of this strategy is to limit the number of serious cases so that the NHS doesn’t become overwhelmed by high demand for critical care beds.

Self-isolation for people with coronavirus symptoms

Whilst the focus was previously on self-isolation for people who’ve returned from areas with many cases of the virus or come into contact with those returning travellers, the UK government is now advising that anybody showing symptoms, however minor, should stay at home. 

The government are currently advising people to stay home for 7 days if they develop any of the following symptoms:

  • A new continuous cough and/or
  • A high temperature

If you live with others, the whole household will need to stay at home and avoid contact with other people for 14 days. Those who remain symptom free at the end of the two-week period can return back to work.

However, it’s important to keep up to date with the government guidelines as social distancing is now advised, which includes working from home where possible and limiting non-essential contact with others, such as going to pubs and restaurants.

More advice on how to effectively self-isolate is available from Public Health England.

Sick pay and self-isolation for COVID-19

As isolation is such a key part of the government strategy, it raises questions about whether employees in isolation due to COVID-19 would receive normal pay, contractual sick pay or statutory sick pay.

There’s an important distinction here between contractual sick pay offered by the company and statutory sick pay. When an employee is in isolation, they’re not ill so the company policy on sick pay does not necessarily apply.

To help mitigate the spread of the virus and avoid people going to work when ill because of financial concerns, emergency legislation has now been passed that mean employees will receive statutory sick pay from day one of isolation.

Statutory sick pay is £94.25 a week, but employees must normally be earning at least £118 to be eligible. More information on statutory sick pay is available at gov.uk. Companies may also choose to offer their normal contractual sick pay on a discretionary basis.

Next steps

As the government is constantly reviewing their response and strategy, it’s important that you keep up to date with the latest announcements to ensure you are offering the right advice to your employees.

Whilst those who are unable to work due to illness are entitled to SSP, or normal contractual sick pay should you decide to offer this, you need to consider whether it’s appropriate for them to return to work once their period of self-isolation ends with the government now advising people to work from home wherever possible.

It’s critical that employees are kept up to date, so we’ve put together an employer guide on developing a response plan to the COVID-19 outbreak and how to effectively communicate this to your workforce. The free guide includes response plan templates and is available to download here.

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