COVID-19: What employers and employees need to know now
With news that the Government has confirmed on Wednesday 4th March that SSP (Statutory Sick Pay) will be paid from day one rather than the current day four, we set out the current advice compiled by BPMA member benefit provider, Croner.
Commenting on the BBC on Wednesday 4th March, PM Boris Johnson said people who self-isolate help to protect others from the virus and should not be “penalised for doing the right thing”. The emergency legislation means those employees will receive an extra £40 for sick pay starting on day one of sick leave.
For more guidance, or wider HR queries, BPMA members can call the dedicated Croner member support helpline on 0844 561 8133. The BPMA can also provide a risk assessment for employers, created by Citation. BPMA members can request a copy by emailing email@example.com.
Reminder of the affected areas
Hubei province in China
Any employee returning from this region should automatically self-isolate, even if they’re not showing symptoms. If they turn up for work, please make sure they are sent home and asked to self-isolate for 14 days.
Iran, lockdown areas in northern Italy, or special care zones in South Korea
Employees should automatically self-isolate if they have returned from these areas after 19th February 2020.
Other parts of mainland China or South Korea, Hong Kong, Japan, Macau, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan, or Thailand, Other parts of northern Italy (anywhere north of Pisa, Florence and Rimini), Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, or Vietnam
If an employee has been in one of these regions and returned since 19th February 2020, they should be fine to come into work if they aren’t showing symptoms. If they do start to show symptoms, even if they are mild, you should send them home.
For up to date information on affected areas and advice, click here.
Sending employees home
At present, we have been advised to carry on as normal, taking sensible precautions as necessary. If you have employees returning from affected areas, you can reasonably insist they stay home to prevent the spread of infection, even if they aren’t displaying symptoms. Keep up to date with developing news and if you would like guidance on whether you should take action, you can either visit the Government websites or contact Croner for specific employee advice. We understand for employers and employees potentially facing large numbers of staff off sick, knowing where you stand is important.
Employees who refuse to come into work
Croner have advised in this situation it is important to consider all employee concerns and have provided some sensible guidance for BPMA members.
As some people are legitimately concerned about their health and there is a heightened risk of catching the virus in your workplace, some employees may refuse to come in. If they do you should listen to their concerns and offer reassurance. You should consider offering a temporary flexible working arrangement, including homeworking if possible. Or, you could allow them to take some time off as holiday or unpaid leave. Forcing an employee to come into work against their will is likely to cause complaint.
Are employers duty bound to pay SSP (Statutory Sick Pay) as result of COVID-19?
If an employee is legitimately sick with the virus, then they qualify for at least statutory sick pay (SSP). If their contract states that they are provided more, then they will receive that.
SSP is paid at £94.25 per week for up to 28 weeks and is usually paid from the fourth day of sickness however on Wednesday 4th March, the Government pledged to pay from the first day if sickness relates to COVID-19. The individual may not have to provide a doctor’s note, as staff can self-certify with symptoms of flu without a doctor.
We encourage employers and employees to seek clarification on these matters to ensure all parties are fully aware of what is available in the event that sick pay becomes a necessity.
Paying those who self-isolate
If you are asked or choose to self-isolate, understanding where employees and employers stand on pay is essential. UK Health Secretary, Matt Hancock has advised that employees who are told to self-isolate are entitled to sick leave but not necessarily sick pay. ACAS has re-affirmed this, pointing out that there’s no legal obligation to pay.
However, ACAS have also outlined that it’s good practice to pay employees if they’re self-isolating.
As an employer, we would advise that it’s generally advisable paying employees if they’re self-isolating. Croner have given guidance that gives an example; if you send an employee home despite them not showing symptoms, you’re not following government guidance. Therefore, you should pay the employee in full to avoid any potential risks. If the employee is self-isolating based on government guidance then it’s good practice to provide sick pay through usual procedures at least, if not full pay.
Employees who take time off to care for someone else
If you have an employee who needs to take time off to care for someone else who is sick or provide childcare in the event that schools close, ACAS have advised on best practice:
Employees are entitled to time off work to help someone who depends on them (a ‘dependant’) in an unexpected event or emergency. This would apply to situations to do with coronavirus. For example:
- if they have children they need to look after or arrange childcare for because their school has closed
- to help their child or another dependant if they’re sick, or need to go into isolation or hospital
There’s no statutory right to pay for this time off, but some employers might offer pay depending on the contract or workplace policy.
The amount of time off an employee takes to look after someone must be reasonable for the situation. For example, they might take 2 days off to start with, and if more time is needed, they can book holiday.
What happens if COVID-19 becomes widespread
ACAS has also provided guidance for employers for what you should do if the virus spreads more widely across the UK. You should:
- Ensure staff details are up to date including emergency contacts
- Refresh managers on workplace policies and procedures, in particular those relating to sickness absence
- Implement NHS advice on hygiene in your workplace, including hand-washing guidance and the provision of soap and water
- Provide hand sanitisers and tissues to staff an encourage usage of them.
- It’s also worth considering whether you might need to close your workplace. This includes considering whether homeworking is possible and maintaining communication with staff.