Coronavirus self-isolation update

03/03/2020

As the number of confirmed cases of coronavirus creeps up and the government confirms its plans for dealing with the spread of the disease in the UK, the pressure on employers is increasing.

The big headline for businesses is that the government anticipates that in ‘a stretching scenario’ a fifth of the workforce could be absent from work either suffering from the virus or as a result of having to self-isolate.

Not only does this create massive challenges in terms of productivity and business continuity, but as an employer, where do you stand in terms of paying employees who are absent from work?

Clearly if an employee has a confirmed case of coronavirus, you would treat this as you would any other period of sickness.

However, people who are advised to self-isolate as a precautionary measure technically have no statutory right to time off sick or paid time off according to the law (namely the Social Security Contributions and Benefits Act 1992).

This could mean thousands of people who are prevented from attending work receiving no pay, or, worse still, ignoring the advice to self-isolate because they can’t afford to lose their income, fuelling the spread of the virus.

To address this issue health secretary Matt Hancock has told MPs that self-isolation on medical advice should be considered sickness by employers. However, this requires a review of the statutory sick pay legislation.

It’s not easy or straightforward to find, but under regulation 2 of the Statutory Sick Pay (General) Regulations 1982 it appears that where an employee is given written notice issued by a GP or NHS 111 to self-isolate, this should be interpreted as an employee being deemed incapable of work and therefore they would be entitled to statutory sick pay.

This is in-keeping with ACAS guidance which recommends treating an employee who has self-isolated or is in quarantine as being off sick to remove the risk that the employee feels they have no option but to come to work.

In some jobs, allowing staff to work from home will be the easiest work-around, but for others, for example, those in the care sector or factory workers, this just isn’t possible so statutory sick pay will be the only option available.

For the latest guidance on coronavirus self-isolation visit gov.uk or for employment law advice email laura.franklin@beswicks.com You can also phone us on 01782 205000. For unlimited HR guidance for employers, ask us about our Beswicks HR Service.