Covid and Sick Pay | Essential HR Guide for Businesses
With an increasing number of businesses becoming operational again and with an end to the furlough scheme in sight in the not very distant future, the issue of covid and sick pay, sickness absence, sickness-related absence and entitlement to SSP will be at the forefront for many employers.
Covid and Sick Pay | What is different about SSP from before?
In normal circumstances SSP is payable commencing on the fourth day of sickness absence at a rate of £95.85 per week for up to 28 weeks. New regulations implemented in March have removed the three waiting days for employees whose absence from work is due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to that, the Government will reimburse employers with fewer than 250 employees any COVID-19-related SSP they pay to employees for the first two weeks of sickness, backdated to 14 March. This will be reclaimable via an online portal. This covers persons who have been diagnosed, or are or were self-isolating or shielding because of Coronavirus.
Who is entitled to SSP when they are not actually sick?
- Employees who have COVID-19 symptoms but are not actually too unwell to work (they are required to self-isolate for 7 days).
- Employees who live in the same household as someone with COVID-19 symptoms (they are required to self-isolate for 14 days).
- Employees who have one of the specific conditions set out in public health guidance which render them “extremely vulnerable” and are following strict shielding measures.
Employees in the above categories who can work from home should do so and receive normal pay.
What about employees who decline to attend work due to fear of infection but do not fall into the above categories?
In businesses that have continued to operate or that have made plans to re-open, there are many staff who have underlying conditions that put them at increased risk of becoming seriously ill with COVID-19 but who do not fall into the “extremely vulnerable” category.
There are also many who decline to attend work during the pandemic without any such additional risk being present. There is no actual entitlement to SSP for these persons. Whether they receive any payment is a matter for employers, with some choosing to pay the equivalent of SSP (which will not be reclaimable) or to employ the furlough scheme for them even though there is work available for them to do and some choosing to pay nothing and treat the absence as unpaid leave.
What if an employee reports sick during furlough?
In reality, unless there is a company sick pay scheme in place or there are special reasons for an employee wanting their employer to know they are sick, furloughed employees who become ill are likely to not trouble their employer by reporting it in order not to risk losing continued furlough pay or have additional sick days on their record.
Where they do report sick, Government guidance states that the employer has the choice of ending furlough, implementing SSP and then resuming furlough or keeping the employee furloughed through the sickness period. There has been some speculation arising from Treasury Direction (as opposed to Government guidance to employers) that where furlough is maintained and an employee has reported sick, then the furlough pay will be reduced by an amount equivalent to SSP but that is not known to have happened in practice.
Are pregnant employees who stay off work entitled to SSP?
Pregnant women are categorised as clinically vulnerable (and should therefore take care to minimise contact with people outside their household) but not “extremely clinically vulnerable” and are therefore not covered by the expanded SSP provisions if they choose to stay at home and cannot work from home. Furloughing (despite there being work for the employee to do), unpaid leave and discretionary paid leave are among the alternatives that can be implemented.
As always with pregnant employees, the employer has an obligation to alter working conditions or hours to avert significant risk. If significant risk cannot be avoided there is a right to be suspended on full pay if there is no suitable alternative work.
Speak to our legally trained Employment Law Consultants today for specific employer advice about any covid and sick pay queries you may have.