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FACTSHEET: COVID-19: Impact On Sickness Absence and pay

23 December 2021
FACTSHEET: COVID-19: Impact On Sickness Absence and pay

The UK has recently seen the highest number of new daily cases of Covid 19. As a result, many employers have seen an increase in the number of sickness absences due to COVID19. This factsheet answers some of the most frequently asked questions about sickness absence due to covid19 and pay. 

What is statutory sickness pay and how much is it?

Statutory sick pay (SSP) is a weekly payment made to employees, who earn an average of at least £120 per week and who are too ill to work. It is payable from the employee’s fourth day of sickness absence; the first three days of absence are not covered by the scheme. The current SSP rate is £96.35 per week and is payable for up to 28 weeks. 

Can we reclaim it?

The government has announced they are reintroducing the Statutory Sick Pay Rebate Scheme for small and medium-sized employers i.e. those businesses with fewer than 250 employees. Employers will be eligible for the scheme if:

  1. They are UK based
  2. They employed fewer than 250 employees as of 30 November 2021
  3. They had a PAYE payroll system as of 30 November 2021
  4. They have already paid their employees Covid related SSP. 

Employers shall be entitled to claim the costs for up to two weeks of SSP per employee that has to take time off because of Covid-19.

This scheme takes effect from 21 December 2021.

How can Employers make a claim?

Employers will be able to make a claim through HMRC from mid-January onwards, using the following website: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/claim-back-statutory-sick-paypaid-to-your-employees-due-to-coronavirus-covid-1

Are employees who are absent from work due to Covid-19, eligible for SSP?

Employees who are not actually sick but are self-isolating following medical and/or government guidance must be paid SSP. 

Under the amended SSP regulations, the following categories of people are entitled to SSP:

  1. Anyone self-isolating for the mandatory 10-day period with Covid-19 symptoms. However, those who provide negative lateral flow tests on day six and seven of isolation will only be required to isolate for seven days instead of the full 10. 
  2. Anyone testing positive for Covid-19 following a PCR test. 
  3. Anyone self-isolating for the mandatory 10-day period due to living with or being in a linked or extended household (a “support bubble”) with someone who has symptoms or tested positive.
  4. A clinically extremely vulnerable person who is “shielding” and has a current shielding notification letter. (Note: shielding officially ended in England in September 2021).
  5. Anyone who has been officially notified that they should self-isolate under the NHS Test and Trace service and is not able to work remotely or exempt from self-isolating. Fully vaccinated individuals (who had their second vaccine more than 14 before being notified to self-isolate) do not need to self-isolate if they have been in close contact with an individual who has tested positive for Covid-19. 
  6. Anyone who is unable to work from home and has received written notification that they will be undergoing a medical procedure in hospital and has been advised to self-isolate for a period of up to 14 days before their admission. 

How can employers obtain evidence of an employee’s illness?

The normal process for employers to obtain evidence would be for all employees to self-certify themselves for the first 7 days and ask for a fit note from the GP for absences longer than seven days. 

However, due to the additional pressure, this would put on GP’s having to deal with the time dedicated to issuing fit notes the law has been changed to allow for self-certification for up to 28 days of absences which began after the 10th of December 2021 and end on or before the 26th of January 2022. Where employees have been advised to self-isolate there is an online system that they can use to provide an isolation note.

Employers who offer contractual sick pay will need to review their policy and consider whether to apply the new self-certification rules to their own policy.

Can employees request to return to work if they have financial concerns regarding being on SSP? 

It is now an offence in England for an employer to allow staff to come to work if they know an employee is required to self-isolate because they have tested positive for Covid-19 or have been notified by NHS Track and Trace. Employees and agency workers have a legal obligation to inform their employers that they are self-isolating and how long they shall be isolating for. Therefore, any request from an employee to return to work that would be contrary to medical and/or government guidance should be refused. 

Employers must remember that they have a duty of care towards their employees. 

How should employees with long term covid-19 be treated?

There is a possibility that employees who suffer from long term Covid-19 can be considered disabled for the purposes of the Equality Act. If the impact of having Covid-19 is likely to last for 12 months or more and have a significant impact on the employee’s ability to do day-to-day tasks, they are likely to be protected from unfavourable treatment as a result of having Covid-19. Employers would have a duty to make reasonable adjustments to facilitate their return to work and should proactively manage the absence, including documenting the impact it has on the business. 

Should Company policies on sickness absence and pay be amended in light of Covid-19?

Careful attention should be paid to the wording of policies that afford employees more than the statutory minimum sick pay. For example, the policy may state that employees only qualify for company sick pay when they are too sick to work. Therefore, employees who are isolating due to mild symptoms or due to being a close contact may not be eligible for company sick pay under the policy. In this instance, companies may consider amending their policy to encourage employees to comply with the medical and/or government guidance.

Employers may also want to consider discounting Covid19 related absences for attendance management systems.

Employers should treat all employees consistently to avoid potential claims and complaints.

As double vaccinated employees are exempt from self-isolating if they are identified as a close contact of a positive case, employers may want to reconsider their policy on contractual sick pay for self-isolation.

What steps do employers need to take if someone at work shows any signs of COVID-19 symptoms?

The employer should tell the employee to go home immediately.  If the employee is well enough to work from home, they will be entitled to normal pay. If they are unable to work from home, they will be entitled to SSP. 

The employer should take steps to deep clean the workplace to avoid potential spread and further infections.

If an employee has been in contact with a colleague who has Covid-19 symptoms, do they need to self-isolate?

No. They will only be legally required to self-isolate if they are officially notified under the NHS Test and Trace service that they should do so. 

Are there any payments that workers may be entitled to if they are required to self-isolate?

Some employees who are unable to work from home and are claiming certain benefits from may be entitled to a one-off payment of £500 through the Test and Trace Support Payment scheme

How we can assist

If you have any questions regarding sickness absence and pay in relation to Covid-19, our team of expert employment lawyers can answer your queries. Please contact the team via email at contact@davenportsolicitors.com or telephone on 02079036888. 

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