As you are aware, the Coronavirus is of growing concern to both individuals and businesses within the UK and the rest of the World.  The media is reporting growing numbers of people diagnosed as having the virus daily.

As expected, we have been inundated with questions from our clients regarding COVID-19 and the management of staff. The advice from the government is changing on a daily basis as such our advice below is subject to change.

Companies should take the initiative and explore and put in place processes and procedures to prevent the spread of the virus.  This could include (but is not limited to) buying hand sanitisers and banning all forms of physical contact (handshakes).

Wurkplace recommends that employers regularly check the following websites for advice on how to reduce the risk of the virus spreading and this should be communicated to your employees:

At the time of writing, the Government has advised that if an employee has recently returned from a severely affected areas (the list of countries can be found by following the link below) they should ideally self-isolate even if they believe that they have not contracted the virus and they have no symptoms present.

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-specified-countries-and-areas/covid-19-specified-countries-and-areas-with-implications-for-returning-travellers-or-visitors-arriving-in-the-uk)

You may ask at this stage ‘how, as an employer, do you react to this?

Currently, the government has advised that those who fall into the below categories should self-isolate:

These individuals would be entitled to statutory sick pay from day one due to the changes the government has implemented (refer to Company Sick Pay Policy/Procedure if applicable).

If employees who fall into this category attempt to come to work the employee should be reminded of these instructions that they should self-isolate for the required period.

An alternative is that an employee could be allowed to take this period of self-isolation as annual leave or be provided with the opportunity to work from home while they wait to see if they do start to show symptoms of the virus.

In respect of an individual who does not fall into the above (i), (ii), (iii) and (iv) categories and has been asked to self-isolate by their employer, they would be entitled to full pay as they would not be entitled to statutory sick pay (unless they are displaying symptoms similar to COVID-19 and deemed to be incapable of work due to their employer suspecting they may have COVID-19).

In respect of an individual who does not fall into the above (i), (ii), (iii) and (iv) categories and does not show symptoms of the illness or has not contracted the illness and chooses to self-isolate , where there are genuine concerns, the employer must try to resolve them to protect the health and safety of their staff. For example, if possible, the employer could offer flexible working or you may choose to authorise a period of unpaid leave, allow them to work from home or they may take annual leave. You do not have to agree to this.

The workplace’s usual sick leave and pay entitlements apply if someone has contracted coronavirus (albeit there is no waiting period for SSP – it is from day 1).

Whilst information changes and you are creating your own policy/ procedure the key message from an employee relations perspective is that you remain consistent in your approach as this will assist in avoiding any claims of less favourable treatment or a challenge of discrimination.
For more details on sick pay, sending employees home and self-isolation please refer to our question and answers below.

We will continue to update you as further announcements from the Government and Public Health are made.

Q&A Sick Pay, Self-isolation and COVID-19

The advice from the government is changing daily as such our advice below is subject to change. However, as of today we have set out questions we are being asked and our responses below.

When can an individual claim Statutory Sick Pay?

The government announced on Wednesday 11 March 2020 that the government will reimburse small/medium employers (with less than 250 employees) any statutory sick pay they pay to employees, for the first 14 days of sickness. Statutory sick pay is currently paid at £94.25 per week – this is a day 1 entitlement.

If an employee self-isolates, do they receive statutory sick pay?

If an employee self-isolates because they have returned from one of the affected countries or has been in close contact with someone who has returned from one of those countries, then they can claim statutory sick pay from the first working day of self-isolation. See the list of affected countries by clicking on the link below.
The list of countries can be found here.

However, many employees are engaged in roles where they are able to work from home so you can speak with employees on an individual basis about the work that they could carry out during self-isolation where they are not showing any symptoms and feel well enough to work. Remember that if someone is working from home they are working and therefore should be paid their usual pay and cannot claim statutory sick pay.

What should we do if an individual calls in sick or is sent home from work because they have a cold or flu like symptoms but they have not recently returned or come into close contact with an individual who has recently returned from an affected country?

If an individual has not returned from or come into close contact with an individual who has returned from one of the affected countries, but they contact you to say, or attend work and they are displaying symptoms similar to those of COVID-19, then they should also remain at home and will be able to claim statutory sick pay also from day one if they are concerned that they may have COVID-19 symptoms (if the employer offers contractual sick pay, it’s good practice to pay this).

What do we do if an employee calls in sick, but they are complaining of an illness which is unrelated to COVID-19?

If an individual is not displaying COVID-19 symptoms and is off sick, then the usual sick pay rules will apply but they will not be able to claim statutory sick pay from day one if their illness is unrelated to COVID-19.

What if we decide to shut down the Company for 2 weeks in order to self- isolate?

The Government and Public Health are not advising now that businesses should close-down, even if a person who has visited your workplace or a staff member has been tested positive for COVID-19.

If a Company needs to close-down their business, they will need to either lay-off their employees if the contracts of employment allow or pay the employees in full for the close-down period.

The government will most likely change their advice if workplace closures begin to be the norm during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Do we need to ask for a med-3 GP fit note in order to pay an individual statutory sick pay?

No, the government has confirmed that a med-3 GP fit note or any other medical evidence is not necessarily required for employees who:

This is because an individual may not be able to obtain a fit note if they have been told to self-isolate. Employers are advised by the government to use their discretion in these circumstances about the medical evidence they require.

Do we need to provide our employees with time off work to care for a dependent?

Employees are entitled to take time off to care for a dependent, for example, if they have children and need to look after or arrange childcare for because their school / nursery has closed.

There is no statutory right to paid time off in these circumstances however an employer might offer to pay depending on the contract or workplace policy or the employer’s discretion. [Taken from the ACAS advice on Coronavirus].

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