The coronavirus situation is fast-moving and there have been a number of key announcements from the government about changes to employment law in the last few days. Some of these changes have now come into force, but other changes await further legislation. Here we summarise the key legal developments this week and what further changes employers can expect in the coming days.
Extension of right to SSP to those who are self-isolating: now in force
Emergency legislation came into force today (13 March 2020) that provides that individuals who self-isolate to prevent infection or contamination with coronavirus are to be treated as incapable of work and, therefore, potentially eligible to claim statutory sick pay (SSP).
The Statutory Sick Pay (General) (Coronavirus Amendment) Regulations 2020 extend entitlement to claim SSP to anyone who is self-isolating in accordance with guidance published by Public Health England. The relevant guidance is published on the www.gov.uk website (Covid-19 stay at home guidance). It states very clearly that, if a person has symptoms of coronavirus infection (the most common symptoms listed as a new, continuous cough and/or high temperature), however mild the symptoms may be, they should self-isolate for seven days from when their symptoms started. (The relevant guidance in Scotland and Wales is published by NHS National Services Scotland or Public Health Wales, respectively).
The government no longer advises individuals with suspected coronavirus to contact the NHS111 service. Individuals exhibiting mild symptoms of coronavirus will not be tested; so, in many cases, whether the individual is suffering from coronavirus will never be confirmed.
Government to refund SSP for SMEs: now in force
To support small and medium sized businesses, the government will refund up to two weeks’ SSP costs claimed per employee as a result of coronavirus. Employers with fewer than 250 employees as at 28 February 2020 will be eligible to claim this refund.
The Spring Budget confirmed that “the eligible period for the [refund] scheme will commence from the day on which the regulations extending SSP to self-isolators come into force”. It is, therefore, understood that the government will refund SSP claimed by employees as a result of COVID-19 from 13 March 2020.
People unable to work because caring for someone with coronavirus: legislation awaited
In the Spring Budget delivered on 11 March 2020, the Chancellor confirmed that employees will also be entitled to claim SSP if they are unable to work because they are caring for those who are exhibiting symptoms of coronavirus and have been advised to self-isolate. Further legislation is required to bring this into force.
No waiting period for SSP: legislation awaited
The Chancellor also committed in the Spring Budget that SSP will be paid from the first day of absence (with the usual four day waiting period temporarily suspended). Further legislation is required to bring this into force.
What this means in practice right now
If an employee is absent from work because they are self-isolating in accordance with the relevant guidance, they are entitled to receive SSP if they are unable to work from home (subject to meeting the other conditions for payment). The government will refund those employers with fewer than 250 employees up to two weeks’ SSP expenditure per employee that is claimed as a result of coronavirus. Until further legislation is enacted, the usual four day waiting period applies before SSP is payable. A self-isolating employee who is able to work from home will be entitled to their normal pay.
If an employee is unfit for work because of suspected or confirmed coronavirus, their normal entitlement to sick pay applies (SSP or contractual). The government advises employers to use their discretion not to require a GP fit note for coronavirus-related absences, given the strain on GP surgeries. The Chancellor announced that a temporary alternative to the fit note will be introduced “in the coming weeks” and further details are awaited.
Currently, if an employee is absent from work because they are caring for an individual with confirmed or suspected coronavirus, but are not themselves exhibiting symptoms of coronavirus, they are not entitled to SSP. They may be entitled to other statutory leave, such as Dependants’ Leave, but currently not to any form of statutory pay. We await further legislation to extend entitlement to SSP in these circumstances.
The awaited “COVID-19 Bill” is expected to go before Parliament w/c 16 March 2020 and it is hoped that it will codify the outstanding changes that have been announced by the government.
Tags: coronavirus, corona, COVID-19, virus