Coronavirus – essential information for employers

By 04/03/2020 No Comments

With North East institution Greggs confirming that it will pay full pay for any staff who have to self-isolate because of the Coronavirus, what legal obligations do businesses have regarding sick pay and sick leave?

Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) and Sick Leave

An employee who is off sick with coronavirus is subject to their employer’s usual policy on sick leave and pay.

Employers have a legal obligation to pay SSP to employees who have been off sick for more than three days.  SSP is paid for a maximum of 28 weeks for those employees whose average earnings are at or above the lower earnings limit (currently £118 per week).  Workers are not entitled to SSP but may be able to claim universal credit instead.

However, due to the Public Health England advice to self-isolate questions were asked as to whether self-isolation amounted to sick leave and thus whether employees should be paid SSP.

Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary confirmed that those employees in self-isolation on medical advice should be treated as on sick leave and may be eligible for SSP.

It was questioned whether this declaration was correct in light of the legislation that governs SSP.  However, it has now been confirmed that this advice is correct.

The Prime Minister has also confirmed today that SSP rules are amended so that SSP will now be paid to employees from day one.  This means they no longer have to wait until day four to be eligible for SSP.  This measure was put in place to help contain the coronavirus by providing financial assistance to those who wouldn’t ordinarily receive any pay from their employer during the first three days of sick leave.

Key facts

As this situation is constantly evolving, here are the key facts for employers at the time of writing:

  • An employee who self-isolates because they are given a written notice, typically issued by a GP or by 111, then they are deemed to be incapable of work, and so are entitled to SSP
  • An employee who self-isolates of their own accord and/or does not have a written notice is not entitled to SSP
  • The usual three waiting days to receive SSP no longer applies and will be paid from day one

What if employer sends employees home when they are not sick?

Employees are entitled to their usual pay.  Reasons for sending staff home may be to self-isolate after having returned from an area at risk in accordance with the Public Health England guidance.

What if an employee has to look after someone else?

Employees are entitled to a reasonable amount of time off to care for a dependant, such as a child, due to an unexpected event or emergency.   This is an unpaid right and usually lasts a couple of days.

What if employee chooses not to go to work?

Some employees may be too worried about coming in to work in case they catch the coronavirus.  Employers should consider allowing flexible working or allowing staff to take holiday or unpaid leave.

An employer may have to consider disciplinary action if the employee unreasonably refuses to attend work.

What if the workplace needs to close?

The government has said there is currently no reason to close workplaces, but employers should plan for this in the event they need to temporarily close in the future.

Employers should update (or implement) their Business Continuity Plan to ensure that staff can work remotely to avoid as little disruption or downtime as possible.

Where homeworking is not viable and the workplace has to close for a period of time, employers will need to pay staff their usual wages unless there is an express term in the contract allowing for staff to be laid off without pay or the staff agree to waive their right to pay.

Employers should check if their commercial insurance policy covers payment of wages during any temporary closure caused by the coronavirus.

Acas Guidance

Acas has issued advice for employers and employees to protect the health and safety of staff.  It recommends the following as good practice:

  • Keep staff updated on actions being taken to reduce risks of exposure
  • Make sure contact numbers and emergency contact details are up to date
  • Make sure managers know how to spot the symptoms of Coronavirus and what to do
  • Provide hand sanitiser, tissues and clean places to wash hands with hot water and soap
  • Consider using protective face masks
  • Be flexible if someone can’t provide a sick note due to self-isolation

We will continue to provide updates on this evolving subject.

Get in touch if you need help with any of the issues raised in this article: or 0191 603 0061