FAQs: How should my business manage absences during COVID-19?

Insights / / Bristol

These frequently asked questions will help businesses make the right decisions when it comes to protecting the health and safety of their staff and maintaining business continuity during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The FAQs consider the existing Statutory Sick Pay framework and the changes introduced by the Statutory Sick Pay (General) (Coronavirus Amendment) Regulations 2020 (Coronavirus Amendment Regulations) introduced by the UK Government on 13 March 2020.

Must “vulnerable individuals” be allowed to work from home?

Starting from 23rd March 2020 and lasting a least 3 weeks, The Government has instructed many non-essential businesses to close and advised that people should only leave their homes and travel to work when this absolutely cannot be done from home. Certain categories of individuals have also been identified as being particularly vulnerable. These include, but are not limited to those who:

  • Have a long term health condition;
  • Are pregnant;
  • Are aged 70 or over;
  • Care for someone with a health condition that might put them at a greater risk.

Requiring any employees who falls into the above categories to attend the workplace could amount to a breach of your duty of care to the employee and could ultimately result in a claim for constructive dismissal and/ or discrimination. If the employee contracts COVID-19 as a result of coming into work, your business could also face a personal injury claim.

What if it is not possible for a vulnerable employee to work from home?

These employees are likely to fall within the “deemed incapacity” definition and they will be entitled to SSP (and any contractual sick pay). However, employers should be aware that many of the these employees will be protected from unfair treatment (e.g. due to age, disability or pregnancy) and therefore paying only SSP, rather than full pay, could amount to discrimination.   

What should I do if an employee has any of the symptoms of COVID-19? 

The employee should be treated as being on sick-leave and paid Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) (from the first day of sick-leave) and any contractual sick pay. This is because the employee will either fall into the existing definition of incapacity, as they will be unable to work due to sickness, or within the new “deemed incapacity” definition as they will be following Government guidelines to self-isolate.

What should I do if an employee is self-isolating in line with government guidance i.e. because a member of their household has symptoms of COVID-19?

This employee will also fall within the new definition of “deemed incapacity” and should be paid SSP from the first day of sick-leave and any contractual sick pay.

Should I require employees to produce a sick-note to confirm they have symptoms or are self-isolating?

Given that many employees will not be able to access GP appointments at this time. Employers may wish to relax their usual sickness procedure and the necessity to provide a sick note to confirm they have symptoms or are self-isolating.

The NHS has launched an online sick notes service which may be of use.

Is the Government providing financial support for businesses paying out an increased amount of SSP?

The Government will be providing financial support in some cases. Employers with less than 250 employees will be able to reclaim SSP paid in respect of the first 14 days of COVID-19 related sickness absence.

We are here to support you and your business navigate COVID-19. For more information, please get in touch with any member of our employment law team to find out how we can assist you.

Lydia Cammiade

Lydia Cammiade Associate

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