In response to the impact of coronavirus (COVID-19) on workers, the government has announced that statutory sick pay will be paid from the first day of sickness, as opposed to the fourth day under current rules.
As the change is a temporary measure in response to the outbreak, however, it will lapse when it is no longer required.
In addition, as the TUC points out, it is unclear what will happen to the nearly two million UK workers who do not qualify for statutory sick pay, including one in 10 working women and 23 per cent of zero-hours contract workers. Likewise, people who earn less than £118 per week do not qualify.
Nor is it fully clear what should happen in the event of self-isolation. ACAS (the advisory, conciliation and arbitration service), recommends that if someone is not sick, but their employer tells them not to come into work then they should get their usual pay.
An employer should pay someone SSP who is not sick but cannot work because they have been told by a medical expert to self-isolate or have had to go into quarantine. There is no similar obligation where that self-isolation is voluntary.
The advice from ACAS is that it's good practice for an employer in this situation to treat it as sick leave and follow their usual sick leave policy or offer the employee the option to take the period as paid annual leave. This can help to reduce the risk that a staff member may feel compelled to come into work and could spread the virus if they have it.
If an employee does not want to go into work due to concerns around catching coronavirus (COVID-19), then ACAS recommends that employers listen to their concerns and offer reassurance.
Options to consider include:
- offering flexible working arrangements such as homeworking
- allowing workers to take some time off as holiday or unpaid leave.
The TUC is calling on the government to:
- Scrap the minimum earnings threshold for statutory sick pay
- Ensure that sick pay is paid to workers having to self-isolate
- Increase the weekly level of sick pay
- Provide funds to ensure employers can afford to pay sick pay and provide additional support to those who miss out.
Iain Birrell, of Thompsons Solicitors, commented: “It is interesting to watch a government which has trouble distinguishing between ‘cost’ and ‘value’ approach this issue. Under normal circumstances the scope of SSP is a question of cost and affordability with the aim of ensuring that a sick employee has at least some way to pay the bills (albeit a mere £94.25 per week for up to 28 weeks, and the research suggests that being on SSP for two weeks would still cost the average worker at least £836). Nevertheless, it is considered to be for the public good albeit for reasons related to the individual concerned. In the face of global contagion, the public good undoubtedly includes containing its spread by ensuring the isolation of those who risk passing it on to workmates, schoolmates, customers, commuters and so on.
“The arithmetic of infection is both compelling and alarming, and it embodies the aphorism that a stitch in time saves nine. The ACAS guidance understands that a guaranteed income assists that quarantine process as surely as the lack of one hinders it. SSP is unavailable to nearly two million workers, and 58% of those in relative poverty live in a working household, so a key part of the UK public health response relies on two million people making an economically irrational decision. The Tory love affair with the value of a precariat class is about to be tested. David Cameron famously said of the recession that we were all in it together. It wasn’t really true then, will it be now? Or will your loved ones risk catching coronavirus (COVID-19) from somebody who simply can’t afford to self-isolate?”
To read the ACAS advice in full, go to: https://www.acas.org.uk/acas-publishes-new-advice-on-handling-coronavirus-at-work