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Employment & HR Guide For Coronavirus-Related Sickness and Absence

23 April 2020

As the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has developed in the UK, government guidelines about how businesses should handle sickness and absence have been responsively adjusted.

Being aware of the current policies around work-related sickness and absence is vital for handling the current lockdown measures effectively for your business. By accessing current advice on handling sickness and absences, employers from all sectors can better navigate situations likely to arise in the current climate.

This page — which will be responsively updated in view of changes to government guidelines as the situation develops — answers some of the most pressing questions employers are likely to have around their legal responsibilities to employees during this unprecedented time.

When should employees self-isolate?

Employees who are key workers, such as medics or supermarket workers or employees who cannot work from home are legally allowed to leave their home to perform their job while the current lockdown measures are in place. All employees who are not key workers or who can work from home are required to stay at home.

Key workers who have coronavirus, who develop possible symptoms or who have been told to self-isolate are subject to the following self-isolation requirements:

  • Key workers who live alone must self-isolate for seven days following their first symptoms.
  • Key workers who live with others must self-isolate for seven days if they are the first to have symptoms, then others in the house must self-isolate for 14 days. If anyone else in the household starts displaying symptoms, they must self-isolate for a further seven days regardless of when in the initial 14 day isolation period their symptoms began.

Can self-isolating employees work from home?

Key workers who are self-isolating but feel able to carry out some of their duties from home, i.e. changing in-person meetings to video conferences, are allowed to work during any periods of self-isolation. However, employees who are sick are not required to work, and are entitled to statutory sick pay or company sick pay.

Am I required to pay self-isolating employees?

Yes. Employees who are unable to work due to coronavirus and/or are self-isolating are entitled to statutory sick pay or company sick pay. Statutory sick pay is currently paid at £95.85 per week for up to 28 weeks. Employees are entitled to statutory sick pay from day one. Employees are considered to be self-isolating to prevent infection from COVID-19 where they have symptoms and are staying home, they live with someone who is self-isolating or, they were self-isolating due to someone they live with and have now developed symptoms.

Employees must provide a doctor’s note or notification from NHS 111 to authenticate any period of sickness lasting beyond seven days. The government will reimburse smaller employers (less than 250 employees) for any statutory sick pay paid to employees for the first 14 days who have been off due to coronavirus. It is important that you keep accurate and detailed record of any absences.

What should employers do if employees who are working from home get coronavirus?

If employees who are working from home get coronavirus, they are entitled to statutory sick pay from day one of their illness or company sick pay. Employers will find it useful to put policies in place to ensure that any staff absences due to coronavirus are logged efficiently.

This will not only assist with coordinating statutory sick pay, but will also enable the impact of coronavirus on business operations to be measured and minimised. Devising specialised guidelines on reporting sickness when working from home will streamline this process considerably.

Can employers furlough employees who are off sick?

No. Statutory sick payments can only be paid in lieu of wages, when sickness prevents a person from working. Employees who are receiving statutory sick payments are not eligible for furlough.

Employees who are furloughed as part of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme receive 80% of their wages, up to £2,500 per month. The funds are provided to employers as a government grant to help businesses retain employees during this uncertain time. Employers should be aware that there may be a financial advantage for employees in being furloughed over receiving statutory sick pay, and should consider the individual circumstances carefully if employees on sick leave request to be furloughed.

Can employees who are already furloughed receive statutory sick pay?

The government guidelines do not currently establish whether employees who have been placed on furlough are entitled to statutory sick pay if they then find they have to self-isolate. Employers can avoid potential clashes on this issue by excluding furloughed employees from contractual entitlement to sick pay, this will amount to a variation of their contract of employment so should be agreed with an employee at the outset of furlough.

Explaining the terms of the furlough arrangement clearly before employees are placed on the scheme will further help to avoid misunderstandings related to sickness and sick pay. Currently, governmental clarifications are needed around issues such as whether a furloughed employee can swap from receiving their furloughed salary into statutory sick payments and back again, and what this means for charting the dates of the period of furlough. The minimum period a furlough has to last for is three weeks.

What is the best way to keep records around absences and sickness during lockdown?

Employers who have an online system that allows employees to log their sick days and absences will find it much easier to keep track of those days during lockdown. Switching to an online system which employees can update themselves will be particularly helpful for employers new to managing their staff remotely.

Keeping track of missed days can be a difficult task for managers and HR professionals at the best of times. Collecting this data from a workforce that is working from home for the first time could become a challenge, particularly if it rests with a person or team who are getting used to working from home themselves. Web-based HR software such as Breathe HR can help employers easily keep track.

Implementing an online system to register absences also hands the responsibility to staff to log and account for their own absences. This will encourage honesty among employees, as will the fact that employers will be able to access all individual and company-wide records clearly and instantly.

Are employees who miss work to care for others entitled to sick pay?

Yes. If a person is self isolating and unable to work from home due to caring for a dependent affected by coronavirus, they are also entitled to statutory sick pay or company sick pay.

The Acas guidelines indicate that all absences from work relating to duties of care must be dealt with reasonably having regard to the situation.  Aside from the right to take unpaid time off for emergencies employees may be obliged to take holiday or unpaid leave in order to deal with ongoing situations that necessitate further time off work.

How can employers prevent employees taking fake sick days during lockdown?

One of the biggest challenges to employers in managing remote workers is ensuring that absences for sickness are genuine. The fact that employees do not need to authenticate their illness with a doctor’s note for the first seven days of sick leave can be exploited. However, employers can put policies in place to ensure all sick days are genuine.

Employers who are chartering movement towards remote working within their business for the first time due to the coronavirus are likely to benefit from expert advice in handling this transition, especially with regard to putting guidelines in place to ensure that the working day runs as normal. Measures like scheduled video chats to check in with teams and the use of online platforms that allow employees to log their working time will help to streamline workflow and facilitate working together online, as well as reducing the likelihood of employees taking their responsibilities less seriously while working remotely.

Get in touch

If you are currently navigating a transition to remote working and wish to troubleshoot issues with sickness and absences — or are keen to put preventative policies in place — the experts at the Loch Associates Group are happy to help; don’t hesitate to get in touch.

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