Preparing for winter: Managing Sick Pay during COVID-19
With winter fast approaching, managing Sick Pay this year is going to be a little different. What with the government support schemes changing and the ‘R’ rate ever fluctuating, we take a look at the latest position on self-isolation and sick pay.
Statutory Sick Pay (SSP)
To be eligible for SSP normally an employee must be absent from work due to an ‘incapacity’. However, due to COVID-19 there’s been a number of changes to the regulations over the course of the year which employers need to be aware of.
The changes mean that those who are deemed incapacitated and therefore entitled to SSP include employees who are:
- Shielding and unable to work as a result i.e. they cannot do their job from home. Note that this isn’t currently relevant in England or Wales because shielding has been paused
- Self-isolating for one of the following reasons and unable to work from home (because they’re unwell, or physically unable to do their job from home):
- Have COVID symptoms and are self-isolating in line with government guidance
- Living with someone who is self-isolating due to COVID symptoms, and is therefore self-isolating in line with government guidance
- Developed COVID symptoms while already self-isolating due to a household member having symptoms, and is now self-isolating in line with government guidance
- Been notified via track and trace that they have been in contact with someone who had COVID and are therefore self-isolating in line with the notification
- Tested positive for COVID and is self-isolating in line with government guidance
- Living with someone who has tested positive for COVID and is therefore self-isolating in line with government guidance
- Have been told, post 26 August 2020, to self-isolate for up to 14 days ahead of admission to hospital for surgery or another procedure
COVID & SSP in 3s
The 3 relevant COVID symptoms are:
- Continuous cough
- High temperature
- Loss or change in normal sense of taste or smell
If an employee only has to self-isolate for 3 days, for example because they then receive a negative COVID test result, then SSP will not be payable. However, if an employee does have to self-isolate for 4 days or more then SSP will be payable for the entire period, including the first 3 day waiting period.
As well as the usual fit note, the evidence an employer can require in relation to COVID is:
- An isolation note from NHS 11
- The notification from the NHS or public health authority that they have come into contact with someone with COVID
- NHS or GP letter telling them to shield for at least 12 weeks because they are at high risk of severe illness from COVID
Company sick pay
Whether an employee is entitled to company sick pay during periods of self-isolation depends on the wording of the contract and/or policy.
If the wording says something like – the employee is entitled to company sick pay if they qualify for SSP – then it would be payable. However, if the wording relating to company sick pay is tied to the individual being incapacitated by reason of illness or injury then it’s unlikely they would be entitled to company sick pay, purely for having to self-isolate without incapacitating symptoms.
In practice, employers may decide in any case to pay company sick pay where an employee qualifies for SSP connected to COVID. The last thing businesses will want is to inadvertently encourage asymptomatic COVID carriers to go to work for a fear of losing out on company sick pay.