Lora Murphy: Should employers pay staff for periods of isolation due to Coronavirus?

2020 will be marked in history as the year in which a pandemic, commonly referred to as Coronavirus or Covid-19, tested the modern world on both a social and an economical level.

This is a period of uncertainty for employers and employees alike, and everyone wants answers in relation to how they should proceed. As the situation relating to Coronavirus evolves daily, so too does the UK government’s guidance and the measures that it implements to respond to the spread of the illness.

There have been numerous queries surrounding whether employers should pay their staff in the event that they are self-isolating to prevent the spread of Coronavirus, or if it should only be payable to individuals diagnosed with the illness or who are displaying the associated symptoms.

The government-laid out The Statutory Sick Pay (General) (Coronavirus Amendment) Regulations 2020 that stated “that a person who is isolating himself from others in accordance with advice on coronavirus disease is deemed to be incapable of work”.

Statutory sick pay (SSP) will become payable, for eligible employees, from day one, as opposed to day four of sickness as widely documented, and this will be applicable to absence or self-isolation relating to Coronavirus. Businesses with less than 250 staff, as of 28 February 2020, will be able to reclaim two weeks’ worth of SSP per eligible employee affected by Coronavirus. The temporary rules applicable to SSP will have retrospective effect from 13 March 2020.

In terms of occupational sick pay (OSP), the requirement to pay individuals will be wholly dependent on what the employee’s contract states. Company contracts and handbooks will make clear whether or not an individual is entitled to OSP for the duration that they are absent from work due to illness; while the law has changed to accommodate emergency measures this does not automatically impact the contract.

Human resource (HR) institutions suggest that by swiftly adapting and incorporating agile and flexible working practices, inclusive of giving generous sick pay provisions, organisations will be better placed to contain the spread of Coronavirus, in turn, limiting the damage and disruption to businesses.

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Recently announced government measures confirmed that a Coronavirus job retention scheme will be established. This will allow all UK employers to access support to allow them to pay part of its employee’s salary for staff who would have otherwise been laid off during this crisis. Impacted individuals will need to be reassessed as ‘furloughed workers’ and information relating to them and their earnings would need to be submitted to HM Revenue and Customs. HMRC will then reimburse 80% of the cost of the workers’ wages, up to a cost of £2,500 per month.

Lora Murphy is a policy and research officer at Chartered Institute of Payroll Professionals (CIPP)