Guides & Advice
Self-isolation and statutory sick pay from first day of absence
The Coronavirus Act 2020 received Royal Assent on 25 March 2020, introducing emergency measures for statutory sick pay in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.
As a result, statutory sick pay can now be paid from the first day of absence, rather than from day four, which is currently the case. However, this is only applicable where an employee’s incapacity for work is related to coronavirus (i.e. for self-isolation sick pay).
The rules on self-isolation and statutory sick pay
Those who self-isolate in accordance with NHS published guidance are now entitled to claim statutory sick pay, for example:
- the individual, or someone they live with, has coronavirus symptoms or has tested positive for coronavirus;
- the individual has been notified by the NHS or public health authorities that they've been in contact with someone with coronavirus;
- someone in the individual's support bubble has coronavirus symptoms or has tested positive for coronavirus;
- the individual has been advised by a doctor or healthcare professional to self-isolate before going into hospital for surgery; or
In addition, an amendment to the Statutory Sick Pay (General) Regulations 1982 provided that statutory sick pay is also payable to those who are not sick, but who are shielding as a result of a government notification to say that they are in a ‘vulnerable’ category. The regulations detail that the entitlement to statutory sick pay will end when the shielding period ends.
An employee is not entitled to statutory sick pay if they're self-isolating after entering or returning to the UK and do not need to self-isolate for any other reason. In such cases, self-isolation sick pay should not be paid.
If the illness is not related to coronavirus then statutory sick pay can be claimed from the fourth day the individual is off work sick.
As an employer, what will these changes mean for my business?
Statutory sick pay is currently paid by and funded by the employer. However, the Act provides for any coronavirus-related self-isolation sick pay to be funded by the state, although this will still be paid by the employer.
Employers can claim for periods of sickness starting on or after:
- 13 March 2020 - if the employee had coronavirus or the symptoms or is self-isolating because someone they live with has symptoms.
- 16 April 2020 - if the employee was shielding because of coronavirus.
The government guidance clarifies that more than one claim can be made per employee, however, this is subject to an overall two weeks maximum per employee.
In addition, it was also announced in the spring 2021 Budget that the scheme is only intended as a temporary measure to support employers while levels of sickness absence are high. As a result, the government has confirmed that it will set out steps for closure of the scheme in due course.
More information on claiming back self-isolation sick pay can be found on the gov.uk website.
Can we insist upon employees providing sick notes for self isolation?
A sick note is not required for the first seven days of sickness absence. After that, employers can require a sick note from the employee’s GP. However, it’s sensible for businesses to use their discretion regarding employees being in a position to submit sick notes. In view of the Public Health England advice for individuals not to attend GP surgeries or hospitals with suspected cases of the virus, it may be that employees are unable to obtain a sick note. Therefore, it is advisable to exercise discretion and to not demand self-isolation sick notes to evidence diagnosis or a period of self-isolation.
On the other hand, online isolation sick notes can be used by employees to their employers to provide evidence that they have had to self-isolate.
What if an employee isn’t sick but needs to care for a sick or quarantined child or other dependent?
Employees are usually entitled to unpaid time off work to care for a dependent in an unexpected emergency. A child or other dependent who has been diagnosed with coronavirus would clearly fall into this category. Therefore, employees who need time off due to caring for dependents may also be eligible for the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (subject to the continued applicability of this scheme).
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