The UK Government estimates that up to a fifth of the workforce could be off sick at the peak of a coronavirus epidemic. Our short guide, below, explains the key points employers should be aware of.
Staff staying at home?
If you send them home then you almost certainly need to pay them, whether they work at home or not - so best to facilitate working there if you can.
If they stay home out of choice then, assuming they are not sick, you are not obliged to pay them. It is a matter of employee relations.
Staff staying at work?
Make sure you have a system in place to minimise risk for your employees by discouraging physical contact (including hand shaking), providing hand gels and reminding people about thorough hand washing. Be sensitive to problems like schools closing. For two-parent families, sharing that burden is the expectation.
With Easter school holidays approaching, you may want to think about trying to get details about staff holiday destinations before they leave so you can manage that information based on existing intelligence about certain locations or information that emerges while your staff are visiting. Have a system in place to keep that information confidential and secure as far as you can and clarify who will have access.
In whatever way, those who get locked in (a hotel, say), or have to self-isolate and are not sick, may have to rely on your generosity. Whether you pay in those circumstances is, to an extent, yours to call as an employer as, strictly, they are not sick. It could quite conceivably be ‘emergency leave’. Whether you have to pay, or don’t, in that situation is quite a complex issue depending on contract assessment and your established custom and practice. Generosity is commendable but it can also be disastrous.
On the 3rd of March, the UK Government suggested through Matt Hancock that those who self-isolate may be entitled to pay, or at least Statutory Sick Pay. The SSP Regs make clear that a person only qualifies for SSP if they get appropriate written notice to stay at home. It is all quite complex.
If this should happen in the UK (and it might) then that brings other issues. Maximising the basis of home working, for those who can, will bring huge dividends.
What if your finances are really strapped?
The recently underused provisions of the Employment Rights Act about layoffs and short-term working are still alive and well. This part of the law especially requires sound advice. ‘Guaranteed pay’ and rights to redundancy claims are obvious liabilities or risks. They are potentially useful but also potentially costly.
Budget Announcement, 11 March 2020
The Chancellor of the Exchequer has announced that the government will reimburse small employers (<250 employees) any statutory sick pay they pay to employees, for the first 14 days of sickness.
This is expected to be a temporary measure to help insulate businesses against the impact of coronavirus. The Chancellor estimates that will cost up to £2 billion and help up to 2 million businesses. Statutory sick pay is paid at £94.25 per week.