Since our last update on COVID-19, new Government guidance has been provided on self-isolation and social distancing, and emergency legislation has been proposed around Statutory Sick Pay (SSP). This note supersedes our advice given on the 11 March 2020. Given the changing landscape, we suggest checking this page regularly to get the most up-to-date information and advice.

Staff staying at home?

As in normal circumstances, if an employee is unwell with Covid-19, they should receive sick pay. Whether this is statutory sick pay (SSP) or occupational sick pay depends on the terms of the contract. Emergency legislation is being introduced so that SSP will be payable from day one rather than day four.

Employees who are not sick but there is someone in their household has symptoms are also advised to self-isolate. They are entitled to statutory sick pay during this time due to regulations introduced at the end of last week expanding the definition of “incapable for work”. However, if self-isolating but working from home, they should receive their pay in the normal way.

Staff staying at work?

The current guidance is that, where possible, employers should move to working from home. Where that is not possible, employers should continue with the system to limit the risk by having hand sanitiser available and remind staff about regular handwashing and limiting handshaking. If an employer has to close their premises, there is a requirement to continue to pay staff while the business is operating.

Vulnerable staff

Bear in mind that there are certain groups particularly at risk. They include the over 70s, those with underlying health conditions and pregnant women. The Government advice to this group is to operate social distancing, which includes limited use of public transport and working from home where possible.

School closures

With schools and nurseries across the UK to close from 20 March 2020, where does this leave employees with children? Parents are entitled to unpaid emergency leave if their child is ill or the school closes, but this is only envisaged to cover a short period of time to allow the parent to make arrangements. Employees should discuss taking annual leave or unpaid leave with their employer as well as the practicalities around balancing home working with child care.

Future planning

It cannot be denied that Covid-19 will have an impact on business and the economy. Start looking now at ways to financially shore up your business.

Consider if there is a contractual entitlement to implement short-time working or lay-offs. If not, it might be possible to agree temporary changes to hours of work or pay. These changes should be agreed rather than imposed on employees if possible, although you could introduce changes if need be, but advice should be taken about how to avoid unfair dismissal claims before you do so.

Consider whether you may need to take the difficult decision to make redundancies in the coming weeks and take advice on whether collective or individual consultation is required and the process which should be followed to avoid unfair dismissal claims.

Be mindful of the number of employees affected when changing terms and conditions or making larger scale redundancies as, if the changes are planned for, or redundancies are necessary for 20 or more people at one establishment in a 90-day period, the collective consultation requirements of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 will apply. This sets out strict time frameworks and periods for consultation depending on the number of employees involved, and requires notification of the position to the Secretary of State. This legislation still applies irrespective of the financial or operational turbulence an organisation finds itself in, although there are limited exceptions in special circumstances. There are penalties for not complying with the consultation rules of up to 90 days’ pay per employee, and the possibility of criminal conviction with an unlimited fine for failure to notify the Secretary of State.

Contact our specialist Employment team

MacRoberts can provide more detailed guidance notes on COVID-19 and redundancies, as well as template letters to employees, on a fixed-fee basis. Please contact a member of our team if you require advice or assistance.