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Note - this information is being continually checked and updated. It was last updated on 3 August 2020. 

The World Health Organization (WHO) explains that coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome). This particular episode has been named “COVID–19”. It first appeared in December 2019 in Wuhan, China.

Cases in several countries have now emerged, with the majority of infections appearing in individuals who originate from, or who have travelled to, Wuhan. However, it has now been named by the WHO as a worldwide pandemic.

For a selection of letters and policies that organisations can use as a result of the outbreak, please refer to our model documents section on the coronavirus.

For a selection of frequently asked questions on furloughing employees, please refer to our article.

Recent developments

Furlough and the job retention scheme

On Friday 20 March, the government announced its plans for financial assistance to help organisations retain employees for an extended period of time, despite offering no work, and avoid lay-offs. Organisations who do this will canto obtain a grant from the Government to cover a portion of furloughed employees’ wages.

It is called the Job Retention Scheme and more information can be found in our regularly updated FAQs.

 

Localised lockdown and shielding

In England and Scotland, shielding came to an end from 1 August 2020 and is due to end on 16 August in Wales. This means that those who were previously advised to 'shield' can now be asked to return to work, provided the workplace is COVID-secure. 

However, this may be subject to change if a localised lockdown is put into force. In this situation, those who are considered extremely clinically vulnerable may be contacted by the NHS and asked to shield again, and organisations will need respond accordingly. 

To keep updated on measures taken in your local area, please follow this link to the government website. 

Prime Minister unveils next stage of coronavirus plan

In a press conference on 17 July, Prime Minister Boris Johnson outlined the next stage for tackling the coronavirus. 

Key points are outlined below - 

  • A new framework for containing and controlling the coronavirus will be published soon
  • From 18 July, Local Authorities in England were able to take action to implement localised lockdown measures. This includes closing specific premises and cancelling events.
  • The Government can also now intervene if local measures are not deemed effective. This could include localised stay at home orders and restricting public transport.
  • From 17 July, anyone in England can use public transport if they need to, but alternative methods of transport should be used if possible.
  • From 25 July, leisure centres such as gyms and swimming pools reopened in England.
  • From 1 August, organisations in England have been granted more discretion to ask staff to return to work safely – PM affirms it is for organisations to decide how to run workplaces safely, not the Government. This could include working from home or making workplaces safe by following Covid-secure guidelines. It may be that productivity has increased from home and companies are welcome to continue this arrangement if they want to. However, employees should be consulted on plans and must not be asked to return if it is not safe.
  • Also from 1 August, most remaining leisure centres were planned to reopen, including skating rinks, bowling, beauticians and casinos. However, the Prime Minister confirmed that this has been postponed due to an increase in cases for at least two weeks. 
  • From September, schools, colleges and nurseries will be able to reopen for all children in England.
  • From October, it is expected that there can be bigger audiences in stadiums, subject to pilot checks, and that conferences will be able to resume in England.
  • Outstanding restrictions will be reviewed again. He is hopeful that they can be removed in time for Christmas.
  • As always, the above will be subjected to regular reviews.
Government confirm quarantine exempt countries

On Friday 3 July, the government released a full list of countries from which travellers do not need to quarantine for 14 days upon re-entry into England.

Currently, individuals returning from any country need to self-isolate for a period of 14 days in order to protect against them potentially spreading the coronavirus when brought from overseas. This long-expected list, which is available on the government website, outlines that from 10 July some countries will be exempted from this provision. This means that, provided they are showing no symptoms of COVID-19, anyone returning from an overseas trip will technically be able to return to work straight away.

The list currently specifies over 40 countries across the globe, including European destinations such as France, Germany and Italy alongside more distant places like Australia, New Zealand and Hong Kong. The 14 British Overseas Territories are also exempt, as are the Isle of Man and Channel Islands. This exemption is in place provided they have not travelled to any country not listed on their journey.

Individuals will need to complete a passenger locator form before their arrival, so they can be traced if it is believed they have been exposed to the virus. Furthermore, the government are also clear that travellers should check if they will need to self-isolate at their destination prior to making travel plans.

Coronavirus SSP Rebate Scheme

The Coronavirus SSP Rebate Scheme launched on 26 May 2020. Through the use of this scheme, eligible companies will be able to claim back up to two weeks of SSP payments for coronavirus related sickness absences. Please refer to our in-depth section for more information. 

Employees 'shielding' are entitled to SSP

Legislation put in place on 16 April 2020 means that people who are shielding are entitled to SSP.

This closes the hole that was created by previous legislation when it included those who are self-isolating for 7 or 14 days within the scope of SSP but did not mention those shielding. This means that employees who got a letter from the NHS telling them to avoid face to face contact for 12 weeks because they are considered to be very high risk should now receive SSP from day one.

People who are shielding can be furloughed even if there is work for them to do, however SSP cannot be reclaimed under the Job Retention Scheme.

The government will refund up to two weeks of SSP for absences related to the coronavirus as part of the SSP Rebate Scheme. 

The respective governments of England, Scotland and Wales are due to relax shielding guidance, meaning that those who are shielding will no longer need to. From the date that shielding is no longer necessary, entitlement to SSP will cease. In England and Scotland, this is set for 1 August 2020; and no earlier than 16 August in Wales.

New rules on statutory sick pay

On Saturday 28 March, new laws surrounding the payment of statutory sick pay (SSP) were introduced.

SSP should now be paid from day one, not day four, of absences in the following situations:

  1. To someone who has the virus
  2. To someone who is self-isolating for seven days because they have even mild symptoms
  3. To someone who is self-isolating for 14 days because, whilst they don’t have symptoms, they are living with someone who has even mild symptoms.

If someone is self-isolating because they are living with someone who has symptoms, and then start to show symptoms themselves, the 14-day isolation no longer applies and they should instead self-isolate for seven days. This could prolong, or shorten, the overall period of the leave.  

The ‘SSP day one’ rules only have effect for anyone whose first day of incapacity (or deemed incapacity in the case of self-isolation) was Friday 13 March 2020 or later.

For more information, please refer to our in depth article.

 

Right to work checks temporarily changed

In light of the 2020 coronavirus outbreak, from 30 March 2020 employers can adopt a revised process for checking right to work.

Government guidance confirms that a scanned copy or photograph of documents necessary to prove a right to work (as outlined in our in depth section) should be sent to the employer via an email or mobile app. A video call should then be arranged with the worker, where they should be asked to present their original documents to the camera. These documents should then be compared with the digital versions previously sent. The date of this check should be recorded and noted as "adjusted check undertaken on [insert date] due to COVID-19".

If a prospective employer cannot produce any of the prescribed documents, the employer should consult the Home Office Employer Checking Service.

When the coronavirus crisis ends, the date of which is currently unknown, a retrospective check should be carried out on employees who started working for the company, or required a follow-up check, during these measures. This check will need to be carried out within eight weeks of the crisis ending and be marked "the individual's contract commenced on [insert date]. The prescribed right to work check was undertaken on [insert date] due to COVID-19."

If during the retrospective check it is found that the employee does not have the right to work in the UK, they should be dismissed immediately.

For organisations that have been deemed an essential business, a usual check can still be conducted, however the validity of documents check can be done via video link provided the employer has the original documents.

If an employee has a Biometric Residence Permit or has been granted 'settled status' under the EU Settlement Scheme, they can give the employer permission to check their details online.

New rules on annual leave

The Working Time Regulations have been amended to give workers an entitlement to carry over 4 weeks of their annual leave if they are unable to take it because of coronavirus. This may be because: 

  • they’re self-isolating or are too sick to take holiday before the end of their leave year
  • they’ve been temporarily sent home as there’s no work (‘laid off’ or ‘put on furlough’)
  • they’ve had to continue working and could not take paid holiday

 Leave can be carried over into the next two leave years after 2020. This only applies to the first four weeks of leave under the Regulations. The other 1.6 weeks of stat min leave is already capable of being carried over to the next leave year with agreement from the employer and the new laws do not change this. This means that all stat min annual leave accrued in this leave year is now capable of being carried over, in the following way: 

  • 4 weeks (legal entitlement to be carried over to next two leave years)
  • 1.6 weeks (employers can agree that this be carried over to the next leave year. If employers do not already have rules in place about carry over of this portion, then it would be advisable to have some now for clarity purposes (whether to allow it or not). If they have rules which do not permit carry over of this portion to the next leave year, they may want to consider relaxing these)
  • Anything above stat min (down to employer’s rules and some employers already have rules on employer buy back)

 Bank holidays that cannot be taken because of the above reasons are within the carry over rules.

 Annual leave continues to accrue during lay off/furlough.

The World Health Organisation explains that coronaviruses (CoV) are a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome).

This particular episode has been named ‘COVID-19'. It first appeared in December 2019 in Wuhan, which is within the Hubei province, China. A seafood market has been identified as the possible source of the virus.

The virus has now spread worldwide and the UK government has raised the risk posed by it to high.

The symptoms include a fever, cough, shortness of breath and loss or change of sense of smell or taste. Some people may suffer from a mild illness and recover easily, while in other cases, infection can progress to pneumonia. Reports suggest that the elderly, those with weakened immune systems, diabetes, cancer and chronic lung disease are the most susceptible to serious illness and death. Symptoms can appear in as few as two days after infection or as long as 14 days.

The virus is most likely to spread from person to person through:

  • direct contact with a person while they are infectious;
  • contact with droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes; or
  • touching objects or surfaces (such as drinking mugs or desks) that were contaminated by droplets from secretions coughed or sneezed from an infected person with a confirmed infection, and then touching your mouth or face.

Employers have a duty of care towards their employees which includes not exposing them to unnecessary risk. In this case, that may include not putting them in a position in which they could become infected by the virus without taking all reasonable precautions.

This duty of care, where Coronavirus is concerned, may differ depending on an employee’s specific circumstances, for example, if they are older or they have underlying conditions.

It’s important to remember that  employees will be worried about the virus. In addition to having a duty of care to protect health and safety, employers  also need to consider their wellbeing. Consider any wellbeing initiatives the company offers and remind employees of them, for example, an Employee Assistance Programme.

Employers should consider alternatives which may include postponing a business trip until the risk of infection no longer exists, or carrying out meetings via Skype or video conferencing, where possible.

If travel is deemed necessary then the employer should effectively, but proportionately, manage the risk, with controls identified and implemented according to the nature and severity of the risk. Controls should be identified through a travel risk assessment and travellers themselves should be involved in the process.

On 3 July 2020, the government released a list of countries which individuals travelling back from will not need to self-isolate on their return. A full list is available here

Some employees may have plans to travel over the Summer months. Provided their flights etc have not been cancelled and no other airport restrictions apply meaning they can still travel, employers may have concerns over the risk the individual poses to picking up the virus and potentially passing it on in the workplace.

Ultimately, employers can’t restrict what their employees do in their spare time and whether they travel or not is their decision. Whilst employers can cancel annual leave that has already been requested and authorised, this may not be good for employee relations.

That being said, it is highly advisable for employers to remind their workforce that, under the Health and Safety at Work Act they also have a duty of care towards themselves and others whilst at work and, as such, should strongly consider the risks associated with travelling. They should also be reminded of the latest government guidance surrounding self-isolation.

On 3 July 2020, the government released a list of countries which individuals travelling back from will not need to self-isolate on their return. A full list is available here

Please note - the government's advice on self-isolation, released on 13 March 2020 replaces it's previous advice on individuals returning from affected areas. See 'self-isolation' below. 
 
On 3 July 2020, the government released a list of countries which individuals travelling back from will not need to self-isolate on their return. A full list is available here

Where the employer has concerns about a non-symptomatic employee (particularly if it is known or suspected that the employee has had contact with someone known to have the virus) then the best advice might be to play it safe with a brief period of suspension on precautionary grounds.

Where the employer chooses to suspend returning employees just as a precaution, it will have to be on full pay unless the contract gives them a right to suspend without pay for this reason (which is unlikely).

The employer may also wish to explore alternatives, such as permitting the employee to work from home if possible.

If an employee is worried about catching the virus and so refuses to attend work, Acas suggests listening to the employee’s concerns and offering reassurance. An employer's response to this will depend on the actual risk of catching the virus, will be different for every employer and will depend on specific circumstances including whether anyone in the workforce has already been diagnosed or there is another real risk of exposure. Employers may decide to offer a period of paid annual leave or unpaid leave, or allow the employee to work from home where this is feasible. Responses should be reasonable to the specific situation.

Where the employer has concerns about a non-symptomatic employee (particularly if it is known or suspected that the employee has had contact with someone known to have the virus) then the best advice might be to play it safe with a brief period of suspension on precautionary grounds.

Where the employer chooses to suspend returning employees just as a precaution, it will have to be on full pay unless the contract gives them a right to suspend without pay for this reason (which is unlikely). This will not be medical suspension under the statutory scheme, which would attract medical suspension pay, as this has a narrow definition which does not cover this type of situation.

The employer may also wish to explore alternatives, such as permitting the employee to work from home if possible.

New government guidance, which supersedes previous guidance on self-isolation and returning travellers and is available on the government website, outlines the following:

  • anyone with a high temperature/fever and/or a continuous cough and/or a loss of or change in their usual taste and smell should self-isolate at home for a period of ten days after the onset of their symptoms
  • this applies even to individuals who have not been into contact with anyone known to have contracted the coronavirus, or have not been to any affected area.

Anyone who lives in the household of an individual showing these symptoms should self-isolate for a period of 14 days. If they start to show symptoms during this time, they should self-isolate for 10 days at a minimum even if this takes them beyond the initial 14-day period. 

All individuals who are advised to self-isolate in these situations are entitled to be paid statutory sick pay for their period of time away. 

Also during this time, the employee may feel well enough to work - not all those who self-isolate are going to have the coronavirus. If this is the case, and if possible, employers may consider them working from home until the individual feels unable to do so. 

Please refer to our 'how to' guide on homeworking for specific guidance on homeworking arrangements.  

Emergency laws brought into place mean that employees who are self-isolating on government guidance will,in almost all cases, be deemed incapable of working for SSP purposes. Further legislation extended SSP to those who are shielding. This means that employees who meet the eligibility criteria, including a lower limit on average earnings, will qualify for SSP during self-isolation.

Employers should be aware that the respective governments of England, Scotland and Wales are due to relax shielding guidance meaning that those who are shielding will no longer need to. From the date that shielding is no longer necessary, entitlement to SSP will cease but will be payable once again if the individual receives a further notification to shield, subject to the maximum length of SSP payable and other eligibility criteria. In England and Scotland, advice to shield ended on 31 August 2020, and no earlier than 16 August in Wales. 

Coronavirus is not a reason to treat employees differently because of their national origin. Placing extra obligations on individuals (more robust hygiene methods, for example) just because they are from China places employers at risk of a claim of race discrimination. Extra hygiene measures, if implemented, should be required of all employees. 

Employers should be alert to ‘banter’, or more serious instances of harassment, between employees about the virus which relates to someone’s nationality or ethnicity and ensure that their zero tolerance stance to harassment is maintained.

The World Health Organisation’s standard infection control measures are: 

  • frequently cleaning hands by using alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water
  • when coughing and sneezing cover mouth and nose with flexed elbow or tissue – throw tissue away immediately and wash your hands.
  • avoid close contact with anyone who has fever and cough.
  • if you have fever, cough and difficulty breathing seek medical care early and share previous travel history with your health care provider.

On 18 March, Boris Johnson confirmed that all schools in England are closed as of 20 March, in addition to school closures already announced for Scotland and Wales earlier that day. Schools in Northern Ireland are also closed as of 23 March.

Some schools partially re-opened in England on 1 June 2020. 

Please refer to our detailed FAQs on the Job Retention Scheme

On 29 May 2020, changes to the Scheme were announced to gradually bring about a wind down until the end of October when it will cease operating.

Since 6 April 2014, employers have not been eligible to recover any SSP paid out.

However, special rules have been implemented as part of the Government’s response to coronavirus. As part of emergency legislation introduced by the Government, the entitlement to statutory sick pay (SSP) was extended.

Originally designed for only those who were unfit for work through sickness or injury, SSP is now payable to those who are self-isolating with coronavirus symptoms though are not necessarily unfit for work, those who are self-isolating because someone they live with has symptoms, and those who have been advised by their GP or NHS to ‘shield’ for a 12 week period because they are classed as at high risk of severe illness due to their medical status.

In recognition of the significantly higher level of SSP payments that employers would, as a consequence, have to make, a new Coronavirus Statutory Sick Pay Rebate Scheme was announced which would allow certain businesses to claim back SSP paid in certain circumstances.

Scheme eligibility 

Businesses eligible to use the Scheme are those which:

  • have a PAYE payroll scheme that was created and started on or before 28 February 2020
  • had fewer than 250 employees on 28 February 2020
  • are claiming for an employee who is eligible for SSP due to coronavirus.

Connected companies and charities can also use the scheme if their total combined number of PAYE employees was fewer than 250 on the 28 February 2020.

Specific eligibility criteria apply to the payment of SSP, including minimum average earnings of £120 per week. It is important to note that SSP eligibility criteria was amended where it is paid due to coronavirus; waiting days are no longer needed and payment is due from day one, not day four.

Employees are entitled to SSP due to coronavirus if they are unable to work because they:

  • have coronavirus or have symptoms of it
  • are self-isolating because someone they live with has symptoms of coronavirus
  • are shielding and have a letter from the NHS or a GP telling them to stay at home for at least 12 weeks.

The Scheme will only cover SSP paid due to coronavirus.  It does not allow recovery for any SSP paid for non-coronavirus related absence.

The Scheme covers all types of employment contracts, including:

  • full-time
  • part-time
  • employees on agency contracts
  • flexible or zero-hour contracts
  • fixed term contracts (until the date their contract ends).

A rebate can be claimed for both existing and former employees.

Recoverable amount

The maximum to be claimed is two weeks’ SSP, from the first qualifying day, per employee.

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 and
  • 16 April 2020 if the employee was shielding because of coronavirus.

If employers pay contractual sick pay in excess of the SSP rate, they will only be able to recover up to the weekly rate paid. The weekly rate was £94.25 before 6 April 2020 and is now £95.85.

Use of SSP Rebate Scheme and Job Retention Scheme

The Government’s Job Retention Scheme was put in place to assist employers to retain their workforce during the challenging times caused by coronavirus and avoid unpaid lay off or redundancy. It allows employers to furlough their employees and claim for a Government grant to cover 80% of their wage costs.

Employers can claim both for wages under the Job Retention Scheme and SSP under the Rebate Scheme for the same employee but not for the same period.

However, the guidance points out that state aid limits should not be breached. The maximum level of state aid that a business may receive under the EU Commission temporary framework is €800,000, though this may differ in certain industries like agriculture.

Making a claim 

An online service is available from 26 May 2020 for employer to make the rebate claim. No end date for the Scheme has yet been released.

To use the service, employers will need the Government Gateway user ID received when they registered for PAYE Online.

The following is needed for a claim to be made:

  • the employer PAYE scheme reference number
  • a contact name and phone number in case HMRC need to contact the employer about their claim
  • UK bank or building society details (bank accounts provided should accept Bacs payments)
  • the total amount of coronavirus SSP the employer paid to employees for the claim period
  • the number of employees being claimed for
  • the start date and end date of the claim period.

The start date of the claim is the start date of the earliest pay period claimed for. The end date of the claim is the end date of the most recent pay period claimed for.

Employees do not have to provide employers with a doctor’s fit note in order for a claim t be made. However, employers can ask for either:

  • an isolation note from NHS 111 if they are self-isolating and cannot work because of coronavirus or
  • the NHS or GP letter telling them to shield for at least 12 weeks because they are at high risk of severe illness if they contract coronavirus.

The Scheme will allow claims for multiple employees across multiple pay periods at the same time.

Where employers authorise agents to do PAYE online for them, the agent will be able to make the claim.

An alternative way to claim will be available where employers are not able to make an online claim, however, no details have yet been released on this method.

Record Keeping 

Employers must keep the following records for 3 years after the date that the rebate is received:

  • the dates the employee was off sick
  • which of those dates were qualifying days
  • the reason for the absence, whether this be that they had symptoms, someone they lived with had symptoms or they were shielding in line with NHS or GP advice
  • the employee’s National Insurance number.

On 23 April 2020, the Government announced that essential workers (the same list as those whose children may still go to school for those in England; actual lists may differ in Scotland and Wales) can have a coronavirus test where they “need” it. This appears to be restricted to those who are self-isolating either because they have symptoms or because someone in their household has. Tests will also be available to those living in the same household.

On 28 May 2020, the NHS test and trace service was launched in England. The service will:

  • provide testing for anyone who has symptoms of coronavirus to find out if they have the virus
  • get in touch with anyone who has had a positive test result to help them share information about any close recent contacts they have had
  • alert those contacts, where necessary, and notify them they need to self-isolate to help stop the spread of the virus.

The Government states that, by following instructions to self-isolate, people who have had close recent contact with someone with coronavirus will be protecting their family, friends, colleagues and other people around them, and will play a direct role in stopping the spread of the virus.

When someone first develops symptoms and orders a test, they will be encouraged to alert the people that they have had close contact with in the 48 hours before symptoms started. If any of those close contacts are colleagues, the person who has developed symptoms may wish to (but is not obliged to) ask their employer to alert those colleagues. At that stage, those close contacts are not advised to self-isolate, but they:

  • must avoid individuals who are at high-risk of contracting coronavirus, for example, because they have pre-existing medical conditions, such as respiratory issues
  • must take extra care in practising social distancing and good hygiene and in watching out for symptoms.

‘Close contact’ means:

  • having face-to-face contact with someone (less than 1 metre away)
  • spending more than 15 minutes within 2 metres of someone
  • travelling in a car or other small vehicle with someone (even on a short journey) or close to them on a plane.

Those who test positive will be asked, via the service, whether they have had any such close contact in the 48 hours before they developed symptoms and the time since they developed symptoms.

The service will then contact anyone they report as having had close contact with and tell them to begin self-isolation for 14 days from their last contact with the person who has tested positive even if they do not feel unwell.

The practical effect of this service is that many more individuals are likely to self-isolate. In addition, large parts of a workforce, or an entire workforce, may receive an alert telling them they should self-isolate because one member of the workforce has tested positive for coronavirus. Employers can help to combat this by ensuring that employees work from home where possible, or implementing strict social distancing and hygiene measures in the workplace where home working is not possible.

Although self-isolation is voluntary at this stage, the Government has stated it will be made mandatory if necessary.

The Government has put together guidance for employers, which stresses that their role in the system is vital by:

  • making their workplaces as safe as possible
  • encouraging workers to heed any notifications to self-isolate and supporting them when in isolation.

It acknowledges that, although this may seem disruptive for businesses, it is less disruptive than an outbreak of coronavirus in the workplace will be, and far less disruptive than periods in lockdown.

Employers should support employees who need to self-isolate and must not ask them to attend the workplace.

If an employee needs to self-isolate, employers should consider whether they are able to work from home. This might include finding alternative work that can be completed at home during the period of self-isolation.

Employees who cannot work from home will be entitled to receive SSP in line with the guidance on self-isolation given above due to further legislative amendments. Alternatively, the employer may agree that a period of annual leave is to be taken so that full pay is maintained, or another form of paid leave that is available to the employee.

Giving options to ensure full pay is maintained may be particularly important due to the possibility that an employee may be reluctant to self-isolate if it means a drop in pay. Employers may wish to strongly encourage employees who receive a notification to make this known, and to self-isolate, in order to protect the rest of the workforce.

The NHS test and trace service will provide a notification that can be used as evidence that someone has been told to self-isolate. This notification will be needed to make a claim to the SSP Rebate Scheme.

A similar scheme, called “test and protect” is in place in Scotland.

From 10 July 2020, a 14-day quarantine period will apply to individuals returning to the UK from a country that is not on the travel corridor exempt list applicable to the country of return. This includes British nationals and those who live in the UK who will need to self-isolate for the required period before going out to work.

England's list is available here

Scotland's list is available here

Wales' list is available here

Prior to 10 July, stricter provisions were in place which mean that, subject to limited exemptions, all individuals returning to the UK had to self-isolate. Although this requirement is less extensive now, the practical effect of the remainint requirement is the fact that employees who return from certain countries will need to self-isolate for 14 days on their return. This will potentially turn one week of annual leave into a period of three weeks’ absence; two weeks of annual leave into four weeks’ absence etc. This will become an increasingly common issue as more relaxation on overseas travel is implemented.

When an annual leave request is received, employers should:

  • identify whether the employee intends to travel overseas
  • if so, check whether any of the exemptions apply
  • if not, ensure the employee understands that they will need to self-isolate on their return
  • consider whether, in light of the self-isolation period, it is possible to accommodate the additional absence. If not, employers may choose to refuse the annual leave request
  • when deciding whether the absence can be accommodated, consider whether the employee can work from home for the self-isolation period
  • if the absence can be accommodated, consider how it will be covered. Employers may attempt to agree an additional period of annual leave will be used to cover either all of the period, or some of it. It should be remembered that employers can require an employee to take annual leave by giving the appropriate notice i.e. twice the length of the period of leave in question. In the case of a full 14 day self-isolation period, notice would need to be at least 28 days. This may be preferable if an employee has a substantial amount of annual leave remaining before the end of the leave year.

 

Vulnerable categories 

The government outlines two categories of individuals who are most vulnerable to the virus:

  • Clinically extremely vulnerable 
  • Clinically vulnerable

A full list of who falls into these categories are available on the NHS website.

Those are clinically extremely vulnerable will likely have been sent a letter by the NHS advising them to 'shield'. They are strongly advised not to work outside of their home and should be permitted to work from home if possible. They are entitled to receive SSP if they are unable to work. 

Those who are clinically vulnerable will not have a letter but are still at risk. They can return to work but employers should consider if they can undertake jobs which have been determined as providing an acceptable level of risk. They are not entitled to SSP if they cannot work from home, so alternatives, such as unpaid leave, should be considered. 

Those who live with someone who falls into either of these categories do not need to legally shield but do need to take into account the risk to the vulnerable person. To this end, employers should consider what support they can provide to people in this position, such as unpaid leave. 

Those who are pregnant 

Current guidance outlines that pregnant employees should be considered as clinically vulnerable unless they have a heart condition. Employers already have a legal duty to assess the risks that the workplace could pose to pregnant employees and must take steps to mitigate these. The threat of the coronavirus must therefore also be taken into account when decisions are made regarding whether pregnant employees can continue to conduct their role safely. 

24 June 2020 update

Employers should be aware that the respective governments of England, Scotland and Wales are due to relax shielding guidance meaning that those who are shielding will no longer need to. From the date that shielding is no longer necessary, entitlement to SSP will cease. In England and Scotland, this was 1 August 2020; and no earlier than 16 August in Wales.

The impact of localised lockdown means that some staff may be asked to shield once again. In this situation, previous shielding procedures should apply. 

On 23 June 2020, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that some social distancing measures were to be relaxed from 4 July 2020 in England. These are outlined below. 

  • Pubs, restaurants and hairdressers were able to reopen, providing they adhere to COVID Secure guidelines.
  • In addition, outdoor gyms and playgrounds, cinemas, museums, galleries, theme parks and arcades, libraries, social clubs, places of worship, community centres caravan parks, theme parks, amusement arcades could re-open if they can do so safely.
  • From the above date, where it is not possible to stay two metres apart, guidance allowed people to keep a social distance of ‘one metre plus’. This means staying one metre apart, plus mitigations which reduce the risk of transmission. 

The re-openings came with a number of restrictions including venues being asked to collect contact details of customers for the NHS Test and Trace system and pubs and restaurants only being allowed to offer table service.

In addition, from 1 August in England and Scotland, and no later than 16 August in Wales, those who are 'shielding' are no longer be eligible to receive statutory sick pay due to the relaxation of shielding guidance. 

The law allows you to cancel annual leave that has already been authorised as long as you give the minimum required notice but you should proceed with caution here. Cancelling leave which has already been authorised, in any situation, is not likely to go down well with the employee and will often lead to a loss of money for them.

It should be noted that, as of 17 March 2020, the UK government is advising against all but essential global travel for a period of at least 30 days.

No, there is no requirement for you to do this. If you have specific rules on allowing employees to cancel their leave, you should stick to these but, in the circumstances, you may decide to be more flexible and allow cancellation.

Employers should not try to implement penalty clauses for these situations. It does remain highly likely that this type of deduction will be deemed an unlawful deduction from wages and so it is not advisable to proceed in this way. 

It should be noted that, as of 17 March 2020, the UK government is advising against all but essential global travel for a period of at least 30 days.

You can expect that the employee will try to identify other methods of getting back home. If, for whatever reason, they cannot travel back, there are several ways in which you can deal with this: 

  • use their annual leave to cover the absence. The length of their absence and their remaining entitlement to annual leave will dictate the extent to which you can do this. Using annual leave like this will have to be agreed with the employee unless you take the step of enforcing annual leave on the employee, meaning you need to give them notice that you require them to take annual leave that is twice as long as the time you require them to take. For example, a week’s leave will require two weeks’ notice. The uncertainty around the length of their absence may make this tricky;
  • agree for the employee to work from where they are for now if the nature of their job allows for this and they have the equipment they need to fulfil their duties. The employee cannot insist that they work from their location if it is clearly not tenable;
  • agree that the employee uses banked time off in lieu. It is not likely that the employee would have enough lieu time to cover an extended absence;
  • agree a period of paid leave that is not annual leave;
  • agree a period of unpaid leave;
  • agree any other type of leave permitted by the contract that may be appropriate.

 

Provided there are no travel restrictions preventing the visitors entering the UK which will take the matters out of your control, it’s up to you whether to postpone the visit. Your employees may raise concerns about potential exposure to the virus and you may wish to take this into consideration, though any unreasonable resistance should be dealt with accordingly. If you decide the visit should go ahead, ensure there are robust hygiene measures in place, restrict contact between your employees and the visitors as much as reasonably possible and take more care with any of your employees who are older, pregnant, have existing respiratory conditions or those who have diabetes, chronic lung disease or cancer.

It should be noted that, as of 17 March 2020, the UK government is advising against all but essential global travel for a period of at least 30 days.

It is best to take precautionary measures seen as your employee has potentially been in contact with someone who has the virus. A period of suspension (paid unless the contract says otherwise) is advisable.

Provided there are no travel restrictions in place preventing the visit, there is little you can do to stop this happening. Ensure the employee knows what to do if they begin to feel ill during or after the visit. Suspension of the employee would probably not be appropriate in this scenario unless you know or suspect that one of the family members has the virus but this will be your decision.

It should be noted that, as of 17 March 2020, the UK government is advising against all but essential global travel for a period of at least 30 days.

There is currently no evidence that Coronavirus can be carried in packages that have originated in China and so no grounds for your employees to refuse to deal with any that are received. To allay their fears, you could consider providing gloves which will be thrown away after each use, and encourage good hand hygiene.

 

 

Yes. The government has stated that all those who contract the virus are to be provided SSP from day one of their illness, not day four, however it has not yet been confirmed when this will come into force. 

For those who are self-isolating as a result of having a fever and/or a cough, they should also be provided SSP. 

If your company has less than 250 staff, the government has announced that it will cover the payment of statutory sick pay (SSP) for a minimum of two weeks per employee. 

If you send someone home despite them not showing symptoms, you are technically acting against government advice and should continue to pay them full pay. 

Employees in this situation would be able to covert their sickness absence to annual leave, however this must be their choice; you cannot enforce such an option. 

If an employee was legally obligated to stay away from the workplace, and are unable to work from their quarantined location (such as being told not to or being too ill), they should receive SSP. 

This will not necessarily result in a business closure, however you should contact your local Public Health England protection team. They will then carry out a risk assessment, discuss with you the individuals who may have been exposed and offer further advice on the steps you should take. This will include what cleaning would be advisable. 

Usually, such a option would be difficult to enforce without an employee's consent and could even result in claims of constructive dismissal or assault. However, if the nature of the business means it cannot risk the pandemic spreading across the workforce and would need to close in this situation unless it undertook health checks, consent may not be an issue. 

Taking such measures may actually be well-received by a workforce and help to reassure them that the organisation is protecting their health and safety. 

Taking such an action will be a variation of contract. To do this, you will first need to seek the consent of your workforce. Although they may be hesitant at agreeing to this change, they may decide differently if such a change is crucial to the survival of the business and maintaining their employment. 

If staff will not agree, you may then consider dismissing and re-engaging them on the new contract, although bear in mind that this could result in an unfair dismissal claim. 

You could also seek to unilaterally impose the change although you should be mindful for the potential of claims for unlawful deductions from wages or constructive dismissal. 

Yes, such an action could place them at a detriment. You should also bear in mind government guidance on self-isolating for those who are most at risk from the coronavirus. 

Government guidance outlines the following individuals are the most at risk:

  • Individuals aged over 70
  • Women who are pregnant
  • Individuals aged under 70 with an underlying health condition. These are listed as:
     
  • chronic (long-term) respiratory diseases
     
  • chronic heart disease
  • chronic kidney disease
  • chronic liver disease
  • chronic neurological conditions
  • diabetes
  • spleen issues, for example, sickle cell disease or where an individual has had their spleen removed
  • a weakened immune system as the result of conditions such as HIV and AIDS, or medicines such as steroid tablets or chemotherapy
  • being seriously overweight (a body mass index of 40 or above).