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Note - this information is being continually checked and updated. It was last updated on 23 October 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 and has now spread across the globe. 

COVID-19 has 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.

The Job Support Scheme

On Thursday 24 September, Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced the successor to the furlough scheme; the Job Support Scheme. This new scheme will launch on 1 November as is designed to continue to provide financial support to businesses struggling as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. 

Please refer to our FAQs for more details. 

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. 

Government confirm quarantine exempt countries

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

This long-expected list, which is available on the government website, outlines countries from which travelers do not need to self-isolate upon their return. 

The list currently specifies over 40 countries across the globe, including European destinations 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.

Since this list was released, a number of countries have been removed from it, sometimes whilst travelers are still there. To this end, it is vital that all organisations keep up to date with the list. 

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 travelers should check if they will need to self-isolate at their destination prior to making travel plans.

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 have now relaxed 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; in Wales, this was 16 August. 

Please note that localised lockdown measures may result in some members of staff being asked to shield again going forward. 

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 implemented a large number of new laws to combat its spread. The situation is continually evolving and it is expected that this will continue until more effective treatment, and preventative measures, are found. 

Symptoms include fever, cough, shortness of breath and loss or change to the sense of smell or taste. Some people will suffer from mild illness and recover easily whilst, 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 but it is thought that it can take up to 24 days.

Employees who experience symptoms should follow Government advice on reporting this, which may include either internet or telephone services depending on the individual’s location in the UK. Note that this may not include calling 111, which had been the original advice.

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.

On 17 March 2020, the Government advised against all non-essential foreign travel to tackle the spread of the virus.

Employers should assess whether work related travel is essential, especially given that the ‘travel corridor exemption’ countries (those where no quarantine is required on arrival in the UK) change frequently and at very short notice (see ‘Arriving in the UK and Quarantine’ below).

Where an employee does travel on business, always know where they are and where they are going. Ensure they are given clear instructions on hygiene to reduce the risk of picking up the virus. If employees do report symptoms of the virus while they are travelling, you will have to support them.

Have a plan in place in advance of travel, setting out what the employee should do if they feel ill.

 

When the initial ‘lockdown’ announcement came in March, very many businesses implemented a short notice temporary home working arrangement when workers were “advised” to work from home where possible.

Then, in early May, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that those people who cannot work from home were “actively encouraged” to return to work. However, he also said that those who can work from home should continue to do so.

A change in approach came from 1 August in England, and employers now have discretion to decide where it is safe for their staff to do work. In Scotland and Wales, the default position remains that work should be done from home.

Advice changed for England, once again, on 22 September 2020. The Prime Minister stated that those who can work from home effectively, should do so. Guidance confirmed that, where an employer judges, in consultation with their employee, that the employee can carry out their normal duties from home, they should do so. It also confirmed that public sector employees working in essential services, including education settings, should continue to go into work where necessary. Anyone else who cannot work from home should go to their place of work.

When measures were first implemented to protect people from contracting the virus, the Government stated that certain people were “strongly advised” to work from home, where possible. These are people who were 70 years old or over; women who were pregnant and those who were under 70 years old but have an underlying health condition as follows:

  • chronic (long-term) respiratory diseases, such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema or bronchitis.
  • chronic heart disease, such as heart failure.
  • chronic kidney disease.
  • chronic liver disease, such as hepatitis.
  • chronic neurological conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease, motor neurone disease, multiple sclerosis (MS), a learning disability or cerebral palsy.
  • diabetes.
  • problems with the spleen, 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 BMI of 40 or above).

There was, and still is, no instruction for employees in the above categories to self-isolate  meaning that where it was not feasible for an employee to work from home, they could still be in work but ensure precautions should have been put place to protect their wellbeing. An employee in one of the above categories who wished to remain at home but could not work from home was technically withdrawing their services and will not be entitled to pay. However, employers may have chosen to show leniency in this situation, given the circumstances, and pay an amount equivalent to SSP or full pay. It should be noted that the SSP equivalent payment did not qualify for recovery from the Coronavirus SSP Rebate Scheme which allows employers with fewer than 250 employees to recover coronavirus related SSP payments to a maximum of 14 days’ payment, because the individual is not under Government guidance to self-isolate. 

On the other hand, if the employee was happy to present themselves for work but the employer does not wish to take any risks and, as a precautionary measure, sent the employee home, the employee was entitled to full pay unless the contract says otherwise.

Alternatively, the employer may have chosen to try to agree/enforce a period of annual leave if the employee could not work from home.

People who were particularly high risk eg some being treated for cancer, or on dialysis, were urged to stay at home to “shield” themselves. Such individuals received a letter from the NHS advising them to stay indoors and avoid all face to face contact with other people for 12 weeks; very strict advice applies on how they should do washing, prepare meals etc.

Shielding has now, in general, ended in Great Britain. This means that those who had been shielding are now able to return to work, albeit with extra adjustments as may be necessary. It is important to note that local lockdowns may require shielding to be re-instated.

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

The Government is advising that certain people should self-isolate. Those who experience even minor symptoms should self-isolate for 10 days; those who live with someone who develops symptoms should self-isolate for 14 days and if they experience symptoms, comply with the 7-day period which will override the 14 day period.

Those who receive a notification from a track and trace service that they have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for coronavirus are also required to self-isolate for 14 days.

Those in a linked/extended household group should self-isolate for 14 days where someone else in that linked/extended household develops symptoms.

In addition, those who have been advised by a registered medical practitioner (or other person or body permitted to make the notification) that they are to undergo a surgical or other hospital procedure, and have been advised to self-isolate for a period of up to 14 days before their hospital admission, should do so.

On 28 September, the Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) (Self-isolation) (England) Regulations 2020 came into force which introduce various criminal offences in respect of self-isolation. It is now an offence for an employer to knowingly allow a worker to attend any place for any purpose relating to their employment during the designated period of self-isolation. Breaches of this law can result in a fixed penalty notice of £1000 for the first offence increasing to £10,000 for repeated offences.

The terminology here is important; a breach is not restricted to an employer’s requirement for the employee to attend the workplace, or even a request. It is also not restricted to attendance at the workplace, but covers attendance at any place for any purpose relating to their employment.

The employer must be aware of the employees’ need to self-isolate, and of any breach of the self-isolation requirement by the employee. Workers are now under a legal obligation to inform their employer of the need to self-isolate, however, this only applies where the employee is not already working from the place they are self-isolating which is likely to be their home. Therefore, this will not apply when the employee is already working from home.

Employers may wish to confirm this stance to their employees by reminding them of the need to inform the employer of the requirement to self-isolate, and that they are prohibited from attending the workplace, or any other place for the purposes of work, during the self-isolation period.

Emergency legislation put in place requires statutory sick pay (SSP) to be paid to those self-isolating as described above in order to prevent the infection or spread of the virus in accordance with public health guidance, who is then unable to work as a result, providing they meet the other eligibility criteria.

However, current legislation appears to include only those in Scotland and Wales within the scope of entitlement to SSP where self-isolation is required because someone in the linked/extended household group has symptoms. It does not appear to extend to England.

Where the first day of absence was 13 March 2020 or later, SSP is payable from day one for anyone self-isolating, provided that other eligibility criteria is met including that the employee earns at least the lower earnings limit, and has been absent for at least 4 days in order to create a “period of incapacity for work”.

Those advised to shield on or after 16 April 2020 were entitled to SSP. Although shielding has now been paused, entitlement to SSP will start again if the individual receives a further notification to shield. Under England’s three tier COVID alert system, geographical areas can be categorised as “very high” alert areas which means the most stringent measures will be in place to prevent the spread of coronavirus. In addition to baseline measures that will apply to all “very high” alert areas, additional measures will be put in place based on the specific circumstances in that area. This may well include further ‘shielding’ notices being sent to those fall into the extremely clinically vulnerable category.

In addition, measures have been put in place for employees to obtain medical evidence from NHS 111 rather than their own GP. “Isolation notes” will provide you with evidence that your employee has been advised to self-isolate. You may ask for this document to evidence absence of over seven days, in the same way as with a normal “fit note” from the GP. As with normal sickness absence, no isolation notice will be issued for the first seven days, during which employees can self-certify.

The notes can be accessed through the NHS website and NHS 111 online. The note will be emailed to the employee, or in some cases, directly to you.

In respect of those who may need to shield again in the future, the letter received from the NHS advising the individual to shield is sufficient evidence for employers for payment of SSP.

In respect of those who have received a notification informing them of close contact with someone who has tested positive for coronavirus, the notification they received can be used as evidence.

Employers may be able to agree a period of homeworking during self-isolation or shielding provided the employee remains fit for work, or annual leave, in which case full pay will be maintained.

On 8 June 2020, a 14 day quarantine (self-isolation) period was implemented for almost all instances of arrival into the UK from overseas.

However, the rules were relaxed from 10 July, with the introduction of travel corridor exemptions. Where a travel corridor exemption exists with a country, there is no need to self-isolate when entering the UK from that country. However, self-isolation will be required where the individual has made a transit stop in a country  which is not exempt before returning to the UK.

Exempt countries may differ between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. For current lists, see below:

Whilst the rules have been relaxed, arrival in the UK from a country not on the exempt list, or where a transit stop as described above has been made, will require self-isolation. 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.

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.

Statutory sick pay is not payable to those who self-isolate on return from overseas.

 

Normal sickness absence and pay policies will apply to employees who have Coronavirus. SSP is now payable from day one of absence, rather than day four, for employees whose first day of incapacity due to the virus was on or after 13 March 2020, provided that other eligibility criteria is met including that the employee earns at least the lower earnings limit, and has been absent for at least 4 days in order to create a ‘period of incapacity for work’.

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.

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 20 March 2020, the Government instructed all bars, pubs, restaurants, theatres (including cinemas), gyms, cafes, nightclubs to close as soon as they possibly could that evening and not re-open the following day. Timelines, or “routemaps” were then created for each UK country, according to which, their businesses were permitted to re-open.

The Government may require certain businesses to close, as part of targeted lockdown measures. This has tended to affect the hospitality sector in particular.

Hospitality businesses, with limited exceptions, in the central belt of Scotland (Ayrshire & Arran; Forth Valley; Greater Glasgow & Clyde; Lanarkshire; Lothian) were required to close from 6pm on Friday 9 October 2020 until Sunday 25 October. Other restrictions were placed on hospitality businesses in the rest of Scotland.

On 12 October 2020, the Prime Minister announced a three-tier alert system to apply in England. Geographical areas will be allocated to one of the following categories of alert: “medium”, “high” or “very high” with increasing levels of social distancing and industry restrictions. Certain businesses in “very high” alert regions must close. As a baseline, pubs and bars who do not operate as a restaurant which means serving substantial meals, like a main lunchtime or evening meal, will be instructed to close and consultation with local Government leaders may result in further closures to the hospitality, leisure, entertainment and personal care sectors. Retail businesses, schools, colleges and universities will remain open regardless of alert level.

In response to business closure, the government have introduced the Job Retention Scheme and the Job Support Scheme to help employers retain staff (see below). Where employers or employees do not qualify for funding from such schemes, lay off may be an appropriate alternative. Employees who are ready and willing to work but are not provided with work (as would be the case with a temporary closure) can be placed on lay off. Lay off must be with full pay unless there is a provision within the contract for lay off without pay (subject to the payment of statutory guarantee pay for employees with a least one month’s service at the time of lay off). If there is no contractual provision, you can attempt to agree with employees a period of unpaid lay off.

This may also occur when the business itself has not taken the decision to close, but where, for example, the landlord of the building from which the business operates has decided to close its doors, meaning that no-one can enter. In this situation, employers should consider whether it can temporarily move to an alternative location or permit its employees to work from home. If no other alternative can be found, a period of lay off may be required.

The Government announced the Job Retention Scheme on 20 March 2020 via which businesses could apply for a grant to cover 80% of wages for employees who were being retained but not working, to a maximum of £2,500 per month, in order to avoid unpaid lay off. 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.

Please refer to our detailed FAQs on the Job Retention Scheme

 

On 8 July 2020, the Chancellor announced that a Job Retention Bonus would be made available to employers who keep staff on who were previously furloughed under the Job Retention Scheme until at least 31 January 2021. 

Please refer to our FAQs for more information. 

The Job Support Scheme will continue to offer limited wage support for businesses once the Job Retention Scheme ends, subject to qualifying criteria. The scheme will provide support to businesses that can remain open as well as those which are required to shut as a result of coronavirus restrictions.

Please refer to our FAQs for more information. 

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.

Due to the closure of schools across the UK, it was likely that employers will face an increased number of employees who need to take time off for dependants. In general, schools are now permitted to open.

During the wider lockdown, the Government announced a list of key workers for whose children school would still be open. Key workers are those who work in the following sectors:

  • Health and social care
    This includes but is not limited to doctors, nurses, midwives, paramedics, social workers, care workers, and other frontline health and social care staff including volunteers; the support and specialist staff required to maintain the UK’s health and social care sector; those working as part of the health and social care supply chain, including producers and distributers of medicines and medical and personal protective equipment.
     
  • Education and childcare
    This includes nursery and teaching staff, social workers and those specialist education professionals who must remain active during the COVID-19 response to deliver this approach.
     
  • Key public services
    This includes those essential to the running of the justice system, religious staff, charities and workers delivering key frontline services, those responsible for the management of the deceased, and journalists and broadcasters who are providing public service broadcasting.
     
  • Local and national government
    This only includes those administrative occupations essential to the effective delivery of the COVID-19 response or delivering essential public services such as the payment of benefits, including in government agencies and arms length bodies.
     
  • Food and other necessary goods
    This includes those involved in food production, processing, distribution, sale and delivery as well as those essential to the provision of other key goods (for example hygienic and veterinary medicines).
     
  • Public safety and national security
    This includes police and support staff, Ministry of Defence civilians, contractor and armed forces personnel (those critical to the delivery of key defence and national security outputs and essential to the response to the COVID-19 pandemic), fire and rescue service employees (including support staff), National Crime Agency staff, those maintaining border security, prison and probation staff and other national security roles, including those overseas.
     
  • Transport
    This includes those who will keep the air, water, road and rail passenger and freight transport modes operating during the COVID-19 response, including those working on transport systems through which supply chains pass.
     
  • Utilities, communication and financial services
    This includes staff needed for essential financial services provision (including but not limited to workers in banks, building societies and financial market infrastructure), the oil, gas, electricity and water sectors (including sewerage), information technology and data infrastructure sector and primary industry supplies to continue during the COVID-19 response, as well as key staff working in the civil nuclear, chemicals, telecommunications (including but not limited to network operations, field engineering, call centre staff, IT and data infrastructure, 999 and 111 critical services), postal services and delivery, payments providers and waste disposal sectors.

Children with at least one parent who is a key worker could still go to school. Single parents who are a key worker could send their child to school.

In addition, schools stayed open for vulnerable children and those who get special needs support.

Children of all non-key workers were told to stay at home and observe social distancing.

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.

On 18 September 2020, the government changed its guidance surrounding the maintaining of records to track who is visiting venues within certain venues in England. It is now a legal requirement for designated venues to collect contact details for the purposes of NHS Test and Trace in England, alongside displaying official NHS QR code posters. 

  • first offence - £1,000
  • second offence - £2,000 
  • third offence - £3,000 
  • any further notices - £4,000. 

The following businesses in England now need to keep records of the working hours of their staff, and their contact details, for 21 days so that the data can be provided to NHS Test and Trace if requested. These businesses include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • hospitality
  • tourism and leisure 
  • close contact services
  • facilities provided by local authorities 

Gender pay gap reporting

The Government has announced that the gender pay gap reporting obligation will be suspended for 2020 due to the coronavirus. Companies with 250 or more employees are required to submit their gender pay gap information once a year; for the private sector, the deadline is 4 April; for public sector, it is 30 March. In recognition of the extra pressure placed on businesses at this time, there will be no requirement to publish the data for this year.

Annual leave

The laws on annual leave have been amended to allow more flexibility on the carry over of leave. Previously, 4 weeks of annual leave was exclusive to the year in which it was accrued, meaning it could not be carried over except where it could not be taken because of sickness absence or annual leave. The remaining 1.6 weeks of leave could be carried over to the next leave year subject to the employer’s agreement.

The restriction on carrying over the 4 weeks of leave has been lifted for circumstances where it was not reasonably practicable for a worker to take some or all of their leave as a result of the effects of coronavirus (including on the worker, the employer or the wider economy or society). Workers now have the right to carry forward leave accrued in this leave year to the next two leave years. The carry over of the 1.6 weeks’ leave is still subject to agreement from the employer.

The rules on pay in lieu of accrued holiday on termination of employment have also been amended. Pay in lieu should include an element reflecting leave which was carried over in this way but remains untaken at termination.

Modern slavery statements

The Government has relaxed the rules around compliance with modern slavery requirements. An updated Government guide makes clear that businesses must continue their activity to identify and address risks of modern slavery in their operations and supply chains but recognises the challenges presented by the virus in publishing their statement within the usual timeframe. It notes ‘reduced staff capacity’ as one such challenge. It states that “businesses which need to delay the publication of their modern slavery statement by up to 6 months due to coronavirus-related pressures will not be penalised”. The reason for any delay to the publication should be set out in the delayed statement.

Statements are required from all businesses who have an annual turnover of at least £36 million, and must normally be published within 6 months of the end of the company’s financial year.

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).