With the potential for significant numbers of people being at risk of Coronavirus, Cheshire solicitors, Poole Alcock, answer the question: how will this affect the employers and employees?
Sick Leave Entitlement
As it currently stands, Employees are only entitled to sick pay if they are able to demonstrate an actual illness. Employees who are being told to self-isolate must do so as a precautionary measure without there necessarily being a current sickness.
Matt Hancock, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, has stated that self-isolation should be treated as sick leave. The current SSP rules could potentially cover this scenario in situations in which an employee is issued with a self-isolation request or notice issue by Public Health England which confirms that they are potentially infected or contaminated. However, urgent clarification from Westminster is needed.
For workers who are able to work at home self-isolation possibly won’t cause huge disruption. However, the impact for workers in factories, retail and other location-based work is potentially catastrophic. The effect upon health workers is of particular concern.
Are sick days paid?
While some Employers may choose to pay staff who are self-isolating many will not. This represents a real threat to public safety as employees who become aware that they will not be paid and will not receive SSP may attempt to come to work. Clearly this spreads the risk of infection.
What may happen in this situation is that the Employer may have to insist that the Employee does not come into work in which case the situation on pay is likely to be that they should be on full pay.
It is clear from an Employment law perspective that the current legislation is not able to keep up with the fast pace of the virus. Places of work are a hotbed for spreading infection and it is imperative that Employers are given clear and precise instructions on how to deal with the spreading risk of infection.
The Government’s Response
The PMs statement shows that the Government is recognising the effect of Coronavirus on worker’s rights.
A highly significant piece of emergency legislation is due to be released which will mean that employees with Coronavirus will be entitled to Statutory Sick pay for the first day of sickness rather than after the fourth.
While the PM did mention the importance of self-isolation and how this is an imperative measure, the position in relation to pay for self-isolating employees is not clear. There has been no suggestion that employees will be entitled to sick pay if they are self-isolating. The position remains that sick pay arrangements will only be triggered if there is actual sickness but not when there is a precautionary step of self-isolation.
This subject needs to be clarified. While Matt Hancock states that Employers “should” treat self-isolating employees as being sick; there is no legislation to back this up. It is concerning that this has not been addressed. If employees are told to self-isolate but cannot afford to not receive any payment then there is a significant risk that they will come in to work. This can only serve to increase the risk of a pandemic.