Coronavirus: the implications for employers

9th March 2020

Coronavirus: the implications for employers

The rapid global spread of coronavirus – or Covid-19 – poses difficult questions for employers with regard to their responsibilities and obligations to their staff.

The pace and severity of the outbreak has added to a general lack of clarity as to the rights of employees who choose to self-isolate.

According to the government’s coronavirus blueprint, up to one in five workers could be off sick during a peak in cases.

So what do employers need to know?

How do I know if an employee is entitled to statutory sick pay?

A person is entitled to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) under the Statutory Sick Pay (General) Regulations 1982 (Regulations) if they are “deemed to be incapable of work of such a kind by reason of some specific disease or bodily or mental disablement for any day on which either… he is… excluded or abstains from work, or from work of such a kind, pursuant to a request or notice in writing lawfully made under an enactment; or… by reason of it being known or reasonably suspected that he is infected or contaminated by, or has been in contact with a case of, a relevant infection or contamination”.

In practice this means that someone who self-isolates because they are given a written notice, usually by a doctor or by NHS 111, are considered to be incapable of work and are entitled to SSP.

If someone has not been given a written notice and show no signs of illness, but make the choice to self-isolate whether because they believe they may have contracted coronavirus or not, then they are not eligible for SSP, under the Regulations.

SSP is currently £94.25 a week and is not paid until the fourth day of absence from work. The government has changed this under the emergency coronavirus legislation and SSP will now be paid from the first day.

To qualify for SSP, employees need to earn on average at least £118 a week. The Confederation of British Industry has called for the introduction of a number of temporary measures, including extending SSP to all workers such as agency staff and those on zero hours contracts.

What if an employee chooses to self-isolate but has not been near someone with Covid-19 or a high-risk region?

If an employee does not want to go to work because they are worried about catching coronavirus, they may be able to arrange time off with their employer as holiday or unpaid leave, but the employer does not have to agree to this.

If an employee refuses to attend work, disciplinary action may be appropriate, but every case needs to be decided on its facts and expert advice should be taken.

What if an employer requires an employee to remain at home?

If an employee is not sick but is asked by their employer to not come to work then they should receive their normal pay. An example of this is an employee who has returned from a holiday in a high risk area and is told by their employer to take time off work.

If an employee is unwell and thinks they have the virus, should they be paid if they don’t go to work?

Staff who are ill, or have flu-like symptoms, and choose to stay at home qualify for SSP, which can be paid for up to 28 weeks.

If you would like further information on your responsibilities as an employer, contact our specialist employment law solicitors – call Marie Allen on 01473 211121 or email

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