Your guide to paying staff with coronavirus

By Alice Leader

- Last updated on GMT

Taking measures: the Government has stated its rules on pay during sickness for Covid-19
Taking measures: the Government has stated its rules on pay during sickness for Covid-19

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The Government has announced today (3 March) that up to one fifth of employees may be absent from work during the peak of the coronavirus outbreak – so what do you need to know about paying these staff members?

Amid more UK cases of coronavirus, the Government has outlined what employers need to know if their staff self-isolate due to the viral outbreak of Covid-19.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said on the BBC One show Breakfast​: “If you self-isolate for medical reasons in order to keep others safe, then that counts as being sick for sick pay purposes.

“The important thing is if people are ill, then they should stay at home like you would with any other contagious disease.”

Plentiful arrangements

The workplace’s usual sick leave and pay entitlements apply if someone has coronavirus but it is how much pay a worker receives will depend on their contract.

Even if employers do not offer sick pay, workers are entitled to statutory sick pay (SSP) for up to 28 weeks.

Statutory sick pay is worth £94.25 a week for eligible employees who have been off work due to an illness for at least four days in a row – some employers do offer some more plentiful arrangements, however.

To qualify for SSP, employees must:

  • Have an employment contract
  • Have done some work under their contract
  • Have been sick for four or more days in a row (including non-working days) – known as a ‘period of incapacity for work’
  • Earn an average of at least £118 per week
  • Give you the correct notice
  • Give you proof of their illness, only after seven days off

So for those who are self-employed, they are not entitled to SSP if they self-isolate.

But the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has said that anyone who is not eligible to sick pay but is deemed a public health risk could claim universal credit or contributory employment and support allowance in such a case.

Acas, the independent arbitration service, spokesperson said: “The Government has made clear that if NHS 111 has advised you to self-isolate due to coronavirus, then you should receive at least statutory sick pay and we would encourage employers to follow the Government’s advice.

“Employees and workers such as agency workers, casual workers and workers on zero hours contracts are likely to be entitled to receive at least statutory sick pay as long as they have started work with their employer; are sick for four full days or more in a row; and earn on average at least £118 per week (before tax).”

To find out if you are eligible, you can check here​.

According to Citizens Advice, you should ask your employer for it and if they say no, ask them to explain why. You can contact your nearest Citizens Advice branch if you’re not happy with the explanation.

Good practice

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesperson said: “We are keeping the situation under constant review and we will take appropriate measures in line with further developments.”

However, if you are not ill and don't have symptoms during your self-isolation, the law says there's no automatic right to sick pay at all.  

But Acas said it is “good practice” for employers to treat it as sick leave otherwise there's a risk the employee will come to work because they want to get paid and risk spreading the disease.

A DWP spokesperson continued: “Employers have been urged to make sure they use their discretion and respect the medical need to self-isolate in making decisions about sick pay.”

The DWP has announced, overall, that it is ready to support people who need to self-isolate.

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