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COVID-19 and Sick Pay

18th January 2022

Coronavirus has been a much discussed topic now for nearly two years and its impact is still widely felt, not least given the emergence of newly evolved strains such as the Omicron variant.

Notwithstanding that there has been a largely effective roll out of a vaccination programme; recent months have seen a surge in the number of COVID-19 infections.  This has in turn created high numbers of absence for employers in all sectors, and of all sizes, whilst members of staff recover or otherwise self isolate.

In this short article we look at possible assistance that may be available.

In order to assist the economy and smaller businesses, it is planned that further aid is to be deployed in the form of a new Statutory Sick Pay Rebate Scheme across the United Kingdom.  The move sits in the wake of recent infection rates in the UK which exceeded 115,000 in one day.

Under the new scheme, the government is allowing employers with fewer than 250 employees (as at 30 November 2021) to recover up to two weeks’ Statutory Sick Pay (£192.70), for each employee where they are absent from work either suffering from COVID-19 or otherwise find themselves in self-isolation due to possible COVID-19 infection.

The scheme applies to any days absence on or after 21 December 2021, including where the period of incapacity started before that date.  The scheme will end on 24 March 2022, which is the last date for claims to be submitted to HMRC.

There has been much discussion about the impact of those who wilfully decide not to get themselves vaccinated. Whilst in some countries around the world the requirement is being mandatory, that is not the case in the UK. However:

  • In care homes, given that the employees will be caring for vulnerable people the Government has intervened directly and made it that vaccination is mandatory, unless the individual falls within the exemptions. With effect from 7 January 2022, new staff can be employed provided that they have had the first vaccination within 21 days before starting work, and that they get their second within 10 weeks of getting their first vaccination.  Those members of staff already employed are already subject to the rules and had to be fully vaccinated by November 2021.  It is anticipated that from April 2022 this mandatory requirement will be rolled out into the wider health and social care industries.
  • In other areas of the economy we are seeing reports of some interesting practices being adopted by some employers with regards to Sick Pay. For example, it is being reported that businesses like Wessex Water and Ikea are implementing policies whereby those staff who have to isolate due to close contact with COVID-19 (which is only the case for those who have not had their two vaccinations) will only receive Statutory Sick Pay and not the full pay during such periods.  Where employers are considering implementing such policies they must consider such measures carefully before implementing (and indeed if they proceed, the wording of the policy) as it is foreseeable that if done incorrectly employers may see claims of breach of contract, and/or discrimination on grounds of Disability, or potentially grounds of Religion and Belief, as a belief is beyond that of religious belief.  Equally employers changing terms and conditions of employment must also step carefully when implementing such changes if they are to be successful in pushing them through.

If you would like to discuss any concerns regarding the Employment Law implications and impact of Coronavirus, dealing with issues such as Absence management, Settlement Agreements or generally around issues arising from employing staff, please speak to Jason Alcock an experienced employment law solicitor in our dispute resolution team on 01543 267 196 or email jalcock@ansonssolicitors.com

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