UPDATED: With omicron expected to become the dominant Covid-19 variant by mid-December, employers may see a rise in the number of staff self-isolating.
The UK government has reintroduced tighter Covid measures in England including mask wearing in public places and advice for employees to work from home wherever possible.
It will depend on the circumstances as to why staff are self-isolating as to whether you must pay them, the amount you will have to pay them and what you are able to claim back.
Have the self-isolating rules changed since omicron?
From tomorrow (Tuesday December 14), adults who are fully vaccinated and come into contact with someone with any Covid variant don’t need to self-isolate. Instead, they are advised to take a lateral flow test every day for seven days. Those who take a lateral flow test which comes back positive, or develop Covid symptoms, should self- isolate and take a PCR test to confirm the result. If it’s positive, they must isolate for ten days from the positive lateral flow test result or the emergence of symptoms.
Unvaccinated adults are not eligible for the new Covid daily testing policy. They must isolate for ten days if they come into contact with someone who has tested positive for Covid-19, whether it’s omicron or not. They will be exempt if their workplace is eligible for for existing workplace daily contact testing.
Can an employee work from home if they have tested positive for Covid-19 or have been told to self-isolate?
Yes. If an employee is well enough to work from home and can perform their role at home, there is no reason why they cannot do this and be paid as usual for their work.
Do I have to pay my employees Statutory Sick Pay (SSP)?
Usual rules for SSP will apply relating to sickness unrelated to Covid-19.
In addition, if an employee would ordinarily be eligible for SSP, they’re self-isolating and off work for at least four days in a row (including usual non-working days), you must pay your employee SSP for every day they’re off work, if one or more of the following applies:
- They or someone they live with has symptoms of, or has tested positive for Covid-19
- They’ve been notified by the NHS or public health authorities that they have had close contact with someone who has tested positive for Covid-19 (and are unvaccinated as of December 14)
- Someone in their support bubble has symptoms of Covid-19, or has tested positive for Covid-19 (and are unvaccinated as of December 14)
- They’ve been advised by a medical professional to self-isolate before going into hospital for surgery for up to 14 days
How much is SSP?
Eligible employees can claim SSP for their qualifying days at £96.35 per week and this can be claimed for a maximum of 28 weeks. SSP is only available from the fourth qualifying day, but if your employee is off sick or self-isolating because of Covid-19 or has tested positive for COVID-19, from March 13 2020 you should pay SSP from the first qualifying day, as long as the employee is off for at least four consecutive days (including their non-working days).
Can I reclaim SSP back?
The Coronavirus Statutory Sick Pay Rebate Scheme (CSSPRS) will repay SSP that employers have already paid to current or former employees. They can only claim for employees who were off work on or before 30 September 2021. Up to two weeks’ SSP can be reclaimed for each employee off sick, if the below is true:
- The employee had Covid-19 or were self-isolating
- The employee was shielding before April 1 2021 in England and Wales
- Your PAYE payroll scheme started on or before February 28 2020
- You had fewer than 250 employees on February 28 2020
You can make more than one claim per employee, but you cannot claim for more than two weeks in total.
You can claim SSP back under the CSSPRS using the online service.
Do I have to pay staff any other pay while they are self-isolating?
You should check your employee’s contract and your company’s sick pay or special leave policy to see whether your employee might be entitled to enhanced contractual or occupational sick pay.
Alternatively, if your employee is not able to work from home and receive full contractual pay, or does not qualify for SSP or contractual sick pay, you could offer that the employee takes any outstanding annual leave, so that they can be paid in full for that.
Also, if the employee is on a low income in these circumstances and are asked to self-isolate by NHS Test and Trace, they may be able to get a £500 Test and Trace support payment. Your employee can find out more information about this and how to apply.
If none of these options are available, you may have to offer unpaid leave.
Do I have to pay staff SSP if they’re self-isolating or in quarantine because they travelled abroad?
Employees or workers are not entitled to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) if they’re in self-isolation or quarantine after travel abroad and they cannot work from home. You can choose to pay your employee at the same rate as SSP or higher if you wish, but you are not required to pay your employee unless they are able to work from home or take agreed annual leave for the time they cannot attend work.
Calum Covell is senior marketing manager for Harper James Solicitors, the law firm for entrepreneurs