Coronavirus and Statutory Sick Pay

The Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) scheme entitles qualifying employees to receive a weekly payment when they are unable to work due to illness. The SSP regime has been amended on numerous occasions as the Coronavirus pandemic has progressed. These changes are primarily aimed at extending eligibility to SSP to those who are self-isolating in accordance with government guidance but may not necessarily have Coronavirus symptoms.

Providing Evidence of Illness For SSP Purposes

UPDATES

This page was firstly published on 20 December 2021 and the last update was 19 January 2022.

The Statutory Sick Pay (Medical Evidence) Regulations 2021 come into force on 17 December 2021 meaning that for a temporary period, employees are able to self-certify any period of incapacity up to 28 days. This will also apply to any period of absence starting prior to 17 December 2021 but which has not lasted more than 7 days.

Employees who are eligible to receive Statutory Sick Pay are not normally required to provide their employer with medical evidence to support any period of sickness absence of seven days or less. Medical certificates, commonly known as fit notes, are required to support any absence of eight days or longer.

For absences that start on or after 10 December 2021, up to an including absences which begin on or before 26 January 2022, employees will not be required to provide their employer with medical evidence for the first 28 days of any absence. GPs will still be required to supply medical certificates for periods of absence exceeding 28 days.

The aim of the extension is to enable GPs to focus on the COVID-19 booster programme and emergency care.

Some of my clients are worried that communicating the longer self-certification period will encourage unscrupulous staff to take an extended period of time of work, my advice to those clients has been to avoid advertising the change and wait until an absence hits the seven-day mark before communicating that no medical certification is required for now.

The intention is that the self-certification period will revert to seven days for absences beginning on or after 27 January 2022. But, as SSP is largely funded by employers rather than by the state, the government may choose to retain the longer self-certification period. I will keep you informed of any further extensions or changes.

Self-Isolation Note
Employees who have been advised to self-isolate are able to obtain an online isolation note. This can be used to provide evidence of the need to self-isolate when someone is absent for more than ten days due to having symptoms of Covid-19, is self-isolating for ten days because they live or are in a support bubble with someone who has symptoms or has received a notification to self-isolate through the NHS Test and Trace service.

Self-isolation notes can be obtained from NHS 111

Employers can check an isolation note is valid by using the Check an isolation note service.

Providing enhanced pay (or perhaps even full pay) when an individual is self-isolating will encourage that employee to comply with the self-isolation rules and not come into work.

Company Sick Pay

Can We Ask An Employee To Provide A Fit Note If We Don’t Think The Illness Is Genuine?

This is a popular question since the rules were changed. If you pay SSP when an employee is off sick then unfortunately the answer is no. These new rules only change the self-certification period. All of the other rules around SSP and self-certification continue to apply. So, you must accept a fit note at face value unless you have convincing evidence which casts doubt on whether your employee is genuinely ill.

Where employees benefit from a higher rate of sick pay under a company sick pay policy, you may choose to request a sick note after seven days, as a condition of access to this benefit. Alternatively, you may choose to temporarily update your policies to grant the higher rate only after the extended 28-day self-certification window has passed. However, given that the change is currently only set to last a few weeks, you may wish to wait and see if it is extended before making any policy changes.

How Much Is SSP?

The change does not affect eligibility for statutory sick pay.

From 4 April 2021, SSP is £96.35 per week for up to 28 weeks. The weekly rate will increase to £99.35 on 11 April 2022.

Waiting Days

SSP entitlement is subject to the following:

  • SSP is not generally payable during the first three days of sickness, known as “waiting days” but this provision has been disapplied for Coronavirus cases.
  • Irrespective of the change to the “waiting days” provision, employees must still have a total period of incapacity for work of at least four days to be eligible for SSP.

In practice, this means if someone is:

  • sick with Covid-19 symptoms and is subsequently diagnosed with coronavirus, they are entitled to SSP from the first day of sickness.
  • sick for three days or fewer and receive a negative Covid-19 test result in that time, they would not be entitled to SSP.
  • sick for more than three days but do not have coronavirus, they would be entitled to SSP under the usual (non-Covid) rules and would not receive SSP for the first three “waiting days”.

The position is the same for self-isolation i.e. although the “waiting days” provision has been disapplied the employee must still have an overall period of absence of at least four days to qualify for SSP. So, a period of self-isolation which lasts only three days or less will not qualify for SSP.

Reclaiming Statutory Sick Pay Paid To Employees

Up until 30 September 2021, employers with fewer than 250 employees could reclaim up to two weeks of Coronavirus related SSP paid to employees.

On 21 December 2021 the Government announced that the Coronavirus Statutory Sick Pay Rebate Scheme will be reintroduced from mid-January 2022 meaning employers will be able to claim back employees’ coronavirus-related Statutory Sick Pay (SSP). My understanding is that businesses are eligible from 21 December 2021 and will be able to make retrospective claims from mid-January. The size of the employer will be determined by the number of people employed on the PAYE payroll as at 30 November 2021. The two weeks per employee limit will be reset so that an employer will be able to claim up to two weeks’ SSP per employee even if they had claimed under the previous scheme for that employee.

There is currently no end date for the Coronavirus Statutory Sick Pay Rebate Scheme.

The guidance that is currently available applies to claims for employees who were off work on or before 30 September 2021. A message at the top of the existing guidance says it will be updated as soon as possible. I will update this page as soon as the updated guidance is published.

UPDATE 19 JANUARY 2022

The Government guidance has been updated today to say the online service to claim back Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) is now available. You can claim for employees who were off work on or after 21 December 2021.

Follow the link to view the Updated Government Guidance

Follow the link to Make A Claim

Support From HMRC

HMRC’s digital assistant is available if you want more information about the coronavirus support schemes.

Unvaccinated Employees

According to Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures, an estimated 5.1 million eligible people have not yet been vaccinated. In December 2021, health secretary Sajid Javid estimated that 90% of those seriously ill and in hospital with coronavirus were unvaccinated.

With vaccination only mandatory for care-based work, most employers in other sectors will be having to decide how best to protect their workforce if facing jab objections and absences due to COVID illness.

Current Government Guidance suggests exceptions should be made for COVID absences, but at some point, as we move from pandemic to endemic, those that choose not to be vaccinated, rather than have a medical reason, may have to be treated in line with other sickness absences. And, dependent on the self-isolation requirements, could see themselves triggering absence levels under existing policies. In cases of medical exemption or ethical refusal, for example if an employee refuses vaccination because they are pregnant, employers have to be careful to avoid discrimination when taking action based on employees’ vaccine status.

Supermarket chain Morrisons announced that, following government confirmation that all adults have had the opportunity to get double vaccinated, they will no longer be paying full sick pay for colleagues who are required to self-isolate and have chosen not to be vaccinated. Unvaccinated employees who have symptoms and are self-isolating will still be eligible for sick pay.

Employees who are medically exempt from getting the COVID jab, or those with reasonable other grounds for not being vaccinated (e.g. staff who are pregnant or have concerns about getting it due to reasons relating to their race or religion), may raise claims of discrimination if they are put at a detriment as a result of following government isolation guidance.

Reducing sick pay may make employees rethink their actions and behaviours outside of the workplace, including going to large events or not adhering to mask wearing and social distancing guidance. This in turn will help reduce the likelihood of them being in close contact with a COVID-positive person, so told to isolate.

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Coronavirus and Statutory Sick Pay