If an employee is advised to self-isolate to avoid the risk of spreading coronavirus, are they entitled to sick pay?

Current government guidance is that anyone who has a high temperature and/or a new continuous cough should stay at home (ie self-isolate) for at least seven days from the onset of symptoms. If they live with others, everyone in the household should stay at home for 14 days, even if they have no symptoms.

People who are at very high risk of severe illness from coronavirus (COVID-19) because of certain underlying health conditions are advised to "self-shield" by staying at home for at least 12 weeks.

Employees who are staying at home in accordance with government advice are entitled to statutory sick pay (SSP), even if they are not ill. The Government has introduced temporary legislation (the Statutory Sick Pay (General) (Coronavirus Amendment) Regulations 2020 (SI 2020/287)) with the effect that individuals who are unable to work because they are self-isolating are deemed to be incapable of work for the purposes of SSP. The employee must be self-isolating in accordance with coronavirus guidance published by Public Health England, NHS National Services Scotland or Public Health Wales.

The position for employees with underlying medical conditions who do not fall into the most vulnerable category (see above), those aged 70 and above, and those who are pregnant is less clear. Government guidance is that these employees should be particularly stringent in following social distancing measures and work from home where possible. As the guidance falls short of advising this group to self-isolate, arguably they would not be entitled to SSP under the temporary legislation. Employers should ensure that they comply with their other duties to protect these workers.

In any event, it is good practice for employers to treat absence due to self isolation or staying at home on government advice as sick leave and pay the employee in accordance with their usual policy, or to pay them in full. Employers should aim to avoid the situation where an employee attends work against medical guidance, risking the spread of coronavirus, because they are concerned about not being paid or having to use up their annual leave allowance to cover any absence.

If an employee is absent following an instruction from their employer not to come to work as a preventative measure, they are entitled to be paid as usual (unless the contract provides otherwise).

The Chancellor confirmed in the Budget 2020, on 11 March 2020, that emergency legislation will also be brought forward to allow the payment of SSP from the first day of absence, rather than the fourth day, for "people who have COVID-19 or have to self-isolate, in accordance with government guidelines".