Test, Trace, Isolate, and Support

We seem to be further down the difficult road to recovery (in more than one sense) from COVID-19. From a work and employment perspective, we have now entered the next phase: both the UK and Scottish Governments have published road maps applying to businesses and everyday life which details how restrictions will potentially be relaxed as time goes on. Indeed, some businesses have already moved towards bringing people back from furlough.

The Scottish Government’s test, trace, isolate, and support strategy means individuals can be notified if they have come into contact with another individual who has contracted COVID-19 and self-isolate as a result. It is a distinct possibility that some employees who have already been brought back to work from being on furlough (or were never furloughed in the first place) will need to self-isolate at some point.

What do employers need to be aware of if a member of their team needs to self-isolate?

  1. Can the employee work from home?

If the employee is able to do their role from home, then as a best practice they should already be doing so. However, if an individual has been working from their original working location, it may be sensible to plan for the potential scenario where they need to self-isolate, and thus need to carry out their role from home – precautions can include making sure the individual has the correct IT equipment/WiFi to be able to work from home, and perhaps creating work plans or scheduling daily catch ups.

For individuals who are able to carry out their role from home, they can still continue to work during self-isolation periods if they feel able to (especially if the individuals themselves don’t actually have the condition and it’s a member of their household that has the condition). Even if an employee has mild symptoms of the virus and is adamant that they want to work, the employer can allow this.

If the employee is not able to work from home (for example, they are in a manual labour position), then employers may wish to consider several options:

  • Extending their current furlough (or reinstating the individuals on furlough): Perhaps the most important aspect here is that respective furlough periods need to last for a minimum of one week
  • Treating their self-isolation as an absence – the employee can follow the usual sickness absence reporting procedure during their self-isolation
  1. Should Sick Pay be paid for periods of self-isolation?

Yes – if the current Sick Pay mechanism is in line with the statutory minimums then the employee can receive sick pay if they follow the correct reporting procedure.

Can an employer revert to paying statutory sick pay even if they have an enhanced pay scheme.

This is an important consideration to make as some employers may not be able to operate their usual sick pay scheme, given the significant financial implications that could be caused by a high number of employees being told to self-isolate for a minimum of two weeks. The most important aspect within this is if the Company sick pay scheme is contractual – there is then a requirement to consult with staff for a “reasonable period of time”.

If the organisation’s policies/procedures are not contractual, then it is easier to implement and communicate any changes to the pay provision.

A specific COVID-19 Policy

Employers may wish to consider creating a specific COVID-19 policy. This would be useful to lay out the steps that employees should take to protect themselves and their colleagues as well as how the employer will respond to certain situations.

Most importantly, it would help to make COVID-related absences/self-isolation distinct from normal absences – therefore, in the case of self-isolating and the associated pay, employers can make a reasonable argument that the pay procedure is governed by the specific COVID policy rather than the normal Sickness policy (and contract clause, if applicable).

The main points of this policy can include:

  • If employees cannot attend work because they are self-isolating, they are required to contact the employer as soon as possible to advise the organisation that is the case;
  • In self-isolating cases, they will be paid at the Statutory Sick Pay rate
  • Situations where employees ignore instructions to self-isolate and attend work may be dealt with under the disciplinary policy

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