The Prime Minister announced yesterday that self-isolating workers will be entitled to statutory sick pay from day one, rather than day four, in a bid to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
The move will be included in emergency legislation to deal with the disease.
“I can today announce that the Health Secretary will bring forward, as part of our emergency legislation measures, to allow the payment of statutory sick pay from the very first day you are sick instead of four days under the current rules,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson told MPs.
“No one should be penalised for doing the right thing.”
COVID-19, or coronavirus, is associated with coughing, a high temperature and shortness of breath. The virus is transmitted through small droplets from the nose or mouth, much like cold and flu. It is believed that the virus can survive on surfaces for a few hours or up to several days.
People who are told to self-isolate should stay at home and away from public spaces for up to 14 days. NHS 111 has developed an online service that will help people to determine whether they need medical help and should self-isolate.
The change in statutory sick pay will be a temporary measure to respond to the outbreak and will lapse when it is no longer required. It is currently unclear whether the extra three days will apply to all illnesses, or only those suspected to be coronavirus.
The current rate of statutory sick pay is £94.25 a week for up to 28 weeks and is paid by employers. In order to qualify, workers must be earning at least £118 per week; this is before tax and an average over eight weeks. They must be legally classed as an employee. Those on zero-hours contracts should be eligible and can appeal to HMRC if their employer refuses to pay.
Freelance, self-employed and gig economy workers are notably not covered by statutory sick pay. The current advice is that those who do not qualify can apply for Universal Credit. However, Johnson hinted that the government was looking into further measures.
“We will take every step that we can to ensure that businesses are protected, that the economy remains strong and that no one, whether employed or self-employed, whatever the status of their employment, is penalised for doing the right thing.”
Officials believe that up to 20% of workers could all be off sick at the same time if the disease becomes widespread.