28 May 2020 #Employment
As of today, in England and Scotland, test and trace programmes have been introduced (28 May 2020), although there are no current plans to test those without symptoms and the government lead for the programme in England has informed MPs that the scheme won’t be fully operational at local level until the end of June.
Nonetheless, starting to operate such a scheme should be a welcome step for employees and businesses. As the International Labour Organisation has reported this week, countries which have implemented strong anti Covid-19 programmes of testing and tracing have seen far fewer deaths due to Covid-19 and up to 50% fewer working hours lost because they:
Isolating contacts of known cases is a necessary component to make this work. In England and Scotland, it has been confirmed that individuals may be asked to self-isolate for 14 days more than once. As expected, entitlement to statutory sick pay has today been extended to people who have been told to isolate under the new system.
The government also announced that, unlike in many other countries, compliance with self-isolation will not be mandatory. This, allied with the fact that statutory sick pay (SSP) is a maximum of £95 per week, creates a disincentive for employees to comply if they cannot work from home.
Where companies have more generous sick pay schemes, they will face significant additional costs at a time when many firms are struggling to trade. This will be an acute problem for businesses with clusters of self-isolating individuals, which is likely as lockdown measures continue to be eased before contact tracing is fully operational.
A lot of businesses would naturally think the government furlough scheme could assist them. However, while the current furlough scheme is now intended to allow claims for employees who are entitled to SSP, it requires a minimum period of 21 days off work so does not appear suitable to cover 14-day periods of self-isolation.
The government is imminently due to announce further specifics of the changes to the furlough scheme 1 August 2020. We will provide updates on whether this will permit claims for employees on self-isolation once the details have been published.
Beyond pay considerations, businesses need to meet their obligations regarding the health and safety of all of their employees and many have introduced robust symptom reporting requirements as they change their working practices with the intention of being Covid-19 secure.
For expert advice, please contact our specialist team.