Coronavirus Bill: Statutory Sick Pay

20 March 2020

The first reading of the much-anticipated Coronavirus Bill took place in Parliament on 19 March 2020, and the second is scheduled to happen on 23 March 2020. The Bill includes information relating to temporary measures that the government will implement in relation to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP), both in terms of a refund of up to 14 days’ worth of SSP per employee for businesses with less than 250 staff and of the payment of SSP from day one of absence as opposed to day four.

SSP was introduced in the early 80's and is payable by an employer to an employee if they are absent from work due to sickness. It is paid at a flat weekly rate and available for a maximum period of 28 weeks.

The Bill maintains that the current SSP system does not provide the flexibility necessary for the response to managing and mitigating the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. If the COVID-19 outbreak becomes severe, there will be a significant number of individuals off work, which in turn will place financial pressures on employers in the form of substantially increased SSP costs. Legislative amendments are being made to provide relief to employers, and particularly those employers who are classed as small or medium in size.

The Secretary of State will be able to make regulations regarding the recovery from HMRC of additional payments of SSP for certain employers for absences related to COVID-19. Employers need to be supported in periods when their payments of SSP are likely to increase, and it is also important to ensure that employees are incentivised not to attend work when advised not to do so, to prevent the further spread of coronavirus.

SSP is not usually payable for the first three days of sickness, which are often referred to as “waiting days”. It has been recognised that this may discourage people from taking sick days, in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19, so the Bill allows for the temporary suspension of waiting days. This is applicable to employees who are absent from work due to COVID-19.

The approach to SSP and waiving waiting days will require flexibility and will need to align with the most up-to-date public health guidance. Guidance issued by Public Health England, National Health Services Scotland, Public Health Wales and the Regional Agency for Public Health and Social Well-being will be used when determining whether an employee should be deemed to be incapable of work by reason of COVID-19, for example, because the employee is self-isolating. Guidance will change frequently, and it is necessary to ensure that those self-isolating in accordance with whatever guidance is provided at the time, are deemed incapable for work and entitled to SSP from day one.


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