Coronavirus: Unions issue warning over lack of sick pay

Self-employed workers are at risk of losing out on a vast amount of pay if they have to self-isolate because of Coronavirus symptoms

Trade unions have warned that self-isolating could be extremely financially damaging for workers, and especially those who are self-employed due to losing out on two weeks’ pay.

According to the Trades Union Congress (TUC) two million of the UK’s lowest-paid workers don’t currently have the right to statutory sick pay as they don’t earn enough. For those who are eligible the payment is just £94.25 per week.

Christina McAnea, Unison assistant general secretary, told The Guardian: “If they stay off work staff need to know they have enough money to feed their families and pay rent. Waiting up to five weeks to get benefits runs the risk of them covering up symptoms.”

Matt Jenkin, a partner and head of employment law at Moorcrofts, told HR magazine sick pay and other protocol for when an employee self-isolates is one of the biggest issues when dealing with Covid-19.

“If an employee self-isolates because they have developed symptoms their employer’s normal rules relating to sick pay should apply.

“However, the position with regard to an employee who self-isolates without displaying any symptoms is less clear. In such cases, even if there is no contractual sick pay, ACAS guidance is that it is good practice to treat self-isolation as sick leave.

“Employers should ensure that they decide how self-isolation will be dealt with and adopt a consistent practice from the outset,” said Jenkin.

The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) advises employers to treat self-isolation as sick leave and follow their usual sick pay policy, otherwise there's a risk the employee will come to work because they want to get paid. This risks them spreading the virus if they had it.

However, the TUC stated the threat of coronavirus has shown why sick pay should be a day-one right for everybody. Even without self-isolation millions of workers are currently missing out on statutory sick pay as they don’t meet the minimum earnings threshold.

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “No-one should have to worry about making ends meet if they have to self-isolate or if they fall ill. They should be able to focus on getting better.

“The government must ensure everyone gets statutory sick pay, however much they earn.”

As a result of the sick pay debate some companies have confirmed they would pay staff who have to self-isolate.

Greggs boss Roger Whiteide told the BBC: “Our default position is that we pay contract hours. We don't have any zero contract hours.”

Pub chain Wetherspoons has also said its staff would receive regular statutory sick pay if they had to self-isolate.

The government has confirmed that any worker who is required to go into self-isolation or quarantine will be entitled to Statutory Sick Pay.