Statutory sick pay under the spotlight

 

An unexpected side-effect of the coronavirus outbreak, the statutory sick pay regime has come under scrutiny.

 

Statutory sick pay (SSP) is not a topic which normally engenders passionate debate.  But over the last few days it has been discussed in Parliament, on the BBC and made numerous headlines.  With the government’s Coronavirus action plan anticipating the possibility that 20% of the workforce could be off sick at any one time, the question of what, if any, pay workers might receive has become a political hot button.

 

Sick pay for the well

 

Uncertainty arises because those are who are pre-symptomatic, asymptomatic or under precautionary self-isolation are technically capable of work and so may not have an automatic right to sick pay.  Those with the virus will be entitled to sick pay as normal.

 

On Tuesday, the Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, assured the nation that those in self-isolation would be entitled to SSP.  If workers receive a written notice from their GP, or other NHS testing service, deeming them incapable of work, SSP should be available.  Whether the NHS is in practice providing written notices remains uncertain.  What’s more, a written medical notice may not be sufficient to entitle the worker to contractual sick pay (i.e. a normal day’s pay).

 

Reform of the SSP regime

 

In the meantime, Frances O’Grady of the TUC has reminded Parliament of the limits of the SSP regime.  SSP is only available:

 

  • To those whose average weekly earnings are £118 based on the previous eight weeks;
  • From the fourth day of absence;
  • At a rate of £94.25 per week;
  • To those in employment; the self-employed are excluded.

 

The TUC estimates that £2 million people miss out on receiving SSP when ill, many of whom are in insecure employment.

 

The TUC has proposed a number of reforms to the regime, including:

 

•     Abolishing the earnings threshold for receiving SSP;

•     Removing the three-day waiting period so that SSP kicks in on the first day of sickness absence;

•     Increasing the rate of SSP to the level of the Real Living Wage.

 

In response, Boris Johnson has agreed to temporarily remove the three-day waiting period. 

 

The bigger picture

 

Sick pay is not the only issue employers are grappling with as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.  As the virus continues to spread, many employers are looking at putting in place contingency plans involving working from home rotas and limiting attendance at the office.  For an overview of the issues for employers to consider, see our Guidance for UK employers.