Do we need to pay employees if they are absent from work?
If an employee is prevented from working because they are genuinely unwell or sick, then the business' normal Sickness policy should apply.
If you have asked your workforce not to come to work but to work from home, they should also be paid as normal.
Where an individual is not unwell but is prevented from working because they are, for example, in self-isolation, quarantine, or stranded abroad, or they have otherwise been advised to stay at home as a result of medical or UK Government advice and are unable to work remotely, there is no legal right to be paid for the time off. However, ACAS and the Secretary of State for Health have advised such absence to be treated as sick leave under the business' sick pay policy.
Statutory sick pay (SSP) may be payable to eligible workers. The Government temporarily amended the SSP rules during the pandemic so that workers with Coronavirus (COVID-19) could sometimes receive SSP if they were self-isolating and from the first day of their illness (as opposed to the usual fourth). Self-isolation could include isolating at home on a doctor’s advice in preparation for a surgery. However, since 24 March 2022, the SSP rules have reverted to normal and workers are not entitled to SSP when self-isolating unless they are genuinely unwell.
If self-employed people and workers whose earnings are too low to be eligible for SSP were affected by Coronavirus (COVID-19) or they had to self-isolate before 24 March 2022, Employment Support Allowance (ESA) may have been claimable. This payment has now reverted to its pre-pandemic eligibility criteria.
With the removal of lots of Government support for people who have Coronavirus (COVID-19), employers may want to consider a temporary enhancement to their business sickness policies in order to incentivise people to remain off work. Insufficient sick pay provision, for instance, risks encouraging individuals to report for work whilst ill and contagious. Any such changes should be kept under review and adapted as circumstances change.
What was the Coronavirus Statutory Sick Pay Rebate Scheme?
The Coronavirus Statutory Sick Pay Rebate Scheme enabled employers to reclaim SSP which they paid to current or former employees for periods of sickness starting on/after 13 March 2020. The original scheme ended but was reintroduced in mid-January 2022 during the Omicron outbreak. Under the extended Coronavirus Statutory Sick Pay Rebate Scheme employers could make claims for employees who were off work on or after 21 December 2021. The extended scheme has now ended, and the last date to make a claim was 24 March 2022.
Can I make staff redundant?
It may not always be appropriate to make staff completely redundant.
You may wish to adopt flexible measures instead, for example, short-time (a reduction in hours) and lay-off working. If you do need to make redundancies ensure to follow the correct procedure. For further information and to make redundancy letters, read Redundancies. Alternatively, Ask a lawyer for workforce reduction advice.
What does lay-off mean?
Lay-off is when an employer takes an employee off work and off pay for at least one working day. It is used as a response to lack of work, and as an alternative to making redundancies. For more information, read Lay-offs and short time working.
Check your employment contracts to see whether you are allowed to implement short-time and lay-off working. If they are currently not in the employment contract, you can get the employee's express consent to vary or change the contract to allow for lay-offs. You can use a Change to employment terms letter for this purpose. For further information read Changing employment terms.
There is a statutory scheme for lay-offs, but usually, a lay-off clause in the employment contract or the employee’s consent is required in order to implement this.
How long can an employee be laid off?
There’s no limit on how long an employee can be laid off or put on short-time. An employee could apply for voluntary redundancy and claim redundancy pay if they’ve been laid off for at least:
What pay are employees entitled to when they are laid off?
Employees should get full pay unless their contract allows for unpaid or reduced pay lay-offs.
If the lay-off is unpaid, employees are usually entitled to ‘guarantee pay’ (see below).
What is short-time working?
Short-time working is similar to lay-off, but rather than providing no work, the employer provides some reduced work. Less than half a normal week's work and pay will trigger the statutory short-time working protections for employees, subject to eligibility requirements.
A statutory 'guarantee payment' is payable to employees, subject to certain requirements. The maximum payment is £31 per day for up to five 'workless' (including some reduced work)days in any three-month period, so a total maximum of £155. Part-time payments are calculated pro-rata. For more information, read the Government’s guidance.
An employer could choose to pay more.
For further information read Lay-offs and short time working.
Can I make employees take annual leave?
You are entitled to give notice to staff if you’re requiring them to take annual leave, provided there is no agreement to the contrary (eg in the employment contract). Notice must be at least twice as long as the period of leave you require them to take, eg if you require an employee to take 1 week's annual leave, you must give them at least 2 weeks' advance notice.
To clearly establish your business’ approach to asking employees to take annual leave, you can create an Annual leave policy.
Can I ask employees to volunteer for unpaid leave or redundancy?
If you wish for employees to take periods of unpaid leave, their consent is required unless their employment contract contains a clause allowing you to place them on unpaid leave.
While it is not always appropriate to make staff redundant completely, you may wish to seek out staff who are willing to take redundancy voluntarily.
You cannot just offer voluntary redundancy to age groups eligible for an early retirement package - this could constitute discrimination. However, an early retirement package (for certain age groups) could be one element of a voluntary redundancy offer open to all staff. For more information read Redundancy.
Can I reduce my employees' pay?
Employers will need to consult with staff to obtain their express agreement to these measures where the employment contract does not contain any relevant contractual flexibility clauses or short-time working clauses.
You can consider using a Change to employment terms letter to change an employee’s terms and conditions of employment (with their consent).
What was the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme?
Under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS), which ran from March 2020 to 30 September 2021, 'furloughed' employees were employees who may have otherwise been laid-off during the crisis. Under the CJRS, employers in the UK were able to access support to continue paying part of these employees' salaries, therefore, keeping them on the payroll and avoiding the need to make them redundant.
The deadline for any claims by employers for staff furloughed in September 2021 was 14 October 2021, or 28 October 2021 for amendments
Will workers on zero-hour contracts be paid if they are asked to self-isolate?
If a zero-hours worker earns over a certain average per week then they will be entitled to receive statutory sick pay (SSP) when they are ill. Zero-hours workers who currently do not meet the minimum earning requirements for SSP will not be eligible for SSP. Their employer can pay them sick pay voluntarily.
For further information on calculating SSP, read How to calculate statutory sick pay for zero-hours workers.
Are self-employed individuals entitled to sick pay?
Generally, employees are entitled to sick pay while self-employed individuals are not. This is because sick pay is paid by an employer. During the pandemic, the Government made it easier for self-employed individuals affected by Coronavirus (COVID-19), to access benefits.
For example, individuals could receive Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) if they had to quarantine or self-isolate due to Coronavirus (COVID-19) before 24 March 2022 and were unable to claim SSP. They could claim the allowance from day one, instead of having to wait for seven days.
Further, the minimum income floor was temporarily removed from Universal Credit for self-employed individuals who had to self-isolate as a result of Coronavirus (COVID-19). The minimum income floor is an assumed level of income, which takes into account how much an individual would normally be expected to earn in a month when calculating their entitlement to Universal Credit. However, the income rules reverted to the pre-pandemic rules on 31 July 2021.
Self-employed individuals who do not have enough money to live on while they wait for their first Universal Credit payment can ask for an advance payment. This option was available before the pandemic and continues to be available beyond it. This can be done online or through their Jobcentre Plus work coach. To apply, individuals will need to:
explain why they need an advance
verify their identity (either when they apply online or during their first phone appointment with the work coach)
provide bank account details for the advance
For more guidance visit the Government website.
I’m struggling to meet my Self-Assessment payments on account. Is help available?
The Government introduced an option to defer self-assessment payments on account to assist people affected by the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. This deferral programme ended in January 2022.