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Managing staff absence during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis

Coronavirus (COVID-19) is having an unprecedented effect on working life and in particular, has led to high rates of absenteeism among staff. Read on to find out more about managing staff absence in light of the global health pandemic.


If an employee cannot attend work due to sickness, they are usually required to inform their line manager before they are due to start work (or as soon as possible if this is not practical) and provide medical evidence (eg a sick note from their doctor) for sickness of more than 7 days. 

Government guidance no longer requires people with COVID-19 to self-isolate. However, in light of the ongoing Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, employees should consider staying at home and avoiding contact with other people if they develop COVID-19. If an employee is a close contact of someone with COVID-19, they should consider staying home if going to work might risk infecting people at high-risk of becoming severely ill if they contract COVID-19. 

For more information, read the Government’s guidance for people with COVID-19 and their contacts.

Healthcare professionals

Health and social care staff should arrange to take a PCR test if they develop COVID-19 symptoms. If they test positive, they should stay off work until they feel well and they have returned multiple negative LFD tests. For more information on these requirements, read the Government guidance for staff in health and social care settings

Where staff work with clinically extremely vulnerable people, the designated person in the workplace needs to carry out risk assessments before they return to work.


If eligible, employees would normally receive Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) where:

  • they have a period of sickness absence from work of at least 4 calendar days in a row, and 

  • 3 'waiting days' (ie days on which they would usually be required to work) have passed

However, where absences relate to COVID-19, SSP is payable from day 1 if an employee has been off work due to COVID-19 for at least 4 days. Self-isolation can include isolating at home on a doctor’s advice in preparation for a surgery. From 24 March 2022 workers in England will not be entitled to SSP when self-isolating unless they are genuinely unwell.

Alternatively, you may pay employees contractual sick pay as set out in their contracts of employment.

Changing annual leave plans

During the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, employees may change their minds about travelling (or will be unable to travel at all), and may wish to cancel or change annual leave that has already been booked. Many employers allow employees to cancel or change annual leave in limited circumstances (eg where their personal circumstances warrant it and the cancellation or change does not inconvenience the employer's business). However, in the context of the pandemic, employers may more frequently allow employees to change or cancel their leave. This decision will ultimately be left to the employees' line managers.

Employees may be required to take their leave as booked if their employer has arranged cover for them, or they have arranged shift patterns on the basis that they'll be on leave.

Unused annual leave

Employees are required to take their holiday entitlement during the employer's relevant holiday year and either:

  • lose any unused annual leave not taken by the end of that holiday year, or

  • have any unused annual leave carried over into the following leave year 

The current situation may prevent employees from taking their annual leave during the relevant holiday year, in which case, you could agree to employees taking leave later.

In response to the pandemic, the Government amended the rules on carrying over annual leave so that at least 4 weeks (pro rata) of leave untaken due to COVID-19 can be carried over into the next two leave years. 

This applies if staff could not take leave because they were:

  • sick with COVID-19

  • required to self-isolate, or

  • required to keep working due to requirements imposed by the pandemic 

Staff may also be able to carry over holiday if they were furloughed and could not reasonably use the holiday in their holiday year.

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