Over the last week, the UK’s preparations for dealing with Coronavirus seem to have moved on at a significant pace. As consumers have emptied retailers’ shelves of anti-bacterial hand gel and begun stockpiling food, the government has set out its plans to tackle the virus in the coming weeks and months.
At this stage, the full impact of the virus within the UK is still subject to a huge amount of speculation and uncertainty. According to the government report Coronavirus: Action plan, published by the Department of Health and Social Care on 3 March, the virus could potentially result in up to a fifth of employees being absent from work simultaneously, although this could vary for each individual business.
This could present a significant challenge for employers. While a duty of care towards staff will no doubt prevail, organisations will inevitably also have to consider the bottom line and identify the best ways of continuing to operate should their workforce be affected.
One issue currently attracting a great deal of attention is how employees should be paid if they are off sick or required to self-isolate. Legally, an employee who has been ill for four or more consecutive days and earns at least £118 a week on average is entitled to statutory sick pay, currently set at £94.25 a week. In response to the Coronavirus outbreak, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on 4 March that statutory sick pay will now be paid from the first day of an employee’s absence.
Unsurprisingly, debates have arisen around whether this is sufficient. The Trades Union Congress (TUC) is calling on government to provide immediate statutory sick pay for all employees, after the results of its analysis showed that nearly two million of the lowest-paid workers do not currently qualify.
So, where does this leave individuals who do not qualify for statutory sick pay, or those for whom the payments are significantly lower than their usual earnings? A current fear is that employees in these positions may continue to come into work rather than self-isolate, potentially passing Coronavirus on to colleagues.
The question for organisations, therefore, is what role they should play in helping to support a workforce should individuals be affected and ultimately, how their approach can help to reduce or contain further spread of the virus. Crucially, many may well be questioning whether government support should be available to help with this.
So far, employers have demonstrated a mixed response to their approach to pay in relation to the Coronavirus, with some reverting to statutory arrangements, others committing to continuing to pay employees’ full salaries should they be affected, and others meeting employees in the middle and paying a portion of their wages over and above statutory levels.
As more becomes known about the development of the Coronavirus in the coming weeks and months, it will be interesting to see which approach prevails.