Employers have been told to pay workers sick pay 'from day one' during coronavirus outbreak

Wednesday, 4th March 2020, 2:42 pm
Updated Friday, 6th March 2020, 2:49 pm

The UK government has said that people who are off work sick or are told to self-isolate as the Covid-19 outbreak continues will receive sick pay from "day one".

Current legislation means people who are absent due to illness receive payment after four days of being unable to work. But, many politicians and health agencies are concerned that if workers feel they will be in financial danger as a result of self-isolation, then they will lie about their symptoms, travel history, or recent connections with others who have the virus.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said, "I can today announce that the Health Secretary will bring forward, as part of our emergency coronavirus legislation, measures to allow the payment of statutory sick pay from the very first day you are sick instead of four days under the current rules, and I think that’s the right way forward.

"Nobody should be penalised for doing the right thing."

Officials believe almost one fifth of the UK workforce will be off sick with the virus. The worst case scenario culminates in 80 per cent of the population being infected.

Freelancers and zero hour contracts

Often referred to as the 'gig economy', the reality is that there are four million people in the UK who have registered as self-employed, as well as just fewer than one million on zero hour contracts.

Trade union body, the TUC, has said that those working in the gig economy may not be applicable for sick pay, estimating that two million people don't earn enough to qualify.

To receive sick pay, workers must earn at least £194 per week, but this does not apply if you are self-employed or at the mercy of an employer in a zero hour contract.

Hardship fund?

Pub chain Wetherspoons has said it will pay workers current sick pay rate of £94.25 per week, whereas bakery chain Greggs has stated it will pay its workers in full.

Ben Willmott, head of public policy at the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development said, "We think there may be a case for the government to create some sort of compensation or hardship fund to help individuals such as the self-employed, temporary or low paid staff if they are not eligible for sick pay or paid leave.

"This could help people in less secure employment get through these exceptional events and would minimise the risk of people coming into work and spreading the virus if they have been exposed."

After being questioned by opposition parties in parliament, Boris Johnson reiterated, "We will take every step that we can to ensure that businesses are protected, that the economy remains strong and that no-one, whether employed or self-employed, whatever the status of their employment, is penalised for doing the right thing."

But answers are still unclear as to whether this is enough to support people who may have to self-isolate.

Coronavirus: the facts

What is coronavirus?

COVID-19 is a respiratory illness that can affect lungs and airways. It is caused by a virus called coronavirus.

What caused coronavirus?

The outbreak started in Wuhan in China in December 2019 and it is thought that the virus, like others of its kind, has come from animals.

How is it spread?

As this is such a new illness, experts still aren’t sure how it is spread. But.similar viruses are spread in cough droplets. Therefore covering your nose and mouth when sneezing and coughing, and disposing of used tissues straight away is advised. Viruses like coronavirus cannot live outside the body for very long.

What are the symptoms?

The NHS states that the symptoms are: a dry cough, high temperature and shortness of breath - but these symptoms do not necessarily mean you have the illness. Look out for flu-like symptoms, such as aches and pains, nasal congestion, runny nose and a sore throat. It’s important to remember that some people may become infected but won’t develop any symptoms or feel unwell.

What precautions can be taken?

Washing your hands with soap and water thoroughly. The NHS also advises to cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when you cough or sneeze; put used tissues in the bin immediately and try to avoid close contact with people who are unwell. Also avoiding touching eyes, nose and mouth unless your hands are clean.

Should I avoid public places?

Most people who feel well can continue to go to work, school and public places and should only stay at home and self isolate if advised by a medical professional or the coronavirus service.

What should I do if I feel unwell?

Don’t go to your GP but instead call NHS 111 or look online at the coronavirus service that can tell you if you need medical help and what to do next.

When to call NHS 111

NHS 111 should be used if you feel unwell with coronavirus symptoms, have been in a country with a high risk of coronavirus in the last 14 days or if you have been in close contact with someone with the virus.

Sources: World Health Organisation and NHS