Covid-19: Self-isolation and furlough pay

Posted on: July 8th, 2021

The position on self-isolation and pay over the last year has presented difficulties for both employees and employers. This has been even more prevalent over the last few months where restrictions have eased, national and local lockdowns have ceased, and more work premises have re-opened. It has been reported that some employees have been reluctant to get tested or self-isolate due to the reduction in pay they may have received if they are unable to work from home. Some have claimed that this has resulted in an increased spread of the virus over the past few months.

Original Government guidance on the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (or ‘furlough’ scheme as it is more commonly known) seemed to suggest that those employees having to self-isolate due to Covid-19 were only entitled to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP). The guidance outlined that the furlough scheme should not be used for ‘short term illness or self-isolation’ and that an employee should only be furloughed where there is a business need to furlough them. However, experts have now claimed that employers could have claimed through the scheme all along, a revelation which is said to be ‘news’ to most employers who have spent the last year grappling with the requirements of SSP for all those required to self-isolate due to the virus who cannot work from home.

The Treasury has come under fire for suppressing access to higher levels of sick pay for those having to self-isolate due to contracting or coming into contact with someone with Covid-19. For many not able to work from home, the ability to claim furlough pay for those self-isolating will bring positive benefits to both the employer and employee.

Being able to furlough employees who are self-isolating will allow the employer to make costs savings in that they will not have to pay £96.35 per week by way of SSP and they can have the Government’s support to pay these employees whilst they are unable to work. Not only this, but it is likely to be a more attractive option for the employee who will receive 80% of their salary up to £2,500 per month which may be far greater than the SSP they would otherwise receive.

Practically speaking, furloughing an employee who is required to self-isolate may not be the most efficient and easiest option where the period of self-isolation is short-term, especially where you want the employee to return straight away after the period of self-isolation is over. The employer will need to be quick in applying to furlough the employee to recoup costs. This may be difficult where minimal or no notice is given that an employee cannot come into work.

It is clearly a positive step to have another financial option available for those employees forced to stay at home and who cannot carry out their role away from the employer’s offices or other premises. This added flexibility is likely to be even more welcome as the restrictions continue to ease and the return to the office looks likely for many over the coming weeks.

Having this option, alongside the option to pay SSP where an employee has to self-isolate, will help prevent against any risks of an employee coming into work when they should be self-isolating (and the employer potentially being liable for a hefty fine!). It will help to protect your workforce until the furlough scheme ends, which is currently at the end of September 2021, and until the restrictions in place have fully relaxed.

One final caveat is that currently this option is not intended to be used for those individuals who have travelled abroad and are required to self-isolate or quarantine on their return to the UK. The employer will not be required to pay the employee SSP in these circumstances and it will be up to the employer and employee to decide the best way forward by considering alternative options such as allowing them to take annual leave, any other kind of ‘special’ leave or potentially unpaid leave.

As restrictions on international travel are starting to ease, it would be prudent for employers to make their position clear now on what pay an employee will receive should they have to quarantine after travelling abroad and be unable to come into work. By making this clear from the outset, you should avoid any possible complaints by the employee that they did not realise that they may receive no pay at all in these circumstances.

If you have any questions on the furlough scheme, or any other employment related enquiries, please do get in touch with our team and we would be happy to help.