Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) – Potential considerations for employers in light of COVID-19

EY has produced a useful guide setting out the basic rules for SSP and the temporary change that have been introduced in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

 

A common challenge in the sector is the increase in the volume of SSP claims from workers on assignment. This will be the case where workers are needing to self-isolate due to them personally, or indeed one of their households, having tested positive for COVID-19, being advised to isolate as part of any ‘track and trace’ process or experiencing the symptoms associated with COVID-19. 

Larger employers (those with 250 or more employees) cannot reclaim this cost from the Government and will, unfortunately, have to absorb it as a direct cost to their business, which may be particularly difficult to bear for those that specialise in industries that may be more significantly affected such as hospitality, health, transport or education.

Set out below are the basic rules for SSP and the temporary changes that have been introduced due to COVID-19:

The basic rules for Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) [1]

  • Qualifying employees who are absent from work due to incapacity are entitled to receive a minimum weekly SSP payment for up to 28 weeks in any period of incapacity for work (or series of linked periods of incapacity). To receive SSP, employees must: (i) notify their employer of the absence; and (ii) submit reasonable evidence of incapacity, as agreed with their employer.
  • As a general rule, SSP is not payable for the first three qualifying days of any period of incapacity for work (PIW).
  • SSP is paid by the employer and no amounts can be recovered from HMRC. SSP must be processed via the payroll for PAYE and Class 1 (employee and employer) NI purposes.

Temporary changes due to COVID-19[2]

In April, with a view to limiting the financial impact of COVID-19 on workers and smaller employers, the Government announced that the SSP rules were to be changed temporarily to enable:

  • employees who: (i) have COVID-19; and/or (ii) are unable to work because they have been advised to self-isolate or are caring for those within the same household who display COVID-19 symptoms and have been told to self-isolate (and the employee has actually self-isolated for at least 4 days), to be entitled to SSP from the first day of sickness absence (rather than the fourth day). The measure is applicable retrospectively from 13 March 2020; and
  • employers with fewer than 250 employees to reclaim up to two weeks’ SSP per eligible employee who has been off work because of COVID-19 (subject to a number of conditions). The size of an employer will be determined by the number of people they employed as of 28 February 2020.

How can I legitimately control my costs?

Employers are urged to use their discretion about what evidence, if any, they ask for.  However, if employers require evidence from employees that they need to stay at home due to COVID-19, employees are able to obtain an ‘isolation note’ by visiting NHS 111 online[3] and completing an online form, instead of having to get a fit note from their doctor if that is less feasible due to restricted access.  You are therefore within your rights to ask for this evidence but bear in mind that employees can self-certify for the first 7 days.

Employers must not pay sick pay to those employees furloughed for business reasons.  Whilst an employer can make a claim under both the CJRS and the SSP rebate scheme for the same employee, this cannot be for the same period of time.

Employees not eligible to receive SSP are able to claim Universal Credit and/or contributory Employment and Support Allowance.

In short, if you have 250 or more employees on your payroll, additional SSP claims will be a direct cost to your business.  You can put steps in place to verify that the claim is genuine (such as contacting the end engager), but these should be proportional to avoid any challenge that they are simply aimed at avoiding genuine claims.

 

Reference

[1] See: https://www.gov.uk/statutory-sick-pay

[2] See: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/claim-back-statutory-sick-pay-paid-to-employees-due-to-coronavirus-covid-19?utm_source=09e1830f-23bc-470d-911d-2b40d6418cf7&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=govuk-notifications&utm_content=immediate

[3] See: https://111.nhs.uk/covid-19

 

This information was correct at the time of publication.

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