Changes to SSP Rules
A number of changes were introduced throughout the pandemic, to support businesses and safeguard employment. However, as we move into a new era of “living with Covid,” the measures which have been a lifeline over the past 2 years are gradually being phased out. Amongst these are the removal of temporary adjustments to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) rules.
In response to the surge in employees having to self-isolate at the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020, the UK government relaxed the eligibility criteria for who is entitled to SSP. This meant SSP could be paid from the first qualifying day (normal working day) of absence, if they were off work for at least 4 days in a row (including non-working days). Similarly, SSP rules were, for the first time, extended to cover individuals who weren’t actually unwell but nevertheless couldn’t work for Covid-related reasons. This included employees who tested Covid-positive but had minor symptoms so remained able to work; lived with someone, or had someone in their support bubble, who tested Covid-positive or was showing Covid symptoms so had to isolate; had been notified by the NHS track and trace scheme (or similar) that they’d been in close contact with a positive case so has to isolate; or had been required to isolate before going into hospital for surgery or a medical procedure.
However, from 24 March 2022, the rules relating to SSP returned to normal. Employees who are feeling unwell, whether that be due to Covid or any other reason, will only be eligible for SSP from the fourth qualifying day of sickness absence, rather than from day-one. Individuals who are Covid-positive or are identified as a close contact of a positive case, will not be entitled to receive SSP unless they are too unwell to work.
As such, employers may want to consider introducing a contractual sick pay policy for Covid-related absences, to discourage positive cases from coming into the workplace. Those who test positive but are well enough to work will likely be reluctant to share information of their test result with their employer, if they know they won’t be entitled to any pay for isolation periods. Where an employer requires an employee to stay at home because they are Covid-positive, the best practice approach would be to maintain full pay for this time, if the employee cannot be temporarily redeployed to fulfil their duties remotely.
Under the Coronavirus SSP Rebate Scheme, employers with fewer than 250 employees, as at 30 November 2021, were able to claim back the cost of up to 2 weeks’ SSP per employee who was off sick with a Covid-related absence. The Scheme covered any absences beginning on or after 21 December 2021 up to and including 17 March 2022. However, employers must submit all claims for SSP through the government’s online portal before the end of today, 24 March 2022. There are no plans to extend the rebate scheme or introduce a permanent system. As such, employers will have to factor the full cost of sick payments into their outgoings, now that this is once again a business expense.