Coronavirus – new self-isolation rules and a crumb of comfort
In a move which places further obligation on employers during the pandemic, this week heralds the arrival of fines for employers who fail to meet obligations to enable workers to self-isolate.
The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Self-Isolation) (England) Regulations 2020 make it an offence for an employer to knowingly permit a worker (including an agency worker) to attend work, or indeed any place other than where the individual is self-isolating. Additionally, this includes individuals who are required to self-isolate because they live with someone who has tested positive. So if an employer knows a worker has tested positive (or lives with someone who has tested positive), it is now responsible for stopping the worker from working (unless they can work from home). Any employer who fails to do so will face a fine, starting at £1,000 with a maximum of £10,000. The higher amount is more likely to apply in cases where an employer has applied pressure on an employee to attend work in contravention of the regulations.
The worker is also obliged to tell the employer that they are self-isolating, an additional layer to the tightening up of sanctions for individuals who breach self-isolation. A failure to self-isolate will now, normally, amount to a separate criminal offence.
The conundrum of who foots the bill for these periods of self-isolation continues. If your employee can work from home and remain on normal pay, which is obviously an answer for some businesses, but the real challenge is for those on lower pay, in jobs which cannot be done from home. Some staff will be eligible for SSP, or company sick pay, or you may choose to agree a period of unpaid leave. In line with the desire to encourage self-isolation for those whose circumstances make it even more punishing, a small concession has been made by the Government to those on the lowest incomes who cannot work from home and have lost income as a result – they may be eligible for a new £500 Test and Trace Support Payment.
Whilst full details of the Scheme have yet to emerge, those set to be eligible are staff in receipt of benefits such as Universal Credit, Working Tax Credit, income-based Employment and Support Allowance, income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, Income Support, Housing Benefit and/or Pension Credit;
The payment should not affect any other benefits they are receiving, or statutory sick pay and is expected to be available to those who are required to self-isolate from 28 September.