People who are self-isolating or have been told to self-isolate under the ‘test and trace’ system, launched today, will qualify for statutory sick pay. But unions and employers have urged the government to ensure that fear of hardship doesn’t result in workers continuing to work when they should be self-isolating.
Previously, those self-isolating because they thought they may have Covid-19 symptoms did not qualify for the £95.85 per week rate. However, the entitlement has been extended under the Statutory Sick Pay (General) (Coronavirus Amendment) (No. 4) Regulations 2020.
From today (28 May) individuals in England who have tested positive for coronavirus will be contacted via phone, text or email and asked who they may have come into contact with. Those people will then be contacted and told to self-isolate for 14 days as a precautionary measure and will qualify for SSP, the government has confirmed.
Those who need to be contacted may include household members and people who have been in direct contact with a person who has tested positive for the virus, or within two metres, for more than 15 minutes.
Responding to the announcement, Recruitment and Employment Confederation chief executive Neil Carberry said the SSP rebate scheme, which launched earlier this week, needed to be extended to all firms – particularly recruitment agencies, as they have a high volume of temporary staff.
He said: “We have today written to the chancellor to ask that 14 days of SSP support is extended to all employers. This is essential to maintaining economic recovery alongside a high level of track and trace-driven self-isolation.”
Samantha Randall, an employment solicitor at Palmers Solicitors, said employees told to self-isolate should be treated as if they were ill under employment law.
“Employees will, therefore, need to be flexible in encouraging employees to heed any notifications to self-isolate and support them in isolation and not ask them to attend the workplace,” she said.
“The NHS test and trace service does not change existing guidance about working from home wherever possible. Therefore if the employee can and already has been working from home over the past few months, they remain well and it is practical to do so then this arrangement can continue so that the employee can continue to receive full pay and disruption to the business is avoided.”
The TUC said that those receiving £95 a week or were even ineligible for statutory sick pay may feel forced to work. This, said general secretary Frances O’Grady, would “put them, their workmates and their local community at risk, and undermine the entire test and trace programme”.
Health secretary Matt Hancock said: “As we move to the next stage of our fight against coronavirus, we will be able to replace national lockdowns with individual isolation and, if necessary, local action where there are outbreaks.
“NHS Test and Trace will be vital to stopping the spread of the virus. It is how we will be able to protect our friends and family from infection, and protect our NHS.
“This new system will help us keep this virus under control while carefully and safely lifting the lockdown nationally.”
Around 2,500 contact tracing staff have been employed and will have the capacity to trace the contacts of 10,000 people who have tested positive for the virus per day.
Dido Harding, executive chair of NHS Test and Trace, said: “This is a brand new service which has been launched at incredible speed and scale. NHS Test and Trace already employs over 40,000 people, both directly and through trusted partners, who are working hard to deliver both testing and contact tracing at scale. This is no small achievement and I am hugely grateful to everyone involved.”
The NHS Test and Trace app, currently being trialled on the Isle of Wight, is expected to form part of the service. More than 52,000 people on the island have downloaded it, just over one-third of its population.