Covid-19 round-up: Sick-pay changes and new tribunal rulings
These employment related changes have been made in response to the Omicron variant:
Coronavirus Statutory Sick Pay Rebate Scheme returns
The scheme, which ended on 30th September 2021 bas been re-introduced. You can claim back up to two weeks statutory sick pay (SSP) paid to eligible workers who missed work for covid-related reasons on or after 21 December 2021.
Temporary Changes to Medical evidence requirements
Normally, workers and employees who are eligible for SSP must give you evidence of their inability to work (usually a ‘fit note’) after 7 days sick leave. This period of sick leave has been temporarily extended to 28 days.
This applies to any period of sick leave that starts at any time between 10th December 2021 and 26th January 2022 (inclusive). Unless extended, this will revert to 7 days for periods of sick leave that start on or after 27th January.
Changes to homeworking rules
The 4 nations of the UK continue to take different approaches to homeworking:
England – After re-introducing homeworking advice in December, it’s now been withdrawn again – employers and employees are being encouraged to discuss a return to workplaces.
Northern Ireland – Employers are still advised to let their staff work from home where possible, but this isn’t a legal requirement.
Wales – Staff are legally required to work from home if it’s reasonably practical to do so. As an employer, you must ensure your staff work from home, unless you have a reasonable excuse for them to be at the workplace.
Workers could receive a £60 fixed penalty notice and businesses a fine of between £1,000 and £10,000 for failing to comply. Employers may also receive improvement or closure notices.
Scotland – Employers are legally required to take every reasonably practical step to support working from home where possible.
Tribunals back employers in recent covid-related cases
In 2 recent Employment tribunal cases, employees claimed they were unfairly dismissed for staying away from their workplaces for covid-related safety concerns – in both cases, the tribunals backed the employer.
Dismissed employees can claim unfair dismissal without needing 2 years’ service, if all the below apply:
- They reasonably believe being at work or doing certain tasks puts them in serious and imminent danger.
- They can’t reasonably be expected to avoid that danger
- They brought the issue to their employer’s attention by reasonable means.
- The issue resulted in them leaving, proposing to leave, or refusing to return to the workplace.
An employee raised concerns with their employer via WhatsApp about the health and safety risks of continuing to work during the first lockdown. He was subsequently dismissed.
The tribunal confirmed that:
- Employees must be able to raise concerns without fear of dismissal
- Using a mobile messaging service is enough to bring an issue to an employer’s attention (in situations where there is no Health and safety rep or committee).
- Though Covid-19 is dangerous to many people, it doesn’t automatically create situations of serious and imminent danger – something more is required, such as unsafe working practices or medical vulnerability. Neither applied in this case, again underlining the importance of having adequate covid-protection measures in place.
An employee was dismissed after not returning to work over fears of giving covid to her clinically vulnerable husband. She claimed that such fears were a protected belief under the Equality Act – this appears to be the first time such a claim has been tested.
The tribunal found that although her fear was genuine and important it was not a belief but rather a ‘reaction to a threat of physical harm and the need to take steps to avoid or reduce that threat’. Although a future tribunal could make a different decision, it appears that distinguishing a belief from a reaction will be an extra hurdle for employees to overcome in similar claims.
If you would like to discuss any of these changes and how they might affect your business, please contact us.
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