Self-isolation due to coronavirus fears – your sick pay rights explained

Up until a week ago, many of us had probably never heard of the term 'self-isolation'.

But with coronavirus spreading like wildfire around the world, more and more employers are urging workers to stay at home if they show any signs or symptoms of the potentially life-threatening flu.

On Wednesday, an entire building in London's Canary Wharf district was evacuated due to fears of the illness, after a worker reported flu-like symptoms, resulting in all employees being sent home as a precaution. 

So what are your rights if you show any signs of the virus – and will you be paid for any time off while you recover?

We asked Bethan Mack, solicitor at DAS Law for guidance on where you stand – here are your rights.

Sick pay is not guaranteed

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"If an employee has contracted the virus, the normal rules around sick pay will apply and they will either receive Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) or contractual sick pay," Mack explains.

If you have been told to avoid the workplace due to a recent trip you have made, you should get paid as normal.

However, the rules are slightly different if you've been quarantined or told to 'self isolate'.

Under these circumstances, you're not strictly considered 'sick' as technically, it's just precaution.

As a result, sick pay is not guaranteed.

However, there may be a contractual clause in your contract relating to such circumstances and how this time off should be dealt with.

In the absence of any contractual clause, the position will be that the leave will be unpaid (or the employee can request to use their annual leave entitlement to cover their absence).

What your employer must do to protect you

If an employee insists on returning to work, the employer must take into account any risks of them spreading the virus as a precaution for other workers.

They are within their rights to suspend you on health and safety grounds. Under these circumstances, they would have to pay you as normal.

Companies must also ensure that all workers are updated with potential symptoms of the virus and affected areas so that they can be vigilant.

They should seek guidance on what can be done to minimise the risk of spreading the virus and provide staff with the resources to help manage it, ie. tissues and hand sanitisers.

This includes considering whether staff can work from home – and providing them with the resources and capabilities to do so.

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