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Coronavirus – The Impact of Self-Isolation

Cases of coronavirus in the UK have continued to increase over the last few days, with the government now estimating that up to one fifth of the workforce may be off sick at the peak of the epidemic.

If there's a chance an individual could have coronavirus, they may be asked to self-isolate. Self-isolation involves staying indoors and avoiding contact with other people for 14 days. This means not going into school or work, avoiding public spaces and public transport, such as trains or buses.  

As such, employees may wonder how such absence from work will be treated by their employer. For instance, will they be entitled to sick pay during a period of self-isolation?

The government has said that workers who have been told to self-isolate by NHS 111 or public health authorities are entitled to take the time as sick leave. However, in situations where individuals are not ill and don't have symptoms during their self-isolation, there may be no automatic right to sick pay. It is up to employers whether or not they deduct pay in such circumstances, although best practice may be to choose not to deduct pay in these circumstances. Showing understanding is more likely to maintain good relations with employees, and may have practical benefits too.

For example, where pay is withheld, employees may understandably feel that they have no choice but to return to work – perhaps prematurely. This then increases the risk that the virus will spread further, potentially throughout the workplace and wider society.

Temporary flexible working options, allowing employees to work from home where it’s practical to do so, might be another idea.

Similarly, if schools or nurseries are forced to close, employees may need to take time off to look after children. Employees have the right to take reasonable time off to deal with dependants in emergencies or unexpected disruption, ideally notifying their employer of the disruption as soon as possible. There’s no statutory right to pay in these circumstances, although employers might offer to do so. The time could also be taken as paid annual leave.

Workers on zero-hours contracts have no right to be offered work and no obligation to accept work. If a zero-hours worker has been advised to self-isolate, the employer will be entitled to simply not offer any work until the isolation period has ended.

Both employers and employees are unlikely to have much experience in dealing with a health crisis like coronavirus, and much remains unknown about how widely coronavirus could spread in the UK. Therefore, it will be useful for both parties to reach an agreement on how leave should be taken.

Please bear in mind that the coronavirus situation continues to change day by day, therefore the information contained in this article, while accurate at the time of writing, may change.

For further information, visit: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/coronavirus-covid-19-information-for-the-public for the latest government advice.  

About the author

Lisa Powell

Lisa joined RWA in 2014 as an e-Learning Assistant, designing training material for the Aviva Development Zone learning platform.

Her role as Professional Standards Manager involves the creation and review of e-learning content as well as providing proofreading, copywriting and standards support across the business.