Many people say that they are 'self-isolating' and do so for different reasons.
In the world of benefits special rules apply to someone who is self-isolating so it is important to understand what exactly it means.
The problem we have is that there is no useful definition.
In the amending ESA and UC Regulations they define isolation in relation to a person, as ‘the separation of that person from any other person in such a manner as to prevent infection or contamination with Coronavirus disease.’
And in the amending SSP Regulations, to be treated as incapable for work the claimant has to be ‘...isolating himself from other people in such a manner as to prevent infection or contamination with coronavirus disease, in accordance with guidance published by Public Health England, NHS National Services Scotland or Public Health Wales.’
At the moment, the government is advising ‘social distancing’ for everyone, and 'shielding' for those with certain health conditions - but these are not the same as ‘self-isolation’.
Those who are classed as ‘self-isolating’ for benefit purposes are those who:
- Are infected or contaminated with Coronavirus
- Are showing symptoms of the Coronavirus
- Are in the same household as someone infected with or showing symptoms of the Coronavirus
Instead of paying SSP, some employers might decide to designate the employee as a 'furloughed' worker - click here.
What about those employees who have been told by their employer not to go into work but who have not been designated as a furloughed employee?
Where an employer has concerns about a non-symptomatic employee (for example, an
employee who has recently returned from Italy but is displaying no symptoms, or if it is known or it is suspected that the employee has had recent contact with someone known to have the virus) then they may wish to play it safe and request that the employee stays at home for a short period of time as a precautionary measure.
Where an employer chooses to suspend employees just as a precaution, then whether the employee will have to be on full pay will depend on whether their the contract gives their employer the right to suspend without pay for this reason. Alternatively the employer may try to agree a period of annual leave with the employee to cover the absence, or a period of homeworking where feasible.
What about those employees who have chosen not to go into work due to the need to 'social distance'?
'Social distancing is not the same as 'self-isloation'. We are all being asked to 'social distance'.
If an employee is worried about catching the virus and so refuses to attend work, ACAS is suggesting that employers listen to the employee’s concerns and offer reassurance explaining what steps they have taken to protect their health and safety. If the employee still refuses to come to work, the employer may be able to offer a period of paid annual leave or unpaid leave, or allow the employee to work from home where this is feasible. Where an employee requires further advice they can contact ACAS (or in Northern Ireland, Labour Relations Agency).
It is unclear whether, if the employee is unable to undertake any work, the employer is able to register them as a 'furloughed worker'.
What about those people who have to 'shield' themselves because they are at very high risk of severe illness?
People who have existing health conditions which put them at a high risk of complications from the Coronavirus and who have been advised to shield have also been added as a new category of people who are deemed to be incapable of work for the purposes of qualifying for SSP. Amendment regulations are in force from 16 April 2020.
Click here to find out more about 'shielding'.
Measures have also been put in place for employees to obtain medical evidence from NHS 111 rather than their own GP. “Isolation notes” will provide them with the evidence that their employer needs to be able to pay Statutory Sick Pay (assuming the worker meets the qualifying criteria).