The CIPD is calling on the Government to go beyond the financial support measures announced in this week’s Budget, in light of a new employee survey which shows the scale of workers’ worries over loss of pay because of Coronavirus-based sickness absence.

As part of the Government’s move to the ‘Delay’ phase of its Coronavirus response, people with a high temperature or persistent cough have been advised to self-isolate for a week. This means that many more people stand to be off work, in addition to those already self-isolating due to travel in an affected area or those who have been in contact with a known case of COVID-19.  

The CIPD, the professional body for HR and people development, surveyed 1,000 working people on working life during the Coronavirus pandemic. It found that: 

  • Just half of workers (48%) would expect to receive their normal salary if they had to self-isolate, because they qualify for contractual sick pay from their employer. A quarter (24%) would receive Statutory Sick Pay (SSP), 7% would have to take unpaid leave as they are not eligible for SSP and 3% would have to take the time as paid annual leave.
  • A quarter of workers (23%) who would receive either SSP or no pay in the event of sickness absence due to Coronavirus said that they would struggle to pay bills or buy food within just one week, rising to 33% for a two-week period of sickness absence.
  • Figures from the Office for National Statistics show that nearly seven million UK workers don’t qualify for SSP. Five million don’t qualify because they’re self-employed and 1.7 million because they don’t meet the earnings threshold for SSP of £118 per week.

In response, the CIPD is urging the Government to go beyond the measures announced in the Chancellor’s Budget and do more to support employers and workers at this critical time. It is specifically calling for the Government to:

  • Increase statutory sick pay: The Government should, at least temporarily, raise the level of SSP (currently £94.25 a week) to be significantly closer to the equivalent of someone earning the National Living Wage (£294 for a 37.5 hour working week).
  • Open up statutory sick pay to all working people: Eligibility for SSP should be extended during the crisis to all working people including the millions of self-employed, those earning below the SSP earnings threshold and gig economy workers. SSP has been reformed to be payable from day one and this would be the quickest, most efficient way for economically vulnerable people to access funds.
  • Clarify eligibility for the planned hardship fund: The Government announced a £500 million hardship fund in the Budget but clear and consistent eligibility criteria is urgently needed to ensure economically vulnerable workers can benefit from it.

Peter Cheese, CIPD chief executive comments:

"There is a real risk that many people will fall into genuine financial hardship as a result of the coronavirus unless the Government takes further action to reform Statutory Sick Pay to support all workers during this critical time.

"The Government should ensure workers can access sick pay as easily and quickly as possible. The new measures announced in this week’s Budget go some way towards recognising the financial struggle that businesses and individuals face. However, we’re concerned that payments to individuals will be delayed while these new measures are being set up. Our poll showed that people stand to suffer financial hardship in just a matter of days. Any delays in the system risk people feeling compelled to go into work when unwell and risk spreading the infection. The Government must do more to contain this risk by increasing statutory sick pay and extending its eligibility - which is payable from day one of absence – to all workers."

Peter Cheese continued: “Employers must place the health and wellbeing of staff at the heart of their contingency planning and response. Employees need to be clear on how they will be supported during this critical time. The CIPD recommends that businesses are as supportive with their pay and sick leave policies as possible, both to support staff health and wellbeing, and to minimise any impact on the business. By managing the risk at work, businesses can help to protect the health not just of their employees but of their households and communities more broadly."

Preparing for further measures to contain COVID-19

The CIPD is urging businesses to be prepared and start planning and testing their response to potential social distancing measures which could require many people to work from home. The CIPD survey found that 58% of people said they would be able to work from home but 39% of people said that they would not (3% didn’t know).

Where possible, organisations should make arrangements so employees would be able to work from home. They must also accept there will be some disruption to some people’s ability to work as normal. For example, if they need to care for a young child as a result of school closures or simply because they have a more limited set-up at home compared to the office.

Where possible they should ensure that employees have access to the right equipment and technology to do that, for instance, video-conferencing and web-based services to keep in touch with their teams and external stakeholders.

The CIPD is recommending that where remote working is not possible – for example in factories, warehouses, retail or hospitality - employers should consider how they could move to more flexible working practices. This could include staggering shifts and having A and B teams so fewer people are in the workplace or on public transport at any one time to reduce the risk of infection. Employers should also look at maximising self-service options such as self-service tills at supermarkets and encourage the use of online banking and shopping services so they can manage on a reduced workforce.

Peter Cheese comments: "Businesses need to have clear and tested contingency plans in place so they are ready to act on evolving Government advice and are prepared to help more people work from home or more flexibly if the situation requires this.

"This will be a huge test of business agility but done well it will safeguard employee and public health now and pave the way for more flexible practices moving forward."

The CIPD continues to support businesses and the HR community through its Coronavirus Hub

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