SSP and absence for COVID-19

6 min read  |   19 March, 2020   By Rachael Down

A woman is unwell and has a runny nose. She is lying down on a white sofa with a  blue blanket covering her. She is holding tissue to her nose.

And then those that could, WFH. The keyworkers held and fought while people rallied to save lives and livelihoods.

Learning how to safeguard our business and people during uncertain times is now a priority. 

That's why we spoke to Paul Amani from QuestFP Payroll & HR Services for expert advice on how to effectively manage COVID-19 Statutory Sick Pay (SSP).  

Here's what you need to know:  

How to manage Statutory Sick Pay (SSP)

As a temporary measure, emergency government legislation states that SSP relating COVID-19 is payable to eligible individuals from day one of sickness absence. This overwrites previous SSP rules.

Who's eligible:

  • vulnerable persons in self-isolation; and
  • those diagnosed with COVID-19.

This measure applies to sickness related to COVID-19 only.

Valid reasons to self-isolate:

  • tested positive for coronavirus (usually 14 days of self-isolation);
  • showing symptoms; high temperature or new continuous cough (usually 7 days of self-isolation); and/or
  • following advice to self-isolate by a doctor or NHS 111.

When it applies:

When an individual is off work for 4 days or more (what we call a Period of Incapacity for Work - PIW).

However, unlike normal SSP, businesses are required to pay the employee from the first day of absence for COVID-19. 

How much is SSP for COVID-19?

The SSP rate is £94.25 per week for the 2019/20 tax year and £95.85 per week for the 2020/21 tax year.

Refunds and relief for small business

As of February 2020, all small businesses (employing less than 250 staff ) will have the cost of providing a maximum of 14 days of statutory sick pay refunded by the government in full, as part of the emergency measure.

The mechanism for claiming payroll related deductions from HMRC is usually via an Employer Payment Summary (EPS), which is part of the RTI submission regime. However, existing payroll software and HMRC systems currently fail to facilitate employer refunds for SSP.

The government assures it will work with employers over the coming months to set up the repayment mechanism as soon as possible.

There's now a dedicated helpline to help businesses and self-employed individuals in financial distress. Those with outstanding tax liabilities will also receive support with their tax affairs.

According to, it's known as a Time to Pay arrangement:

'....businesses may be able to agree a bespoke Time to Pay arrangement. If you are concerned about being able to pay your tax due to COVID-19, call HMRC’s dedicated helpline on 0800 0159 559.'

'There will be a £10,000 cash grant to our smallest businesses, delivered by local authorities. Small businesses that pay little or no business rates and are eligible for small business rate relief (SBBR) or rural rate relief will be contacted by their local authority - they do not need to apply. The funding will be provided to local authorities in early April. Guidance for local authorities on the scheme will be provided shortly.'

As well as a business rate holiday for the 2020/2021 tax year, all retail, hospitality and leisure businesses operating from smaller premises will receive a £25,000 grant. (This will have a rateable value between £15,000 and £51,000.)

Any enquiries on eligibility for, or provision of, the reliefs should be directed to the relevant local authority. 

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Providing medical evidence

By law, medical evidence is not required for the first 7 days of sickness, and individuals can self-certify up until that point. Normally, after 7 days, employers require a “fit note” issued by a GP/Doctor to cover any further period of absence.

However, employers are strongly advised to use their discretion around the need for medical evidence in relation to employees who are absent as a result of COVID-19. 

Self-isolation and 'fit' notes

In the 2020 Budget, the Chancellor confirmed that an alternative 'fit note' can be obtained by those in recommended self-isolation. They can contact NHS 111 without the need for them to attend an appointment with a doctor.

If a member of staff requires time off to care for a child who has been asked to self-isolate, the usual 'time off for dependants rules' apply. There is no statutory right to pay for this time off but some employers might offer pay depending on the employment contract or workplace policy.

An employee may also decide to use some of their holiday entitlement for this time off.
The amount of time off an employee takes to look after someone must be reasonable for the situation.

Lay-off and short-time working

If an employee is not sick but the employer tells them not to come to work, this is called a lay-off. An employer may also use short-time working whereby hours are cut.

Please note that there is no automatic right to impose lay-offs or short-time working, so if your employment contracts/employee handbook do not have a contractual term permitting such situations, it will be necessary to negotiate the change with the affected employees.

Employees should get full pay unless the employment contract/employee handbook allows unpaid or reduced pay lay-offs.

If unpaid, employees are entitled to statutory guarantee pay.

The statutory maximum employees can get is £29 a day for 5 days in any 3-month period (i.e. a maximum of £145).

A normal day rate applies to employees who earn less than £29 a day where part-time will need to work out their entitlement proportionally.

Steps for those who are scared to work:

  • Fear is also infectious, so employers are urged to listen to their people's concerns surrounding work and the coronavirus.
  • Try to resolve all genuine concerns to protect the health and safety of staff.
  • If you think it is safe for them to work and they disagree, employees could arrange to take the time off as holiday or unpaid leave. The employer is under no obligation to agree to this.
  • If an employee still refuses to attend work, it could result in disciplinary action.

Thanks to Paul Amani and his team at QuestFP Payroll & HR Services for sharing this.

If you need help with drafting a policy for dealing with absence and pay related to coronavirus in the workplace, you can call QuestFP on 01483 338070 or email the team



Author: Rachael Down

With a passion for words, Content Specialist Rachel Down, is an experienced communicator with skills in journalism, content creation and web copy writing.

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