UK employees and COVID-19: employers' frequently asked questions

This note addresses some of the key questions employers are asking about their obligations to employees when dealing with the current COVID-19 outbreak. It will be updated as the situation develops.

Pay, sickness and other absences 

Can we require medical evidence that someone is off sick or self-isolating? 

Employers are normally allowed to ask for medical evidence, such as a doctor's note, if an employee has been absent from work because of illness for more than seven days. At the moment, employers are advised to “use their discretion” about the need for medical evidence to reduce pressure on the NHS and aid social distancing. Where inability to work is related to coronavirus employees are entitled to provide an “isolation note” from the NHS 111 service instead of a GP’s note. An isolation note is available to anyone who is self-isolating because they have symptoms of coronavirus, live with someone who has symptoms or have been told to self-isolate by a test and trace service. There is an online service that employers can use to check whether an isolation note is valid.

Can we continue to operate normal sickness absence procedures? 

In theory, absences related to COVID-19 can be treated in exactly the same way under attendance management policies as any other type of absence. Employers will want employees to report sickness absences in the normal way, although the evidence that an employee is required to provide to support their absence will be an isolation note rather than a fit note. However, in practice, employers may conclude that such absences should be discounted from sickness trigger calculations to avoid the risk of employees coming to work when they ought to be self-isolating. In the long run this is likely to be a way of managing the risk of large scale infection in the workforce, particularly once the current national lockdown comes to an end but before workers who are not in higher risk groups have been offered vaccination. Disregarding COVID-19 absences could also be a reasonable adjustment for employees with disabilities.

Read more: UK employees and COVID-19 – employers' frequently asked questions

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