UK Government guidance

Employers should keep up to date with the latest guidance relating to self-isolation requirements:

Employers should also monitor the guidance on statutory sick pay.

Employers can also refer to information available on the CIPD websites for Asia, Middle East and Ireland.

Absence management FAQs

Answers to frequently asked questions about managing absence during COVID-19

From 1 April 2022 the previous UK Government guidance is replaced with the following guidance:

Employers must follow this guidance and revise employment policies, particularly sick pay policies, to reflect the latest guidance. 
As all remaining mandatory COVID-19 restrictions are lifted individuals and employers have significant discretion to decide themselves what precautions to take. Although the UK Government guidance is not a mandatory requirement employers would be ill advised to ignore it completely.

Staying at home
Employers must plan and decide whether they wish to prevent staff who test positive or those with symptoms to attend the workplace, and if so for how long. This will then need to be linked to their sick pay policy.

UK Government guidance continues to recommend that:
  • People who test positive for COVID-19 should stay at home for at least five days, avoiding contact with others, especially the vulnerable.
  • People with any respiratory infection symptoms, including COVID-19, should stay at home and avoid contact with others until they no longer have a high temperature and are well enough to resume normal activities.
In the light of the continued five-day guidance employers should voluntarily maintain existing COVID-19 practices, advising staff to stay at home for at least five days. UK Government advice recommends people with symptoms or testing positive should work from home if they can. Those unable to work from home, should talk to their employer about options available. If workers cannot work from home and say they are ill they may be entitled to SSP.

Employers may wish to extend the five day period in the short to medium term whilst virus rates remain high. 
The UK Government requires employers to choose mitigations appropriate for the workplace and find their own strategy for managing risk. Other aspects to bear in mind include the following.

Pre-existing duties
The removal of the COVID-19 restrictions does not change employers’ legal duties to take reasonable care to ensure the safety of their workers, both in the workplace and at home, including management of infection, physical safety and mental wellbeing. 

As part of these pre-existing health and safety duties, employers should consider people who are clinically vulnerable, or who are caring for someone in this category. 
Sick pay policy
Sick pay policies should address whether:
  • Unwell staff (with COVID-19 or otherwise) should remain at home. Ill employees are entitled to SSP after day 3 or contractual sick pay, if that is the organisation’s usual policy.
  • Sick pay policies should also address how long to ask staff to remain away from work. The government advice suggests at least five days and another sensible option may be to wait until they test negative for two consecutive days as under previous UK Government policy. 
  • Linked to the above, employers should address who pays for tests.
With staff who are well, or asymptomatic, employers can allow them to continue working, or to return to the workplace. The best solution is for the employees who can to work from home. If they cannot, then the employer must consider paying them to stay away, effectively giving additional paid leave or contractual sick pay.  

Employers should remember that additional contractual sick pay SSP has reverted to pre-pandemic rules, so if the employer does not assist then employees will only be entitled to SSP after day 3 in any event and only if they indicate they are unwell.

If employees test positive for COVID-19 employers should, in most cases, tell employees to self-isolate for at least five days or until they test negative. Although the latest UK Government’s position is to leave matters to individual discretion, the five-day advice remains in place, so it seems sensible for employers to voluntarily maintain or adapt  their existing COVID-19 practices in the short to medium term whilst virus rates remain high. This may include requiring employees who test positive to work from home if they are well enough to do so. Employers may decide to pay other staff to remain at home for a short period if the nature of the job means they cannot work from home.

Employers must implement policies about what happens when a member of staff tests positive and take responsibility for implementing mitigations that are appropriate for their workplace and find their own strategies for managing risk. 

Employers should consult, educate and train staff on the practices and policies to be implemented.

Employers should consider the needs of those who are at greater risk of serious illness from COVID-19, such as those with compromised immune systems. There is specific guidance for these people. See above for more information.

SSP rules have returned to the pre-pandemic system. The rules surrounding SSP for those who test positive for COVID-19 are as follows:

  • Workers who are ill: These workers are eligible for SSP from their fourth qualifying day of absence in the usual way. There are therefore three unpaid waiting days (unless the employer has a policy of paying for these as contractual sick pay).
  • Workers who are well: Workers who are well or asymptomatic and are self-isolating only because they test positive are not entitled to SSP. This is because SSP only applies if staff indicate they are ill. 
If employers require self-isolation of staff who say they are not ill and available to work, then employers will have to pay them in full (because the employer is preventing them from coming in) unless there is work which can be done from home. 
Employers should also note that:
  • The ability to reclaim up to two weeks’ SSP for absences due to COVID-19 has ended. 
  • The right to claim SSP from the first day of absence due to COVID-19 has also ended.

Employers can manage employees suffering from the effects of long COVID in a similar way to employees with other long-term health conditions, although some extra considerations may be appropriate.

More information is available in our report and guides on working with long COVID and our guide on managing employees with long-term health conditions.

Yes, employers need to review their approach to data protection in connection with COVID-19.

Restrictions have effectively now been lifted and employers need to check if there is a lawful basis to gather and process any data they are gathering on infections, testing and vaccination status.

The data may be justified in order to meet health and safety obligations but employers should check their precise rationale now that data is not needed for mandatory self-isolation after testing positive for COVID-19.

Following the disruption to schools during the pandemic employees may have concerns about future closures. The position regarding school openings and closures and the rules in place is complex and can change rapidly. Employers should check UK Government advice regularly. The latest guidance advises that children with COVID-19 should not go to school therefore employees may need to stay at home to look after them. Employers and employees should be as flexible as possible, with employers taking account of staff’s childcare responsibilities and individual circumstances. 


In the event of school closures or self-isolation, home working may be harder for single parents with young children and, because women tend to have more childcare responsibilities than men, employers may discriminate if they facilitate homeworking for male employees but indicate that it is not working for female ones. If an employee cannot focus at home because of caring for young children it may be possible to agree flexible working arrangements including adjustments to hours and times of work.

Employers of those employees who are unable to work from home have a number of other options, which are described below.

Flexible working

Employers are always obliged to consider flexible working requests. In the context of localised school closures, there are a number of options available, such as spreading working hours out by agreement so that employees can work when younger children are asleep.

Unpaid time off for dependants

Employees have the right to take unpaid time off for dependants which usually lasts only for a short time to organise their care. This period of unpaid leave enables employees to take action necessary because of an unexpected disruption or termination of arrangements for the care of that dependant. This would cover time off to arrange alternative childcare but does not cover extended time off for employees to look after their children themselves.

Unpaid parental leave

Employees who have been with the employer for more than a year can also take unpaid parental leave. Normally notice is needed but employers may agree to shorten the notice period. This leave is 18 weeks per child before the child turns 18 and must usually be taken in blocks of a week with a maximum of four weeks each year.

Annual leave

A rare alternative in some situations may be for the employee to take some annual leave. The benefit of this for the parent concerned is that it would be paid at their full rates.

Unpaid and other leave

If employers' operations are likely to be severely affected on a long-term basis, employers may consider plans such as a voluntary special leave policy on a temporary or longer basis where individuals can opt to take paid or unpaid leave. There could be some employees who are willing to take additional time off and would welcome a break, but others may struggle financially if they lose pay. Employers could consider offering a shorter working week or other flexible resourcing arrangements and communicate the business reasons to employees. You may wish to consider short-time and lay-off working arrangements - there's more information on Lay-offs and short-time working on the UK Government website.

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