Develop an approach to absence management which supports your business objectives and culture
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.
Absence management FAQs
Answers to frequently asked questions about managing absence during COVID-19
Q: How should we adapt our sick pay policies to cope with changing needs under the UK Government’s Living with COVID-19 plan?
From 1 April 2022 the previous UK Government guidance is replaced with the following guidance:
- Public health principles for reducing the spread of respiratory infections, including COVID-19, in the workplace
- People with symptoms of a respiratory infection including COVID-19
- Living safely with respiratory infections, including COVID-19
- COVID-19: guidance for people whose immune system means they are at higher risk
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.
Employers may wish to extend the five day period in the short to medium term whilst virus rates remain high.
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 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.
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.
Q: What happens if my employees test positive for COVID-19? What should we tell employees about self-isolating?
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.
Q: What SSP is available for those who test positive for COVID-19?
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.
- 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.
Q: How do employers manage employees suffering from the effects of long COVID?
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.
Q: Should employers review their data protection approach in connection with COVID-19 now the UK Government’s approach to COVID-19 has changed?
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.
Q: Are employees entitled to paid time off if their child’s school is closed or their child cannot attend school due to 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.Homeworking
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.
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.
- Working with long COVID report
Analysis of evidence on effective support for employees with long COVID
- Working with long COVID guides
Advice for HR professionals, line managers and colleagues to support employees with long COVID
- Managing and supporting employees with long-term health conditions
Practical advice and guiding principles for effective support for employees with long-term health conditions
- Line manager guide on supporting employees with long-term health conditions
Advice for line managers to effectively manage and support employees with long-term health conditions
- Guide on managing a return to work after long-term absence
Guidance for HR professionals and line managers to effectively manage and support an employee’s return to work after long-term sickness absence
- Report: what should an effective sick pay system look like?
Recommendations for ensuring a financial safety net for workers during illness
- Webinar: Understanding the impact of long COVID
Learn more about the impact of long COVID, how you can best support employees grappling with the condition and managing a return to work after a long absence
- Health and wellbeing at work survey
The CIPD’s annual survey exploring health, wellbeing and absence in UK workplaces in partnership with Simplyhealth
- CIPD community: Long COVID
Community discussions on long COVID