As lockdowns across the UK come to an end, the government is increasingly relying on Test and Trace services to keep the third wave of COVID-19 at bay.
The result is that millions of Brits face being asked to self-isolate, and although the government has said that close contacts who are double-jabbed will not have to isolate after 16 August in England, analysis suggests more than 4.5 million people could still be asked to self-isolate before then.
In this article, we break down your employment rights if you are asked to self-isolate as a result of the pandemic, including the types of sick pay you may be entitled to or if you should use up your annual leave instead.
What are your rights if you cannot work from home?
Statutory Sick Pay
You can receive Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) if you cannot work because you are self-isolating for any of the following reasons:
- You have tested positive or have coronavirus (COVID-19) symptoms.
- Someone in your household has symptoms or has tested positive for COVID-19.
- You have been advised by your doctor to stay at home before going into hospital for surgery.
- You have been told to self-isolate by an NHS Test and Trace service.
To be eligible for SSP, you must:
- Be classed as an employee and have done some work for your employer.
- Earn an average of at least £120 per week.
- Have been ill or self-isolating for at least 4 days in a row (including non-working days).
You must tell your employer you are unable to work before the deadline they set (or within 7 days if they have not set one). You are entitled to be paid at least SSP for every day you are off work self-isolating.
You will not qualify for SSP if:
- You have received the maximum amount of SSP already (28 weeks).
- You are currently getting Statutory Maternity Pay.
- You are self-isolating after entering or returning to the UK and do not need to self-isolate for any other reason.
For more details on the eligibility criteria for SSP, check the GOV.UK website.
How to apply for SSP:
To claim SSP, you will need to contact your employer directly. Check with your employer about how you should tell them and what details you will need to give them in order to claim.
If you will not be able to work for 7 or more days (including non-working days), you will usually need to provide one or more of the following:
- An isolation note if you are unable to work because of COVID-19 (there are details on how to obtain one below).
- Your notification from the NHS or public health authorities if you have been told to self-isolate.
- A letter confirming the date of your procedure if you have been advised to self-isolate before going into hospital for surgery.
For more information about how SSP works, read our article "What is Statutory Sick Pay (SSP)?".
Contractual Sick Pay
Employers may offer more than SSP in the form of contractual sick pay. The eligibility criteria and extent of contractual sick pay will differ depending on your job, so you should check your employment contract or workplace policy to find out if and how much you may be entitled to.
If you are only self-isolating for a short period of time, you may find it is convenient for you to use up some contractual sick pay, as your time off work would be recorded in the same way as a standard paid sick day. This typically involves minimal paperwork and is a procedure that employers will already be familiar with. Bear in mind, however, that using your contractual sick pay to cover a period of self-isolation would involve using up some of your sick-leave entitlement that you may end up needing at a later date.
If you are unable to work from home as a result of self-isolation, the government also suggests you can ask your employer for annual leave to accommodate your period of self-isolation. You should be able to find details about your annual-leave entitlements in your employment contract.
As with contractual sick pay, opting to use up some of your annual leave to cover a period of self-isolation may appeal because it is straightforward and does not involve having to formally apply for SSP, but you should note that using up your annual leave would eat away at time you could otherwise take off work over the festive period or for holidays. If you expect you will be unable to work for an extended period, applying for SSP could be a more suitable option.
If you are on sick leave or self-isolating because of the pandemic, you may want to speak to your employer about whether you are eligible for the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) - also known as furlough. It is important to note that, while you are put on furlough, you will no longer be entitled to SSP or contractual sick pay.
You may also want to speak to your employer about whether you are eligible for furlough if:
- You are at the highest risk of severe illness from coronavirus - also known as “clinically extremely vulnerable” - and are unable to work from home.
- You are unable to work - including from home - due to caring responsibilities arising from coronavirus, such as caring for children who are at home as a result of school and childcare facilities closing, or caring for a vulnerable individual in your household.
For more details on eligibility criteria, how much pay you could be entitled to, and how to apply for the CJRS, visit the GOV.UK website. For an up-to-date explanation of the recent changes to the scheme, check our article "Furlough pay changes: What you need to know".
What are your rights if you are self-isolating after travel?
Individuals who have to self-isolate for 10 days after returning to the UK from some countries abroad (per the UK government’s “traffic light system”) are not eligible for SSP if they do not need to self-isolate for any other reason. You may need to use up some contractual sick pay or annual leave to accommodate this period if you are unable to work from home while self-isolating.
For up-to-date details on the current coronavirus travel rules, and how long you may need to self-isolate for, visit our article "Coronavirus travel restrictions, rights & which countries are on the green list?".
How to get an isolation note if your employer needs proof
In the event that you are applying for SSP, you may need to obtain an isolation note to prove your obligation to self-isolate.
If you are off work for more than 7 days in a row, you can get an isolation note from:
- The NHS website - for anyone in England, Scotland and Wales.
- The NHS App - for those registered with a GP in England.
If you are off work for 7 days or less, you can usually 'self-certify'. This means that you will not need to give your employer a note or other proof of illness.
How to get a support payment during self-isolation
If you have been told to self-isolate, you could be entitled to a £500 payment to support you financially throughout your isolation period.
The eligibility criteria for the payment is different if you live in England, Scotland or Wales. For more guidance, see:
- England - Test and Trace Support Payment on GOV.UK.
- Scotland - self-isolation grant from the Scottish Government.
- Wales - self-isolation support scheme from the Welsh Government.
How to get help during self-isolation from an NHS volunteer
If you are self-isolating and cannot carry out some of your usual tasks as a result, NHS Volunteer Responders can help with tasks like:
- Collecting shopping for you.
- Collecting medicines and prescriptions from pharmacies or hospitals.
- Giving you a lift to medical appointments.
You can call 0808 196 3646 (8am to 8pm everyday) to arrange for help from an NHS volunteer.