In response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the impact of the Omicron variant, the Government has announced a temporary change to the sickness absence reporting regulations and the reintroduction of the Statutory Sick Pay Rebate Scheme (SSPRS).
What do these changes mean for employers?
1. Sickness Absence Reporting Regulations
The Government has extended the length of time for which employees can self-certify sickness absence without providing medical evidence (e.g. a fit note from a GP or other medical certificate) from 7 days to 28 days.
This change applies in respect of sickness absences which began on or after 10 December 2021, up to (and including) 26 January 2022. Any period of sickness absence beyond 28 days (including non-working days) will require a fit note.
Employees who are unable to attend work because they are self-isolating on account of COVID-19 should obtain an ‘isolation note’ from NHS 111.
2. SSP Rebate Scheme
The Statutory Sick Pay Rebate Scheme (SSPRS), which reimbursed employers for the statutory sick pay paid to employees due to COVID-19, has been reinstated with effect from 21 December 2021.
Under the scheme, employers can reclaim up to two weeks’ worth of Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) per employee for COVID-related sickness absences. SSP for these absences will also be paid from the first day of absence, rather than day four as is usual.
The SSPRS is available to employers that meet the following conditions:
• Only employers with fewer than 250 employees, as of 30th November 2021, are eligible for the scheme;
• Employers can only reclaim up to two weeks’ worth of SSP, even if the employee is off for longer;
• SSP is only reimbursed where the sickness absence is due to coronavirus and the employee qualifies for SSP in the normal way; and
• The employer’s PAYE payroll scheme must have been created and started on, or before, 30th November 2021.
These changes will mean that employees do not need to provide medical evidence of their need to be absent for the first 28 days of their absence. On return to work after 4 weeks off employers are advised to arrange for the employee to have a return to work interview, complete a self certification form (shout if you need one) and satisfy their employer that they are fit to resume their duties. The worry is that employees will not have been able to successfully seek medical opinion during that month. They may not have been prescribed medication that they might otherwise have been able to access, they may not be in the ‘system’ so to speak. Many employees who have been absent from work for such a period of time experience feelings of anxiety about returning to work, they may need adjustments in order for their return to be a success. All this should be considered by the Line Manager as to what is reasonable when conducting the return to work interview. Employers may benefit from occupational health assessment which can be purchased on adhoc basis.
The SSPRS has been reintroduced to allow employers to reclaim up to 10 days of self isolation per employee and it would appear this is regardless of whether you have claimed for an employee in the previous 2 years. You do have to keep meticulous records. There is a good chance that the HMRC will be auditing these claims by employers over the next 3 years.
If you need any assistance with managing employees during the pandemic our 20 min adhoc HR Consultation call is an excellent way for you to access the support you need, when you need it. You can purchase a 20 minute call here.
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