The younger, more contagious sister of coronavirus, Omnicron, has again left employers at its whim. With the endless vacuum of booster vaccines, potential lockdowns, and Covid-19 regulations, employers are allowed to feel as though this is just a license to skive approved by No.10. The latest change sees employees staying at home sick without providing evidence for up to 28 days – whereas previously – it was seven days.
With this modification being applied to all sickness absences from 10 December to 26 January, the main concern is that employees will take advantage of this change over the festive period and into the new year when the prospect of coming back to work is bleak. These changes are even more worrying for companies that offer a higher rate of company sick pay (CSP) than the minimum statutory sick pay (SSP). However, there are loopholes to ensure the legal and financial stability of your company.
Here are four key points for employers and HR concerning this change:
- This modification has been made to give GPs greater capacity to roll out the booster vaccine.
- The new rules apply to England, Scotland and Wales.
- Adjustments can be made to your CSP for this period, such as postponing enhanced payments until a sick note is received after 28 days of absence.
- Employees cannot be penalised for following these guidelines.
The threat that Omnicron may pose to businesses has left many employers concerned. Numerous questions have come up like will new stay-at-home orders be issued? Will employees likely become sick from the new variant? In response, the government has upped the ante with its booster vaccine rollout. This is despite the drop in the efficacy of the vaccine against this heavily-mutated variant. The booster vaccine bolsters antibody levels and provides greater protection if you come into contact with the virus. The implementation of the self-certification extension has many businesses wondering how they can protect themselves legally and financially.
Even if businesses do not agree with the temporary adjustment, they are advised not to penalise staff for not providing a sick note before 28 days. It can trigger employees to make claims against the company, including discrimination arising from a disability or even unfair dismissal further down the line.
In cases where employees are suspected of taking advantage of the new change and feeling like they have a license to skive, refrain from contacting the individual directly. They can only do this if they have valid and concrete evidence of misconduct. Releasing a universal statement to all employees that re-iterates the consequences of false reporting and fraudulent claims of SSP as a gross misconduct offense and cause for summary dismissal is the best course of action. This way potential claims of discrimination against an individual can be avoided. It also firmly states the company’s stance in terms of the policy adjustment.
Businesses offering CSP should continue to do so throughout this period, but they may make temporary adjustments. They should reflect the changed self-certification period, like postponing enhanced payments until they receive a sick note after 28 days of absence. Implementing an Allied Health Professional (AHP) Health and Work Report is one secret weapon businesses can use to help through this policy change. Employers can consent to an employee getting their ‘fit-notes’ from a physio, podiatrist, or in the workplace from an occupational health professional. By giving employees access to this, there is less friction in the claiming process for SSP, as employees don’t have to be submitted to their usual GP waiting times.
The best investment you can make to employee health and wellness is in occupational health, especially through the tumultuous times we are currently experiencing. By putting employee wellbeing at the heart of your company, you can reduce employee absenteeism and presenteeism and increase employee retention and profit turnover. Employees who are happy at work are less likely to be sick in the first place or take undue time off sick due to the culture of trust developed between employee and employer.