Firstly please note that the guidance to employers on how to manage staff with with or exposed to COVID-10 in the UK is slightly different to that given here in Ireland. The most notable difference is that in the UK, if you live with someone who has symptoms you are asked to stay at home, whereas here in Ireland we have not yet done this.
Please see the NHS website (link below) for full guidance relevant for the UK. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/
Employees and Statutory Sick Pay (SSP)
If you do have staff who are sick due to COVID-19 the UK has extended its existing Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) Scheme to be available from day 1 of the confirmed illness. As with any system there are certain qualifications and rules that apply so each situation will have to be assessed individually. Notably, in the UK, those who follow advice to stay at home and who cannot work as a result will be eligible for statutory sick pay (SSP), even if they are not themselves sick. If employees are not eligible for sick pay there is a Universal Credit available, again rules apply. Also note that in the UK there already is a system of self-certification with regard to the early days of illness and this has been extended to COVID-19, employees can self-certify their illness and if the employer wants or requests a certificate the employee can get this online through the NHS website. https://www.gov.uk/statutory-sick-pay
Other family leave options that you as a business offer can also be considered such as Force Majeure to care for a dependent, commencing maternity leave early if it applies, parental leave etc.
Short-term working / temporary lay-offs
With regard to layoffs and short-time working – as always, the existing contract of employment will dictate the options open to you. If you have a clause in the employee’s contract that allows for layoff without pay then that is an option however if you don’t then you can only lay-off staff with full pay.
The UK are recommending where you believe the lay-off will be a temporary measure to avail of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme or ‘furlough’ the staff instead. Where companies do furlough their employees, HMRC have stated that they will reimburse 80% of furloughed workers wage cost, up to a cap of 2.5k per month. The employee remains employed and retains the links to the employer and the employer has the option of ‘topping up’ the salary to full pay but does not have to do so. However, a bit like our employers refund of the COVID-19 Unemployment Payment here in Ireland, HMRC have not yet worked out a system for this reimbursement but are working on it.
For employers, HRMC are also putting in place supports like deferring VAT etc – more details can be found by following the link below:
A very helpful guide for employees can be found by following this link which includes information about the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (an option to keep employees on payroll rather than laying them off). https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/guidance-to-employers-and-businesses-about-covid-19/covid-19-guidance-for-employees