New SSP rules: how should HR respond?

With Covid sick pay eligibility ending from tomorrow, as well as other government support being phased out, People Management explains how firms should tackle the changes

New SSP rules: how should HR respond?

Alongside the decision to end all the remaining legal Covid restrictions in England last month, the government also announced that changes made to statutory sick pay (SSP) rules during the pandemic would also come to an end as part of its ‘Living with Covid’ plan.

As of tomorrow (24 March), individuals with Covid will no longer be eligible for SSP from day one of their illness, and will only receive the payment on their fourth consecutive day off work – in line with the normal SSP rules.

Small- and medium-sized employers will also only have until tomorrow to submit claims to the Coronavirus Statutory Sick Pay Rebate Scheme, which itself closed on 17 March, while the government’s £500 self-isolation payments for low earners were phased out on 24 February – the same day that legal self-isolation requirements ended in England.

People Management takes a look at how businesses can best manage the changes.

How will the changes impact employers?

Different employers can expect different things from the changes, particularly depending on their size. For many, the end of day-one SSP payments will be welcomed because it will reduce overall outgoings for absence payments, says Rachael Knappier, director of service at Croner. “As the cost of living continues to soar, employers are looking to make as many cost savings as possible, so this change will help them do so,” she says.

However, employers that benefited from the Coronavirus Statutory Sick Pay Rebate Scheme, which allowed firms with fewer than 250 employees to claim back two weeks’ worth of SSP for employees absent because of Covid, will likely miss the additional support.

Knappier also cautions employers to consider the impact the changes might have on staff, “particularly in relation to their mental health and emotional wellbeing during times of financial turmoil,” she says.

“Employees who are already struggling with rising household bills and the impact of inflation may feel more stress, anxiety or burnout.” warns Knappier.

Should employers still encourage staff to self-isolate?

Gemma Sherbourne, senior associate at LCF Law, warns these changes could lead to more members of staff attending work with Covid because they can’t afford to take time off unpaid. Taken together with the end of the £500 self-isolation payments, those earning minimum wage and other lower-income workers are set to be disproportionately affected, she says.

“This change to the SSP provisions may make [staying away from work] impossible, particularly for those on low incomes who cannot carry out their jobs from home,” says Sherbourne, noting that some organisations in particular, including those that work with vulnerable groups or with a vulnerable workforce, may not want staff who have tested positive to attend work.

Rachel Suff, senior policy adviser for employment relations at the CIPD, warns that employers still have a duty of care for their employees’ health and wellbeing, and advises against encouraging anyone to attend work if they are unwell, whether with Covid or any other illness.

“Employees should be able to take time off to recover and return to work once they are better,” she says, encouraging employers where possible to introduce an occupational sick pay scheme to “enhance pay above the statutory minimum for employees who can’t work when sick”.

Although the government is “leaving key decisions to employers”, David Jepps, employment partner at Keystone Law, cautions that employers “can’t use that as an excuse to do nothing”. “We are entering a period where employers will need to balance maintaining reasonable safeguards against a complete return to the ‘old normal’,” he says.