Boris Johnson has announced today that employees who self-isolate over fears of the coronavirus will receive statutory sick pay from day one, rather than having to wait the usual four days for the entitlement.

This is a huge change from the standard position and whilst it eases matters for employees on the face of it, it is fraught with difficulties.

Mr. Johnson stated “Nobody should be penalised for doing the right thing” but what about if employers or employees are doing the “wrong thing”?

There will undoubtedly be some dispute by employers over whether employees should self-isolate. Should a GP certify the employee as “at risk” before the employee goes off sick? Should the employer, as part of their duty of care, insist employees self-isolate? Or should employees unilaterally decide?

Whatever the right answer is, this is potentially opening up the debate between employer and employee.

If the employer fails to insist on employees staying at home, are they in breach of their duty of care? “Potentially” is the best answer I can give. The employer should be weighing up the risk dependent upon the number of people in contact with each other, particularly if employees have just returned from high-risk countries or if they have been in contact with someone infected by the virus. The nature of the industry, for example the travel industry, will also be particularly relevant.

If the employee unilaterally decides to self-isolate without the employer’s consent, could the employee be subjected to disciplinary proceedings for being absent without authorisation? This is quite likely unless employees can evidence some real concern for doing so.

Home working might be an option, which will lower the impact on an employer’s business and maintain full pay to those employees, but this option isn’t possible for all.

The answer has to be for the employer and employees to sensibly discuss what should happen and have an action plan in place.