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Legal changes

Changes to COVID-19 related sickness absence in the NHS

Key guidance for NHS employers and employees surrounding the expected changes going forward

On 30 June 2022, the Department of Health and Social Care announced changes to the way COVID-19-related sickness absence and self-isolation will be managed for NHS staff in England.

What does this mean?

From 7 July 2022, employees who are off work because of a new episode of COVID-19 will be subject to trusts’ existing sick pay provisions. Trusts can count any absences arising from those episodes of COVID-19 towards the normal absence triggers in the policy and manage them in line with formal stages of the policy, from 7 July 2022 onwards.

What about employees who are currently off sick because of COVID-19?

For anyone with a current and ongoing episode of COVID-19, including long COVID-19, the absence triggers under existing sickness absence policies can be applied from 1 September 2022 onwards.

Does this mean that employees who have been absent because of long COVID-19 are no longer entitled to full sick pay entitlement?

No. The guidance states that previous absences which were because of COVID-19 remain as such. From 1 September, employees will be entitled to contractual sick pay entitlements. Therefore, an employee who has been absent for six months for long COVID-19 will from 1 September revert to the trust’s contractual sick pay, which is likely to be full pay for six months and half pay for six months, subject to length of service.

Are there any procedures that trusts now have to implement?

The guidance suggests the following:

  • Employees should be advised of the changes that took effect from 7 July 2022, namely that new COVID-19 related absence will be subject to normal contractual terms
  • Employees currently absent due to COVID-19, including those suffering long COVID-19, should have a one-to-one meeting by 3 August 2022 and receive written notice by 4 August 2022 that pay will revert to the terms under the trust’s sickness policy on 1 September.

Does this mean that we change absence reporting for COVID-19?

No - the guidance suggests that sickness absence due to COVID-19 should be recorded “using the occupational sick pay scheme in ESR, ensuring the COVID-19 related reason is selected. For further detail please refer to ESR’s user notice (UN3179).” 

The changes in the guidance will be welcome news for employers as many trusts have grappled with the differential treatment of employees with long COVID-19 compared with those that are also absent with long-term significant health issues.

If you have any queries relating to the content in this article, feel free to contact Sejal Raja at sejal.raja@weightmans.com. You can also visit our employment page for all of our services relating to employment law.