How should businesses manage absence now that COVID-19 restrictions have been relaxed?

Business Insights

Friday 1 April 2022 marked the end of the majority of Covid restrictions in England, with Scotland and Ireland expected to also follow suit in the coming months. Examples include:

  • The removal of COVID-19 provisions within the Statutory Sick Pay and Employment and Support Allowance Regulations.

  • An end to free universal symptomatic and asymptomatic testing for the public in England, unless you are vulnerable, frontline NHS Staff, or working in high-risk settings such as care homes and prisons.

  • Removal of the health and safety requirements for employers to consider COVID-19 in their risk assessments.

  • Replacement of the existing ‘Working Safely’ guidance with new public health guidance.

How has the pandemic impacted absence management?

The CIPD reported in their “2021 Health and Wellbeing Survey” that the main causes of short-term sickness absence during the pandemic were minor illnesses such as colds and flus, musculoskeletal injuries such as back pain, COVID-19 and finally, stress and mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.


    For workers who worked from home, there was an increase in presenteeism, which is working from home when ill and leaveism, which is working when on holiday or on family leave. The cost of presenteeism to businesses can be greater than absenteeism, because failing to take a break can lead to burnout and stress, which can subsequently develop into mental health illnesses such as anxiety and depression.

    Poor mental health

    The World Health Organisation reported that the COVID-19 pandemic triggered a 25% increase in prevalence of anxiety and depression worldwide, due to stressors such as the social isolation and constraints on people’s ability to work and pressing financial situations. The increase in presenteeism and leaveism for those who worked from home, was likely due to the uncertainty of the economic climate and worries surrounding job security.

    The positives?

    Although COVID-19 led to additional sickness absence, measures such as furloughing, social distancing, shielding, self-isolation and increased working from home appeared to help reduce other causes of absence during 2020.

What are the pitfalls for absence management now?

The CIPD report for “Health and Wellbeing at Work 2022” has unfortunately demonstrated that the reasons for short-term absences companies saw during lockdown are still prevalent. Here are some of the absence management pitfalls employers need to look out for now:

    No requirement for self-isolation

    The responsibility to self-isolate now relies upon the autonomy of the employee. Therefore, employers should consider implementing a COVID-19 isolation policy or amending their sickness absence policy for employees who test positive for COVID-19, to isolate for a minimum of 5 days and only return to the office when they have two consecutive negative test results. This will help to prevent the potential spread of the virus to clinically vulnerable colleagues, ensuring that the health and safety of all employees is prioritised.

    End of free testing

    The end of free testing means that businesses, unless they have the budget to invest in buying Lateral Flow Tests for their workers, could potentially face an outbreak of COVID-19 in the workplace that would not only affect the workforce’s productivity and capacity, but could also fail to comply with the health and safety of other employees. Where possible, employers should consider investing in Lateral Flow Tests, particularly those in high-risk environments such as schools.

    Sick pay considerations

    Employees with COVID-19 are only entitled to receive Statutory Sick Pay from day 4 of their absence. They are not entitled to receive SSP if they are self-isolating but are not unwell with COVID-19.

    Employees who are unable to work from home but have COVID-19

    Ultimately, this would depend on the type of business. Employees who can work from home when suffering with COVID-19 can continue to work and be paid. However, employees and workers in sectors such as hospitality, retail, or those whose jobs do not allow them to work from home, do not have that privilege. They may decide to come into work to be paid, thus putting not only the health and safety of their colleagues, but also customers and the public at risk.

    Careful consideration should be placed on implementing a COVID-19 isolation policy or alternatively updating the sickness absence policy to ensure, if not already, an entitlement to contractual sick pay over and above SSP, which would act as an incentive for workers in these areas to remain at home and away from work.

For further advice and more information visit here:

Author: Jennifer Smith, Forbes Solicitors

Author bio: Jennifer Smith is a Partner at Forbes Solicitors LLP, leading the Employment and HR Team for their Manchester office. She deals with all aspects of employment law, advising and assisting private sector clients, from local SMEs to large multinational companies.