COVID-19 – UK lagging well behind European neighbours on self-isolation and sick pay rights

4 March 2020

The UK is lagging well behind other European countries when it comes to rights relating to sick pay and self-isolation.

The differential has been thrown into sharp relief by people’s experience responding to COVID-19. Government advice is that if you have come into contact with someone who may be infected you should self-isolate for a period of two weeks or until given the all clear.

Many sick pay policies in the UK do not cover this eventuality as it does not consider the absence to be due to sickness. Although the UK government has asked employers to pay, it has not compelled them meaning it can only guarantee that workers will be entitled to Statutory Sick Pay; however, this does not cover the first three days of absence and is capped at £94.25 per week.

Prospect has also uncovered that many insurance policies for freelancers do not cover self-isolation. This means that many people are faced with the impossible choice of either following the government’s advice, or getting paid.

In many other European countries this is not the case, with government’s being proactive in their support for workers.

Finland – workers receive benefits equivalent to full pay from day one of isolation.

France – the French government changed the law a month ago to make it clear to employers than anyone who was self-isolating under government advice qualifies for sick leave in the same way as anyone who is ill.

Netherlands – The government say employers cannot oblige workers to use holiday leave if they are in isolation and must continue to pay them as normal.

Sweden – it is an employers’ responsibility not only to minimise the spread of any infection, and if they ask an employee to self-isolate they must pay them whether or not they can carry out work.

Spain – a salaried employee who is self-isolating under the advice of authorities will be entitled to the same sick leave cover as they would usually get – regardless of whether they are in fact ever diagnosed with the coronavirus.

Prospect has already written to the government demanding action and fully backs other unions in their efforts to have the situation addressed.

Prospect is asking for the government to:

  • compel businesses to cover pay when employees are affected by COVID-19 or have to self-isolate
  • strongly lobby insurance companies for them to cover self-isolation
  • establish a system to cover any lost earnings due to self-isolation that are not covered by insurance or by employers, perhaps through the benefits system
  • guarantee that businesses who cannot afford to cover this kind of absence will be supported
  • take a flexible approach with their own suppliers and call on other employers to do the same – for example letting freelancers work from home where appropriate

Prospect has also published comprehensive advice for members worried about, or caught up in, the Covid-19 crisis.

Mike Clancy, Prospect general secretary, said:

“The UK is lagging well behind its European neighbours in providing a sensible system of provisions for workers doing the right thing in responding to the threat from COVID-19.

“Countries like France, the Netherlands and Sweden already have clear and fair systems in place so that nobody doing their civic duty will be out of pocket. The UK government has so far refused to confirm what, if anything, it will do in these circumstances.

“Workers need clarity from their employers that if they self-isolate they will not lose out, if they don’t give it then the government must compel them. Similarly, businesses need clarity from the government on their responsibilities and on how they will be supported.

“If the government, workers and business work together we can deal with this problem without it becoming a full-blown crisis.”


Information on policies in the countries mentioned can be found here: