AS Covid-19 continues to wreak havoc across the world, the government is now advising everyone to work from home unless they absolutely cannot. For agricultural businesses, Covid-19 is particularly challenging given that if their workers fall ill or have to self-isolate, very few can carry out their duties from home.

When it comes to allocating sick pay for ill or self-isolating agricultural workers, the situation can be more complex than it is for other industries, as Gillian Reid employment law specialist at Pearsons & Ward in Malton explains.

Most workers who are advised to self-isolate or have fallen ill with Covid-19 will be entitled to Statutory Sick Pay from day one if: they are classed as an employee and have done some work for their employer; have been ill for at least four days in a row (including non-working days); earn an average of at least £118 per week; and tell their employer they are sick.

Employees can “self-certify” for the first seven days off work. This means following their workplace process, but not having to get a note from a doctor or NHS 111. Those self-isolating due to the coronavirus for more than seven days can get an online self-isolation note from the NHS website or the NHS mobile phone app.

Businesses can reclaim the money spent on Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) for employees in light of the coronavirus pandemic. The government will fund SSP for two weeks for businesses with fewer than 250 employees. Employers must pay SSP of £94.25 per week to anyone too ill to work for up to 28 weeks. This will increase to £95.85 per week on April 6. It is paid in the same way as normal wages.

Agricultural employers should urgently check their employment contracts, however, as agricultural workers who were employed under contracts on the terms of the Agricultural Wages Order may have a right to Agricultural Sick Pay (ASP).

An agricultural worker is someone who works in:

  • farming and rearing animals;
  • growing produce including non-edible crops like bulbs, plants and flowers; forestry, market gardens and nurseries; or
  • maintaining meadow or pastureland, woodlands and reed beds.

ASP will mainly be payable to agricultural workers who were employed before the rules regarding agricultural pay changed in 2013. They must have been continuously employed by the same employer for at least 52 weeks before the first day of their absence to be entitled to ASP.

If they are entitled to ASP, they are should be paid at least the Agricultural Minimum Wage when they are off sick which could be payable for up to six months depending on their length of service. ASP is not reclaimable from the government and can amount to considerably more than SSP.

If an employee is off sick with the coronavirus then ASP should be paid as normal. Strictly speaking, where an employee has been told to self-isolate then they might only be entitled to SSP which agricultural employers can then reclaim from the government.

However, according to ACAS guidance, employers should treat self-isolation as sickness in accordance with their normal sickness policy.

Agricultural employers are advised to take legal advice on their particular circumstances to clarify what pay their agricultural workers should receive as a result of absence due to the pandemic.

For further information phone Gillian Reid, in the employment law team at Pearsons & Ward on 01653 692247 or email