Given the ubiquity of news about the coronavirus, I have thought at least twice about whether to blog on the subject, but in the end I think it brings together so many current issues of law, social policy, media (social and mainstream) that it is impossible to resist.
As an employment lawyer, I cannot help but be impressed by the very technical legal reasoning that supports the proposition that it might be possible to claim SSP if one is ‘self-isolating’ (provided that there is a written instruction, e.g. from one’s doctor or the 111 service so to do). A bit of work on Google will produce no end of technical legal wizardry to show how one can arrive at that conclusion.
I imagine however that most employers will start from the proposition that ‘self-isolation’, as opposed to employer-imposed isolation, will mean no pay at all.[Breaking news: since I wrote this, the PM has announced that SSP will be made specially payable to deal with the issue – details are sketchy].
Secondly, there are now some reasonable concerns out there in relation to the gig economy and those who do not qualify for SSP anyway – people with low incomes, zero hour contracts and the self employed for example. The TUC has urged the government to make special provision for people in those circumstances.
I am also struck by the approach of the press to the subject.
It is often said that we are in a post-truth world and I am beginning to think that we are, too, in a post-news world. What sells papers and gets clicks these days is sensationalism.
Ironically Facebook leads me to some of the most interesting comments on this subject.
I learn for example that on 10th February, 108 people in China died of coronavirus. By comparison, over 50,000 people that same day died of cancer and heart disease, and suicide took more lives than the virus did by a factor of 28 times.
Snakes kill 137 people every day – this is according to my Facebook feed (a bit of googling tells me that the figure might be as high as 250 a day).
I am impressed, too, by the commentator who asks this:
“What would the world look like if the mainstream media spent as much time reporting on deaths, destruction of property and other issues relating to climate change, as they do in relation to our current virus?” One cannot help but think that climate change is the bigger issue, but in a news environment where the highest click count goes to the most exciting story, I fear that the big news item is old hat.
Of course, I may be proved wrong when, as our government hints, as many as 20% of the workforce might be absent from work at the same time owing to this virus. There: I am spreading doom and destruction myself – but I am prepared to risk a bit of humble pie eating by suggesting that the worst case scenario is unlikely to come to pass.
Paul Scholey – Senior Partner