2 Apr 2020
Author: Andrea Twaddle

Employees in essential services breathed a sigh of relief today, as details of the new sick leave scheme for essential workers was announced. The Essential Workers’ Leave Scheme will be available on Monday 6 April, for a period of at least 8 weeks. [1]

Pressure has mounted for financial support in circumstances where employees who would otherwise be working in essential services, are unable to come to work due to legitimate reasons. Employees have faced significant uncertainty and limited options as to their entitlement to pay in the circumstances.

What is the Essential Workers' Leave Scheme?

The Government has stated that essential workers who take leave from work to comply with public health guidance will be supported to ensure they continue to receive income.

There are a number of businesses that have been identified as ‘essential businesses’ that remain operating, but face a significant loss of business. The Scheme allows these organisations to pay workers who need to take leave due to COVID-19 public health guidance at the same rates as the Wage Subsidy Scheme: $585.80 per week fulltime and $350.00 per week for part time workers.

Minister Iain Lees-Galloway states the Scheme ensures that “essential workers have the ability to take leave, and are not feeling pressured to come to work if they are vulnerable, sick or otherwise unable to work. The scheme will enable them to self-isolate and continue to receive an income in these circumstances”.

Who will be eligible?

The Scheme focuses on three groups of essential businesses workers:

  1. Workers who are self-isolating in accordance with public health guidance because they have contracted the virus or have come into contact with someone who has contracted the virus (or have a dependent they need to care for who is sick or self-isolating);
  2. Those deemed at higher risk if they contract COVID-19, in accordance with public health guidance and should self-isolate for the duration of the lockdown (and potentially longer);
  3.  Those who have household members who are deemed at higher risk if they contract COVID-19, in accordance with public health guidance and, as such, should self-isolate for the duration of the lockdown (and potentially longer) to reduce the risk of transmitting the virus to that household member.

When will the Scheme take effect?

The Government has announced that prior to the Scheme going live on 6 April, guidance will be provided regarding means to be ‘at higher risk’. It is expected that this will apply to workers who are 70 years or older, immune-compromised or pre-disposed to contracting COVID-19, or workers who live with these higher-risk individuals.

Payments will be four-weekly with the option for essential businesses to re-apply for those same workers after four-weeks, or make further applications for additional workers who are eligible, at any time, while the Scheme remains open.

What will essential employees be paid under the Scheme?

Employers accessing the scheme should pay workers at either:

  • Their usual weekly income before COVID-19, if this is less than the relevant rate provided; or
  • A minimum of the full Scheme’s payment, if the workers’ usual income before COVID‑19 exceeds the relevant rate, and in that case also make best endeavours to pay at least 80 percent of the workers’ usual income before COVID-19.

Employees who are on other forms of paid leave will still need to be paid at their usual rates.

Further clarification

The Wage Subsidy Scheme has required a number of clarifications since its inception, and we expect the devil will also be in the detail with regard to the success of the Essential Workers’ Leave Scheme. Already, the Government’s terminology in its statement is inconsistent with previous language, for example, the COVID-19 Wage Subsidy Declaration refers to an employee’s “regular income” not “usual weekly income”. We are hopeful these matters will be also fine-tuned when the detail is released.

The specialist employment law team at DTI Lawyers can be contacted on 07 282 0174.

The information contained in this article is accurate as of the date of publication, but please note in this rapidly moving environment, you should review the DTI Lawyers website, or contact our team, to ensure it remains up to date.

About the Author
Andrea Twaddle
Andrea is an experienced specialist employment lawyer and Director at DTI Lawyers. She advises on contentious and non-contentious employment law issues, including privacy, and health and safety matters. Andrea is AWI-CH qualified, and undertakes complex workplace investigations. She is a member of the national Law Society Employment Law Reform Committee, a former Council Member at the WBOP District Branch of the Law Society, and Coordinator of the WBOP Employment Law Committee. Andrea is a sought-after commentator and speaker on employment law issues at client and industry seminars. She provides specialist, strategic advice to other lawyers, professional advisors and leadership teams. You can contact Andrea at