As employers do we live with COVID-19? After the publication of the government’s plan for ‘Living with COVID’ in February 2022, the government laid out a roadmap to the removal of all COVID-19 restrictions.
From 24 February 2022 there was no longer a legal requirement to Self-Isolate upon testing positive for COVID-19. The government suggested that in place of this legal obligation, people should stay at home. However, those who cannot work from home during this period would be left with the option of sick pay (or SSP if they are not entitled to contractual sick pay), using up their annual leave entitlement, or taking unpaid leave.
Without that legal requirement to self-isolate, it falls to the individual or the employer to enforce their own company policies in respect of managing the virus in the workplace. To protect other employees and reduce the risk of further sickness absence, it would be best practice for employers to carry out a risk assessment of the workplace and update their COVID-19 policies to incorporate the changes to this statutory requirement. Companies should consider a requirement for staff to continue testing, to work remotely (if well enough to do so), or to work in isolation in the workplace (where safe to do so) if they cannot work from home.
From 24 March 2022 onwards, COVID-19-related sickness absences should be treated the same as any other sickness absence for the purposes of SSP (i.e. SSP will be payable only from the fourth day of their absence, not the first day).
Employers have a general duty of care in relation to their employees. In accordance with the guidance setting out on how to work safely during COVID-19, employers are advised not to encourage those with a positive test or symptoms to attend work, but rather to discuss remote working, SSP, or other means of avoiding contact with the workplace until further guidance is published on 1 April 2022.
Anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 is advised to stay at home and avoid contact with other people for a minimum of 5 full days, and only leave isolation after two consecutive days of negative results. If this is not achieved then they should continue to do isolate/stay at home until they have received negative test results on two consecutive days taken from day 5 onwards, up to the full 10- day period. This guidance is expected to be in place until at least 1 April.
The availability of free COVID-19 testing is anticipated to remain in place until 1 April 2022. If an employer would like to continue with testing for their staff then they would need to cover the cost of implementing this requirement under a company policy, subject to the employee’s consent to take the tests and update the company of their results.
The recent “no jab, no job” headlines regarding COVID-19 vaccinations caused widescale controversy, and in particular in relation to the compulsory requirement to be vaccinated for those working in the health and social care sector.
Due to the reduced risk posed by COVID-19, the government announced that the requirement for compulsory vaccinations in the health and social care sectors would be scrapped, and those who had already been dismissed from CQC registered care homes would be able to return to their previous roles without being vaccinated, and those in the wider healthcare sector would not need to have received their two doses before the 1 April 2022 deadline.
This U-turn on mandatory vaccinations would make it more difficult for other employers outside of these sectors to insist that their staff receive a vaccine in order to continue in their employment and would likely prove a risky decision due to the possible costly discrimination claims that could be brought by their employees.
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