How will the changes impact me & my workplace?
Changes from 24th February
❎ People who test positive for Covid-19 and their close contacts will no longer be legally required to self-isolate.
🏠 Employees are advised to stay at home if they have Covid-19, or believe they do – this is subject to having negative lateral flow tests on days 5 and 6 of illness, and no high temperature – this means a lot will be left up to personal judgement and whether they feel well enough to work.
📱 Contact tracing and venue check-ins on the NHS Covid-19 App will end.
Changes from 24th March
💰 Payment of statutory sick pay (SSP) and Employment Support Allowance (ESA) from day 1 (under current Covid-19 provisions) will end.
❎ From this date, SSP will only be payable to employees after 4 days of absence and ESA after 7 days of absence – returning to how it was before the pandemic.
Changes from 1st April
🏥 All tests will become chargeable for most. Exceptions to this will be NHS patients and those in care homes (residents and workers) – targeting the most vulnerable.
❎ Every employer’s health and safety requirement to explicitly consider Covid-19 in their risk assessment will be removed.
🛂 Government guidance on Covid-19 passports and the requirement to show proof of vaccination / NHS Covid-19 Pass at venues will no longer be required.
Let’s deal with some of the frequently asked questions on this important topic:
What are my rights to time off work to self-isolate if I catch covid or am a close contact?
As the Government has removed the need for self-isolation on 21st February 2022, in the event of a positive covid test, employees will be expected to attend work as usual if they feel well enough to do so. Otherwise, they will need to take sickness absence. Essentially, it will be treated in the same way as any other illness, so it is paramount that you check your contract and policy to see what sick pay and rules are in your business. Some businesses may still require you to stay away from the workplace and be paid sick pay.
Do I have a right to continue to work from home where my job can be done from home if I or someone I live with is particularly at risk due to health conditions like asthma or a compromised immune system?
Only if you have a contractual right to work from home. Check your contract. What does it say regarding your place of work? Do you have a home working policy?
If your employer requires you to come back, you should start by informally enquiring whether you can adjust your working arrangements (whether temporary or on a permanent basis).
Show them how you are working well from home and back any requests with any evidence you may have. If you are unable to agree this informally, and have been employed for more than 6 months, you can make a formal flexible working request – you can find more information on how to do this here.
Whilst, technically, an employer could require you to attend work, employers do have statutory and common law duties to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety, and welfare at work of all their employees. Therefore, if an employer is openly allowing contagious employees to remain in work, there might be an argument that they are willingly putting more vulnerable employees or their families at risk which could damage the working relationship.
Am I entitled to sick pay if I self-isolate because I have covid?
If you consider that you are unwell enough to remain off work, sick pay would be payable in the usual way, you should check your contract and policies to see if these were the same pre covid or have been adjusted. You may need a GP’s note depending on the length of the illness. Again, COVID would be treated in the same way as flu or any other illness. If you choose to self-isolate because of someone else having COVID (thereby showing consideration for your colleagues in case you catch it), you could technically be absent without authorisation. Employers should consider how they handle such a situation in their sickness policies, so everyone Is clear moving forward on what is expected.
As an employer, will I have any duty to pay for covid testing for staff moving forward?
In short, no, there is no legal obligation. However, paying for tests, especially where you require them to be completed to attend work, could be considered as best practice. Employers may offer to cover that cost to help keep their workforce safe under health and safety measures.
Can an employer oblige staff to return to office-based working?
Potentially, yes. It will depend on what the contract says. If there are no government rules about avoiding the workplace, the contractual terms will be the only relevant factor. Again, a good employer may consider the value of allowing staff to continue to work at home more often if that is their preference.
Do employers have a duty to notify staff if an office worker has covid? Similarly, will an employee have an obligation to inform their employer if they have covid and are in the workplace?
Probably not, unless it could be argued that (like shingles) COVID poses a higher risk to certain groups (like pregnant women), in which case communication would be sent to staff. It would likely be on an anonymous basis for GDPR reasons given the sensitivity of the data.
Employers should put policies in place that require employees to confirm whether they have COVID to enable them to meet their obligations in informing other staff. Policies should be updated considering the changes to ensure everyone is clear within their workplace what is now required.
What about mental health?
One final takeaway would be to always consider the impact COVID has had and is still having of mental health. A lot of people may still have anxieties towards going to work if they have tested positive and conversely, working with employees who have COVID. It is important to have open and honest conversations continually as we progress through these next stages of the pandemic. It’s important to remember that we are living with COVID, but COVID is still very much around, and we should do our best to operate in a responsible and understanding manner.
Key things to remember would be to:
- Remain responsible – COVID is here to stay
- Communicate effectively with your teams to ensure full understanding of your policies and procedures regarding COVID
- Consider mental health and wellbeing – this is still a stressful time that possesses stress to a lot of people
- Plan effectively and don’t make assumptions
- Be cautious of future Government updates
- Keep up to date (follow us on socials 😊)
- Employers should be continuing with their COVID risk assessments to help them manage the risk in their business as they would with other health and safety risk assessments
How can Thrive help?
If you feel you’re struggling to retain staff or incentivise with initiatives, and you are looking for an outsourced HR partner to assist in the management of your workforce, please get in touch today at email@example.com
Please note this blog is for reference purposes only and is only accurate at the date it was published. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Specific legal advice about your specific circumstances should always be sought separately before taking or deciding not to take any action. Please contact us if you have any questions at firstname.lastname@example.org