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Living with Covid – Latest guidance for employers (1.3.22)

The Government’s Living With Covid plan includes a timetable for removing Covid measures in England, starting with the removal of the requirement to self-isolate following a positive test from 24 February 2022.  We summarise how things stand and what this means for employers.

All legal Covid restrictions will be lifted in England by 1 April 2022, with the responsibility moving onto individuals over the next month to exercise caution and act sensibly.  We take a moment to summarise (heavily) the latest Government guidance. 

The Key Changes in England

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  • The legal requirement to self-isolate following a positive test has been replaced with guidance to stay at home for 5 days and avoid contact with others, and then to continue to do so until they have two negative test results on consecutive days.
  • Employees are not obliged to tell their employer if they have tested positive. 
  • Contact tracing has ceased.
  • Self-isolation support payment for those on low income have stopped.
  • Unvaccinated close contacts of a positive case will no longer be required to test or to self-isolate and will instead be asked to take extra care in following general guidance for the public on safer behaviours. SSP will no longer be available.
  • Fully vaccinated close contacts/those under 18 will no longer be asked to test daily for seven days.
  • From 01 April 2022, free Covid testing for all will end.  Testing will be targeted to certain sections of the population.
  • Also from 1 April, employers will not have to specifically include Covid in their health and safety risk assessments.

Upcoming changes in Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland

At the time of writing, the other nations are yet to confirm their intentions with lifting any remaining restrictions but the most recent changes include:

  • Northern Ireland – no limit on number of people meeting in private homes, no requirement to show Covid certificate at events, no requirement to wear face coverings in public places
  • Scotland – if you’re fully vaccinated, you no longer need to take a COVID-19 test either before or after arrival in Scotland.
  • Wales – no requirement to show your NHS COVID Pass at venues and events, fully vaccinated no longer need to take a COVID-19 test either before or after arrival in Wales.

Wales have suggested that from the end of March, they will also remove the legal requirement to self-isolate after a positive Covid test. Rules on face coverings have been relaxed and are only required in shops, including salons and hairdressers, public transport and health and social care, rather than other venues such as museums or cinemas. Masks are no longer required in schools.

What does this mean for employers?

Even though the legal restrictions are being lifted, the guidance continues to recommend the following to reduce the risk of catching and spreading Covid-19 and employers can build this into their workplace approach:

  • Get vaccinated
  • Let fresh air in if meeting indoors, or meet outside
  • Consider wearing a face covering in crowded, enclosed spaces
  • Get tested if you have COVID-19 symptoms, and stay at home if positive

The sector specific guidance on working safely during coronavirus is likely to continue to advise employers to enable employees who test positive to stay at home. If the employee is well enough to work, despite testing positive, they can be asked to work from home and paid as normal if their role allows. This is unlikely to have a big impact on the many businesses who’ve adapted to remote working over the last couple of years. 

Do I have to pay an employee if we require them to stay at home?

But what about the job roles that can’t be done from home? As there is no legal requirement for employees to stay at home if they test positive (and they don’t even need to tell their employer), they can come to work, unless the employer puts measures in place to prevent this.  Clear communication is needed to explain your approach to their attendance – and to their pay.  Employers do have it in their power to require their employees not to attend work following a positive test, but they would be entitled to payment in full.

You might have employees who are concerned about the lifting of restrictions and what it means for their potential exposure to the virus. Employees should be expected to comply with workplace rules you have in place so be clear what these are. To manage any resistance, listen to individual circumstances and consider continuing with your risk assessments despite there no longer being a requirement for this.

Other measures to consider

There are various measures that you can consider from a HR and health and safety point of view to help make employees feel more comfortable:

  • Double down on hand sanitiser, hygiene measures and workplace cleanliness
  • Consider keeping social distancing measures in place where practical and possible
  • Keep the workplace well ventilated
  • Let employees wear face coverings if they wish to continue
  • Remind employees to be respectful of their colleagues’ wishes; employees can have many reasons, which are not immediately apparent, for being cautious
  • Do another vaccine awareness drive to increase the number of vaccinated employees
  • Consider full pay for employees on sick leave with COVID-19 (it is difficult for an employee to prove that they contracted COVID-19 at work but it could alleviate some concerns if employees know that if they do fall ill with the virus (at work or otherwise) that they would not suffer financially)
  • Reconsider any stance on working from home, especially for vulnerable workers, until as much of the workforce as possible is vaccinated, despite the removal of the Government’s working from home guidance
  • If employees are concerned about using public transport, consider allowing employees to adjust working hours so they can avoid peak travel.

Key Points:

  • It is for the employer to determine whether to require employees to stay at home if they test positive for Covid-19.
  • If employees are made to stay at home, employers need to pay them the same as what they would have earned.
  • Make sure you listen to employee concerns and consider your risk control measures for those who are vulnerable.
  • Have a clear, reasonable policy and be prepared to justify your approach.
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