Living with Covid-19
The Government has published guidance on its strategy for "Living with Covid" and a timetable for removing restrictions in England. We consider the implications of those changes on Employers below.
Summary of timetable for removing restrictions
From 24 February 2022:
- There will be no legal requirement to self-isolate following a positive test.
- Close contacts of individuals that have tested positive for Covid and who are not fully vaccinated will no longer be required to self-isolate and statutory sick pay (SSP) will not be available for such individuals.
- Employees will no longer be legally obliged to tell their employers when they are required to self-isolate.
From 24 March 2022:
- SSP rules will revert to normal.
From 1 April 2022:
- The Government will end universal free testing for Covid.
- The Government will publish updated guidance on the ongoing steps that people with Covid should take.
- Employers are not required to explicitly consider Covid in their health and safety risk assessments.
Key considerations for employers
Should employers stop requiring employees with Covid to stay at home from 24 February?
Although the legal requirement to self-isolate following a positive test ends on 24 February 2022, the Government still advises that anyone that tests positive continues to stay at home and avoid contact with other people for at least five full days and then continue to do so until they have received two consecutive negative tests. As a result, it is certainly advisable that employers continue to enable employees who test positive to stay at home, at least until further guidance is published on 1 April 2022.
As employees are no longer required to inform their employers that they have tested positive for Covid, employers will need to ask employees to continue to do so.
How will Sick Pay be affected?
Currently, employees who test positive with Covid and cannot work from home, or are too sick to work from home, are entitled to receive statutory sick pay from day 1 of testing positive. However, from 24 March 2022, SSP will revert to normal. As a result, SSP will only be payable from day 4 of a period of incapacity.
Due to this change in pay, employees may be disinclined to stay at home, particularly where they are asymptomatic or their symptoms are mild. To limit the risk of spreading Covid in the workplace, employers may want to consider encouraging employees to work from home or offering company sick pay to those employees who are too sick to work or who cannot work from home. Although employers will not be required to consider Covid in their risk assessments from 1 April 2022, they will still owe a duty of care to provide a safe working environment for employees and therefore it is sensible that they continue to consider the implications of the spread of Covid in the workplace.
Should employers require employees to be tested?
From 1 April 2022, the Government will no longer provide universal free testing for Covid.
Employers may want to consider advising employees to work from home as a precautionary measure whenever they have Covid symptoms (whether or not they have taken a test). When working from home is not possible, employers could consider whether or not to pay for employees to take a test.
Some employers may choose to continue to screen employees for Covid from 1 April 2022. If they make it a requirement they should consider paying for the tests.
The approach that employers take to testing will likely depend on the workplace environment and/or the number of vulnerable individuals employed.
What about vulnerable employees?
As restrictions are lifted, the likelihood of the spread of Covid in the workplace will undoubtedly increase. Employers should give due consideration to any employees who are clinically vulnerable (i.e. immunocompromised) and any concerns they have.
Further guidance may be published on 1 April which offers advice on ways that employers can mitigate the long-term impact of Covid on vulnerable employees. Until then, employers should consider whether it is possible for vulnerable employees to continue to work from home and/or where that is not possible, any changes to their role which may decrease their risk of contracting the virus. Employers may also want to extend this to employees who live with clinically vulnerable individuals, even though they do not directly owe such individuals a duty of care.