Boris Johnson announced on Monday that all Covid-19 legal restrictions will come to an end in England today, meaning that individuals who test positive for Covid-19 will no longer be legally required to isolate.
Companies have been urged to keep an ‘open dialogue’ with their staff and respect any concerns there may be regarding returning to the office. It is important that employers do everything that they can to support their employee’s wellbeing and communicate fully with those who will be affected by the ‘Living with Covid’ plan.
Although the legal restrictions have been lifted, the Government has advised anyone who is suffering from Covid-19 to stay at home and isolate for a minimum of 5 days until 1st April 2022. After this, people are being asked to ‘exercise personal responsibility’.
As of today, employers will not have a legal right to ask an employee if they have Covid-19 and the employee will be under no obligation to advise the employer of their illness.
Some of our clients have asked if they need to put a policy in place that sets out the expectations regarding employees coming into the office if they have Covid-19. Unfortunately, with access to free Lateral Flow Tests due to end on 1st April 2022, it will be difficult for individuals to know whether they have Covid-19, or if they are merely suffering from a common cold. Employers may consider investing in LFTs to carry out workplace testing, but this should be approached with caution and there must be a strong business case for continuing with Covid-19 testing policies now legal restrictions are lifted.
With that in mind, we advise clients to carefully amend their current sickness/absence policies to make it clear that any person who suspects that they may have Covid-19 should minimise their contact with others, setting out the business reason for this, such as protecting the vulnerable.
We encourage our clients to allow anyone who can, to work from home if they are feeling well enough to work but suspect they may have a contagious illness, such as cold/flu like symptoms. The entitlement to SSP from day one of a Covid-related absence is also ending on 17th March 2022, so employers should make sure that employees are aware of this change.
Another consideration to make is to vulnerable employees who have successfully been working from home for the last 2 years and wish to continue to do so. Allowing this would almost certainly demonstrate a reasonable adjustment in the eyes of the law and protect companies from potential claims of discrimination under the Equality Act 2010 which protects employees who are classed as ‘disabled’ from being treated unfairly, or less favorably, due to their health condition.
Another key change to legislation is that after 1st April, employers will no longer have to specifically consider Covid-19 in their risk assessments. However, we would strongly advise employers to maintain safe working practices such as regular cleaning, providing good ventilation and access to hygiene products.
In summary, as of today, 24th February 2022:
- The legal requirement to self-isolate upon a positive test no longer applies. However, until 1 April 2022, those testing positive are advised to stay at home for five days.
- Covid SSP rules will remain in place until 17 March 2022. From that date, pre-pandemic SSP rules will apply i.e., SSP will no longer be payable from day one for Covid-related absence.
- There is no longer a legal requirement for workers to inform their employer that they have Covid.
Trust between employers and employees is always fundamental, so as always, we advise that employers are open and transparent with their employees regarding any workplace concerns.