Recent relaxations to COVID-19 restrictions have led to confusion amongst some employers about what they must do – currently, outside of any remaining legal requirements, the approach of how to deal with Coronavirus is now purely a commercial decision for individual organisations to consider.
England & Northern Ireland
The legal requirement to self-isolate has been lifted in England and Northern Ireland since February 2022. It has been replaced with guidance that continues to promote staying at home and avoiding contact with other people, where possible.
Scotland is covered by different legislation, however the legal position about COVID-19 is currently much the same as England.
From March 28th, it is no longer a legal requirement to self-isolate in Wales. Face coverings are only legally required in health and care settings. Workplaces and premises open to the public must continue to do coronavirus risk assessments.
Workers travelling overseas
Travel outside of the UK for work is largely dependent on the individual rules of the destination country, as you do not currently need to take any COVID-19 tests or quarantine on arrival in the UK.
There are currently no countries on the UK’s Red List (which UK residents were being urged not to travel to), but employers should still check the local rules in any countries their employees will be travelling into, and what is required on any airlines, ferries, trains, etc. in terms of Coronavirus controls, such as mask wearing, or other safety measures being enforced.
Dealing with COVID-19 in the workplace.
An employer can only suspend an employee from work if the health and safety of the person concerned is in danger; this means that, unless there is a legal requirement to self-isolate in place for Coronavirus that applies to where those persons live / work, employers cannot prevent an employee from attending work because they know or suspect they have COVID-19.
The approach each business needs to take should be risk-based – in many cases there will be no attendance issue, as the employee will feel ill and unable to attend work; in situations where the employee feels well enough to work, employers should consider the implications to the individual, other workers, clients, sub-contractors, etc. and take all reasonable steps to mitigate risk.
The significant findings of risk assessments need to be shared with your workforce and – where applicable and practical, others who may be at risk because of the work you do; if you employ five or more persons, those findings must also be recorded in writing. Keep all risk assessments under review, as and when circumstances dictate.
COVID-19 and sick pay entitlement
Many employers may find that their staff are contacting them to state they have tested positive, are feeling unwell and will therefore be taking the decision to remain at home for a period of self-isolation. In such instances, the employee would only be entitled to sick pay in accordance with your sick pay procedures.
Other employers may be faced with the dilemma of an employee attending the workplace even though they have tested positive as they are asymptomatic or on the principal that they are fully vaccinated and so they are no longer legally required to self-isolate at home. In such circumstances, employers need to be aware that should the employee be requested to stay at home as a period of self-isolation, this will be deemed as medical suspension and the employee will usually be entitled to full pay for this period.
For employees who are unable to work from home as what may be seen as a compromising solution to the abovementioned situation; employers are now faced with having to factor in the cost implication of implementing a ‘stay at home’ COVID safe policy.
Ongoing management of COVID-19
It is still possible to catch and spread COVID-19 – even if you are fully vaccinated. After allowing for regional variations, UK guidance to managing ongoing risk from Coronavirus remains fairly consistent within the four home nations – the common steps still being promoted to reduce the risk of catching and spreading COVID-19 are;
- Get vaccinated
- Let fresh air in if meeting indoors, or meet outside if practical to do so
- Consider wearing a face covering in crowded, enclosed spaces
- Keep a 2m distance wherever practical to do so
- Wash / sanitise hands regularly and thoroughly
Keep on top of your risk assessments as a key part of dealing with the changing requirements – and ensure relevant employees are adequately equipped – in terms of information, instruction, protective equipment, and other relevant resources – to work safely wherever they may be required.
If this alert has raised additional questions – or you have a Health and Safety or Employment Law issue you would like assistance with – please do not hesitate to contact us.
For more information on upcoming dates and changes, read our blog Living with COVID, for the Government roadmap and guidance.