Living with Covid-19 for Employers

HR Initiatives Limited

Last remaining Covid-19 rules comes to an end.

The ‘Living with Covid-19’ Plan

The Government’s plan for “living with Covid-19” in England saw a phased removal of legal requirement and restrictions, the summary of which are as follows:

  • From 24 February 2022 individuals who test positive for Covid-19 were no longer legally required to self-isolate
  • From 24 February 2022 employees were no longer a required to inform their employers if they test positive for COVID-19
  • From 24 March 2022, the COVID-19 provisions within existing Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) regulations and Employment and Support Allowance regulations ended. In practice from 24 March, SSP was no longer payable from day 1 if individuals were unable to work because they are unwell or self-isolating due to COVID-19
  • From 1 April 2022 universal free Covid-19 testing ends in England
  • From 1 April 2022 the requirement for all employers explicitly to consider Covid-19 in their workplace risk assessments is removed
  • From 1 April 2022 The Working Safely Guidance is replaced with the new public health guidance on Living Safely with Respiratory Infections, including COVID-19.

Employer considerations for the end of statutory requirement to self-isolate due to coronavirus

Although there is no longer a separate statutory requirement to self-isolate due to coronavirus, employers should bear in mind that they have a statutory duty of care towards their staff and others in the workplace under existing health and safety legislation. Employers should still take reasonable steps to reduce the risk of transmission of infectious disease in the workplace, as they would for other viruses which create a potential hazard for human health.

Reasonable mitigation may include instructing infected or self-isolating employees to work from home where possible, or instructing the employees to stay away from their place of work until they provide acceptable evidence of a negative COVID-19 status. Employers may wish to consider paying for lateral flow test to prevent the spread of infection in the workplace now that free testing has ended.

If an employer has instructed staff to self-isolate and not attend work as a health and safety measure, where the employee is not otherwise incapacitated for work under the usual SSP rules (i.e. too unwell to work), employers may still wish to choose to pay their employees sick pay in that scenario under their own sick pay policies.

Managing employees informing employers of Covid-19 status

Though the statutory requirement to inform their employers of a positive COVID-19 status has ended, employers may, however, continue to require their employees to report a positive test. Under their own policies employers may retain this requirement so that they can assess the risk of COVID-19 transmission in the workplace and put in place any reasonable mitigations. This may include agreeing for the employee to work from home where possible, or instructing the employee to stay at home. Employers will need to make clear their requirements and expectations under an updated policy and remove any reference to the need to self-isolate where this is required by law, although it may be a reasonable management instruction to staff going forward.

How should Covid-19 testing be handled?

Following the end of free testing, it remains a voluntary decision for employers whether to run coronavirus testing programmes for their staff, or to encourage their staff to test from home before attending the workplace. Where employers continue to encourage their employees to regularly test before attending the workplace, employers should consider meeting the cost of lateral flow tests.

If, as part of a reasonable mitigation strategy, employers instruct employees to stay away from their place of work until they provide acceptable evidence of a negative COVID-19 test result using a lateral flow test, it would be reasonable for the employers to meet the cost of the lateral flow test in that scenario.

Overall, as we move into the endemic phase of Covid-19 a transitional approach is advised of up to a six months period where employees are encouraged to test where Covid-19 is suspected, and businesses cover the cost with a temporary budget for this additional cost. As we phase into the “new normal” and the impact of the removal of statutory requirements seen, it will allow scope for a long term management plan of Covid-19 in the workplace.

Final Considerations for Employers

  • Has your company Sickness and Absence Policy been review and updated in light of these change? Ensure this review takes place and communication changes to your team.
  • If not already implemented, consider putting in place a specific ‘Absences Related to Coronavirus Procedure/Policy’, where employees can find clear instructions on company policy relating to Covid-19 and what is expected of them.
  • Have you considered your homeworkers, including those who are shielding or immunocompromised, and are still unable to leave their homes or commute? Note that there are additional responsibilities owed to those who are disabled (as defined by the Equality Act 2010) and those who have underlying health conditions that make them more susceptible to severe illness if they catch the virus. Ensure you consider them in your Covid-19 strategy. Also ensure you reviewed and/or updated your Home Working, Hybrid Working and Flexible Working policies.

Next Steps

If you have any questions, or would like support with any of the above, then do get in touch with our partners HR Initiatives Limited.

Emma Williams – Managing Director, HR Initiatives Limited

HR Initiatives provides expert HR advice to SME businesses. The team of HR professionals have extensive experience in HR management and help businesses navigate a safe path through the minefield of HR.

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