What do the changes mean for employers?

As part of its “Living with Covid” plan, from Thursday 24 February 2022, the Government is removing the legal requirement to self-isolate for those with Covid symptoms.  Until now anyone who has Covid symptoms and tests positive (via PCR or lateral flow) has had to self-isolate immediately for a minimum of five full days.

Can we still require employees to stay away from work if they have Covid?

The short answer is yes.  The law may have changed, but the Government guidance hasn’t.  You can still ask your employees to comply with Government guidance and stay at home if they have Covid symptoms or test positive, and to only return to work after they have received two negative test results.  Turning up to work with Covid could still therefore technically be a disciplinary offence, although without the requirement to test it could be harder to prove that someone was aware, or should have been aware, that they had Covid.

What other changes are happening?

Other changes coming in from 24 February are:

·       unvaccinated close contacts of those with Covid will no longer be required to self-isolate

·       vaccinated close contacts of those with Covid will no longer be advised to test for 7 days

·       self-isolation support payments for workers on low incomes (the £500 payments) are abolished

·       NHS test and trace which notifies contacts of those who test positive comes to an end

From 24 March 2022, those with Covid will only be eligible for sick pay from day four, in line with the usual SSP rules.  There will be no further entitlement to day one sick pay.

Consequently, from 1 April 2022, employers will no longer need to consider Covid as a separate risk when working out how to keep employees safe.  At the moment, if employers have five or more employees, they must complete a written risk assessment to:

  • identify what work activity or situations might cause transmission of coronavirus (COVID-19)
  • think about who could be at risk – this could include workers, visitors, contractors and delivery drivers
  • decide how likely it is that someone could be exposed
  • identify the controls needed to reduce the risk.

From 1 April 2022, free Covid tests will also be withdrawn, as will the recommendation to require Covid passports to attend venues and the like.

For those who still require one, here is an example of a risk assessment for an office-based business, and here is the current Government guidance on working safely during Covid.  This guidance will undoubtedly change in the coming weeks.

What about face masks?

Face masks are still recommended when mixing with people you don’t know in enclosed spaces. However, the advice on wearing face masks at work remains that precautionary use should not be encouraged unless this is in a clinical setting or a response to a suspected or confirmed case of Covid.  It is for the employer to assess the risks and determine whether face coverings are required at work.  The guidance is clear that they will usually not be.

If you have any further questions or concerns, please feel free to contact us at Harmony HR Solutions