robbryanassociates

Managing Covid guidance in the workplace

In absence, business principles, covid-19, Employment law, government, health and safety on March 21, 2022 at 11:46 am

The government has removed the legally mandatory requirement for people in England with Covid to self-isolate. The legislation was removed with guidance taking its place from 24 February.

Following this announcement rates of infection across the whole of the UK have dramatically risen. For employers, working with guidance is potentially more difficult. Many questions arise in relation to how a business can protect itself, how to manage sickness absence and related pay, what testing should take place and how risks should be managed.

Not all workplaces are the same. Employers are advised to consider their own risk assessments, and this will mean assessing the spread of a contagious disease, the dangers arising and the potential consequence for anyone exposed to the risk, such as employees, customers or contractors. Although the word advised is used, all employers have legal obligations to carry out risk assessment in relation to all of their business activities. Specific separate guidance applies to employers in health care settings.

Guidance (see link to Gov.uk)

Guidance in relation to self-isolation for the first 5 days states that employees should remain away from work. The guidance also advocates testing and managing the risk of returning to the workplace from days 5 to 10.

Sick Pay

On 24 March, entitlement to statutory sick pay will revert to the pre-pandemic rules. This means statutory sick pay is payable on day 4 of absence and will require an employee to actually be sick or incapacitated from work, rather than “affected by Covid”. So SSP will no longer cover for isolation in the home for looking after someone who is isolating.

Testing

Without a regime of free testing, identifying sources of potential infection will rely on self-reported symptoms. For some there are no symptoms. For any business identifying a critical need for preventing workplace contagion, testing will need to continue. From 1 April free tests are expected to be withdrawn.

The combination of removing an incentive to remain away from the workplace and the means of identifying potential spread makes managing this situation harder. For businesses impact assessments highlighting critical delivery of services, general workplace safety or the protection of vulnerable people, management of this issue will be of vital importance.

Where a business can justify testing and the enforcement of isolation, nothing in the government’s announcement changes or interferes with the employer’s ability to manage its workplace and workforce. Mandatory testing for employees may be justified and indeed essential. Some employers are contemplating amendments to their sickness and absence policies to pay sick pay in support of effectively monitoring and managing the business risks.

Special situations

Some employees will have concerns for their personal welfare. This may be an underlying medical condition, a fear of working in close proximity to others, travelling in crowded spaces and perhaps concerns of passing Covid to other vulnerable members of their family or household. The government’s announcement, together with “living with Covid” and returning to normal, will have an adverse impact on some employees. The ongoing advice for employers remains discussing specific arrangements with individuals and identifying, where possible, practical alternatives to office space working or rush-hour travelling.

In summary we suggest:

1. Making an updated and current assessment of COVID infection risk within your workplace activities and those people impacted by your work

2. Communicate the measures you have and are going to put in place along with any options for alternative working arrangements, potentially with a review date

3. Consider how COVID-related sickness absence will be treated together with any company sick pay support and options for alternative working and communicate

*the changes from 24 March do not affect Wales or Scotland, you may have to consider separate approaches across your business in these areas.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: