Living with COVID – what are the employment implications?
On 21 February, the Prime Minister set out the Government’s strategy for living with COVID-19 in England. Further detail of the strategy is set out in the ‘COVID-19 Response: Living with COVID-19’ guidance. The first principle of the strategy is removing all remaining legal restrictions, which the Government states is possible partly because of the success of the vaccination programme.
From 24 February 2022 – key principles for living with COVID
- The legal requirement to self-isolate following a positive test will end.
- Until 1 April, individuals who test positive will still be advised to stay at home. After 5 days, they may choose to take a LFD test followed by another the next day. Those who test negative and who do not have a temperature can return to their normal routine. Those who test positive should avoid contact with anyone in an at risk group.
- Fully vaccinated close contacts and those under 18 will no longer be asked to test daily for seven days.
- There will be no legal obligation for close contacts who are not fully vaccinated to self-isolate.
- Routine contact tracing will end. Those testing positive for COVID-19 will be encouraged to inform their close contacts. Guidance will set out precautions that contacts can take to reduce risk to themselves and others.
- Workers will not be legally obliged to tell their employers when they are required to self-isolate. Employers and workers should follow Government guidance for those with COVID-19.
From 24 March – key principles for living with COVID
- COVID provisions for claiming Statutory Sick Pay will remain in force for a further month. From 24 March, SSP will no longer be available from day one of Coronavirus related sickness. People with COVID-19 may still be eligible for SSP, subject to the normal conditions of entitlement.
From 1 April 2022 – key principles for living with COVID
- The Government will remove the health and safety requirement for every employer to explicitly consider COVID-19 in their risk assessments. “The intention is to empower businesses to take responsibility for implementing mitigations that are appropriate for their circumstances.”
- The Working Safely guidance will be replaced with new public health guidance.
- People with Covid symptoms will be encouraged to exercise personal responsibility. The Government will update guidance setting out the ongoing steps that people with COVID-19 should take to minimise contact with other people.
- Free symptomatic and asymptomatic testing for the general public will end. Free symptomatic tests will continue to be provided for a small number of at-risk groups. Further details will be set out on which groups will be eligible.
As noted in the announcement, “this virus has not gone away”. However, focus is now moving away from Government restrictions to personal responsibility.
Employers should ensure that they continue to keep up to date with evolving Government guidance and take this into account as appropriate. However, it is important to remember that Government guidance does not supersede employers’ existing legal obligations relating to health and safety or equality. Health and Safety risk assessments will continue to be an important tool in managing a safe system of work. As the guidance notes, employers “should continue to consider the needs of employees at greater risk from COVID-19”.
Communication with employees about steps that are being taken by the business will also be key. It is possible that employees may have concerns about the lifting of restrictions. Employers should continue to assess, review and implement measures that are reasonably practicable to keep the workplace safe, and to communicate those measures.
Employers are likely to be considering a number of issues as part of their preparation for the lifting of restrictions. For example, will employees be asked or allowed to work from home? Will they be encouraged to continue testing (and if so, what are the cost implications)? Will they be asked to stay away from work if they have COVID symptoms? Employers should ensure that policies setting out expectations of employees are clearly communicated and kept under regular review.
24 February 2022
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