A “Living with COVID-19” plan has been announced under which all legal restrictions are to be removed.
From 24 February 2022 people with Covid will no longer be legally required to self-isolate.
Whilst guidance will remain in place that those who test positive should stay at home and avoid contact with others for at least five full days it will no longer be a criminal offence if an individual does not comply.
Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) rules will also change. Employees unable to work because they are sick or self-isolating due to Covid will no longer be entitled to receive SSP from the first day of their absence. Instead the pre-pandemic SSP rules will again apply which will mean that there will normally be three-waiting days before an employee is entitled to receive payment.
The ability of the employer to recover SSP when paid to an employee absent due to Covid will also end.
In addition employees on low incomes will also no longer be able to claim self-isolation support payments of £500.
From 1 April 2022 Covid tests will no longer be free for most people.
Impact on employers
The changes remove all special treatment of Covid in comparison with other types of illness and attendance at work. The standard SSP rules will apply.
In addition from 1 April 2022 employers will no longer have to explicitly consider Covid in their health and safety risk assessments.
However this does not mean that employers have no obligations in respect of Covid concerns when carrying out a risk assessment. It is important that the general duty to provide a safe workplace is considered.
In effect the removal of the legal restrictions has placed the burden on employers to set their own rules to ensure that their business can run efficiently and safely.
Communications with staff will be important to make sure all know what steps have been taken to protect health and safety.
Guidance for workplaces in relation to ensuring risks are minimised will still need to be taken into account and measures like maintaining ventilation and regular cleaning will continue to be advised.
Employers will need to consider whether they will require employees to test given that from 1 April 2022 this will have a cost. If employees are required to do so going forwards they will need to be reimbursed.
Employees should be given guidance also on when not to attend work due to the risk that they might have Covid. This could include advising employees to remain away from work when displaying “cold-like” symptoms or where it has been confirmed household members have Covid.
Sick pay arrangements will also need to be considered. Will only SSP apply or will employees be entitled to contractual sick pay?
It also important to note that the end of all legal restrictions applies to England only. Restrictions remain in place in other parts of the UK.
Impact on on employees
Employees will no longer have to self-isolate. If feeling too unwell to work the usual sickness reporting procedures should be followed.
Where SSP only is available the first three days of absence may be unpaid.
The Government guidance does recommend that employees should not attend work if they have Covid. Where the employer has issued any policy on attending work in these circumstances it should be taken into account. Breaching the rules relating to health and safety safeguards may lead to disciplinary sanctions including dismissal.
Employees who are concerned about attending work due to the potential for an increased risk of becoming infected with Covid should discuss these concerns with their employer.
The changes in regulation might mean that employers and individuals have more choice. However it will be sensible for employers to continue to be cautious, ensure they keep employees feeling safe and have a clear policy in place regarding attendance and conduct at work.
It should also be taken into account that things might again change should a further variant of Covid threaten the NHS in the future.