COVID-19: Understanding the Changes

How are the restrictions changing?

On 21st February 2022, it was announced that Covid restrictions in England will progressively end between 21st February and 1st April 2022. Legislation is now being replaced with advice, and the responsibility is being placed on individuals. Therefore, many businesses are unsure how to respond to positive Covid cases within the workforce.

It is important that you are aware of the timeline of events for phasing out the Covid-19 restrictions, so we’ve pulled together a summary of significant dates and changes, which are detailed below.

Thursday 24th February:

  • There is no legal duty for anyone with COVID-19 to self-isolate. However, it is still advised that adults and children who test positive, stay at home, and avoid contact with other people for at least five full days. They must also then continue to follow the guidance until they have received two negative test results on consecutive days.
  • There is no legal duty for employees to notify their employer that they have the virus.
  • There is no requirement for any close contacts to self-isolate, whether they are fully vaccinated or not.

Thursday 17th March:

  • The Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) rebate scheme closed, so employers are no longer able to claim back SSP for coronavirus related absence or self-isolation that occurred after that date. Employers had until 24th March 2022 to submit any new claims for absence periods up to 17th March 2022, or to amend any claims they have already submitted.

Thursday 24th March:

  • The Covid-19 provisions in respect of SSP have ended. This means that employees will only receive SSP if they are ill, so it will not cover precautionary self-isolation. Furthermore, the standard waiting days now apply, so SSP will only be paid from the 4th day of absence.

Friday 1st April:

  • The general public will have to pay to take a COVID-19 test even if they have symptoms. Only those who are in the oldest age groups, the most vulnerable, or working in certain high-risk settings (e.g., care homes), will have access to free tests.
  • Covid-19 will no longer have to be explicitly considered in risk assessments, to satisfy health and safety requirements.
  • New public health guidance will replace the existing Working Safely during COVID-19 guidance.  The Prime Minister announced that, from this date, people should exercise “personal responsibility”, just as they do if they have the flu or a cold, to avoid spreading the virus to others.

So, with those changes in mind, how can you, the employer, ensure you are being reasonable to all employees and not posing any risk to the business?

The information below provides guidance on what to consider when making decisions on the continuing management of Covid-19 within your organisation.

SELF ISOLATION

  • Encourage employees to notify positive results through communications and policies.
  • Require those employees who test positive for Covid-19, to self-isolate and avoid contact with others for at least 5 full days.
  • Employees should return to work once they have tested negative on two consecutive days.
  • Homeworking should be considered for those who test positive, if they are well enough to do so, and if this can be accommodated by the Company. If not, their absence should be treated as standard sickness absence.
  • Close contacts are not required to isolate, but you can encourage that they get tested asap.
  • Failing to communicate a positive result may lead to disciplinary action, only if it is clearly communicated in your policy. Please note, this is seen as a harsher approach.

STATUTORY SICK PAY

  • Your Company Sick Pay (CSP) scheme should apply to positive cases, unless expressly excluded in the Terms of Employment. (Introducing CSP can come at a cost but may encourage employees to comply with self-isolation guidance and company requirements).

HEALTH AND SAFETY

  • It is recommended that you include Covid-19 in your risk assessments, even though it is no longer a legal requirement. This is to ensure that you are minimising health risks and reflecting your Company approach to the new guidance.
  • You should continue with ongoing practices to lessen transmission, such as good ventilation, cleaning, and sanitation in the workplace etc.

TESTING AND VACCINATIONS

  • You should still encourage employees to get the vaccine, but this is not mandatory.
  • Consider funding lateral flow tests from a private provider, as after 1st April 2022, free tests will no longer be available. (The benefit of providing tests to employees is that you will have control over the spread of the virus within your Company, reducing an outbreak and therefore mass absence. Mass absences would lead to a loss of productivity).

GUIDELINES AND POLICY

  • Provide guidance to employees – let them know the steps that they should follow when receiving a positive result.
  • Make your rules clear, including details of any action for not following these by issuing a specific policy with your requirements (please get in touch if you require such a policy).

If you have any queries related to Covid-19 in your workplace, don’t hesitate to contact the team on 01743 444 007 / 01952 981 007 or by email to admin@trianglehr.co.uk.


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