Earlier this month the Prime Minister announced that the remaining Covid-19 restrictions in England would end. The Government published part of its advice for Living with Covid-19 and further advice from Public Health England for those who are infected with Covid-19 is expected to be published in April when the last of the restrictions in England will end.
The immediate changes for announced for Englad are:
From the 24th February:
- The legal requirement to self-isolate is removed and replaced with guidance. The guidance remains the same i.e. to stay at home and avoid contact with others for at least five full days. An infected person should only leave home after two negative tests on consecutive days. Infected people should also continue to avoid those who are vulnerable and special arrangements continue to take effect for those in adult social care, healthcare and prisons.
- The legal duty to inform an employer of a positive covid test has been removed. Workers are no longer required to tell their employer if they need to self-isolate although employers can still request that their employees do so.
- For those on low income, the self-isolation support payment of £500 will end.
- NHS test and trace will come to a close.
- Close contact guidance has changed and those who have had contact with someone with Covid-19 no longer need to self-isolate or test daily for seven days unless they wish to do so.
From the 24th March, the special arrangements for statutory sick pay will be removed and employees with covid will no longer be eligible for sick pay from day one. Normal rules on statutory sick pay will resume and when the small employer rebate will also end. Access to company sick pay should continue to be mindful of discrimination issues in treating vaccinated staff more favourably than unvaccinated staff.
From the 1st April, free lateral flow testing will no longer be available for most people. A small number of at risk groups most likely those aged over 80 and employees working in the social care sector will continue to be free. The requirement to explicitly deal with Covid-19 in risk assessments will end on the 1st April.
The Government has yet to update its guidance on working safely with covid and the existing “Working Safely” guidance remains in place. This has caused problems for employers as whilst there is no longer a duty to self-isolate nor inform an employer that an employee is covid positive, many employers will want to protect their workforce and business and ask employees to continue to do so. Without the guidance in place, it is difficult to enforce any requirement to self-isolate particularly if the absence will be unpaid. Employers can consider trying to enforce this by making it a disciplinary offence or misconduct to fail to notify the employer of a positive covid test. However, as it is not a legal requirement to do so, then any sanction on an employee might be regarded as harsh and lead to complaints.
Many employers are, whilst waiting for the further guidance, having to rely on the existing health and safety legislation relating to contagious diseases. Employers should continue to plan for how to deal with outbreaks or employees testing positive and have contingency plans in place to cover temporary absences of self-isolating employees.
Employers should continue to monitor Government announcements for the publication of the update on Working Safely guidance which is expected to be available in April.
For further information or assistance with employee absence or misconduct issues, contact Judith Curran on 01689 887812