The Prime Minister’s announcement marks an end for COVID restrictions in England. For some, this is well-overdue, for others it’s far too soon.
Importantly, it doesn’t actually mean an end to all COVID-related restrictions in the UK. There are still some rules in place, and not everything changes on 24th February.
We’re here to break down what is ending, when it is ending, and how it will affect your business.
The legal requirement to self-isolate after a positive COVID test ends. The £500 payment to support people to self-isolate will also be removed on this date.
COVID Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) rules come to an end.
Free COVID testing will cease being available for the general public. However, some tests will remain available for older age groups and vulnerable people.
Effect on employers
End to self-isolation
What does this mean in practical terms?
It means that staff who have COVID can now legally come to work if they wish to do so. It also removes the legal requirement for individuals to tell you if they need to self-isolate. This, coupled with the removal of financial support for people who are isolating, means you may see more people at work with COVID.
In a way, the issue becomes less about health & safety, and more about presenteeism in the workplace.
While legal restrictions may come to an end, your policies and procedures won’t. Having a clear sickness absence policy will help combat those working while sick.
If you haven’t already, now might be the time to embrace hybrid or flexible working. Imagine a scenario where an employee has tested positive for COVID but is experiencing no symptoms. They may feel absolutely fine to do work, but the idea of them coming into the workplace is causing some anxiety amongst their colleagues. Having the employee work from home during this period lets the staff member continue as normal in their role while reducing the risk to others.
In some industries, however, remote working isn’t an option. Perhaps the company works with vulnerable people, or is public-facing. What do you do then?
The good news is, in health & care settings, staff will continue to receive free symptomatic testing. As this is done through work, you should be aware of when an individual tests positive. Based on this, you can make an informed decision what to do next, for example, you could:
- Require them to stay at home and maintain full pay.
- Agree a period of homeworking.
- Follow normal SSP rules for individuals who are unwell.
Whatever approach you take however, it’s still important to follow a strict sickness absence policy to ensure everyone is protected.
In retail settings, the Government is set to work with retailers across the country to allow people to buy tests if they want to. A box of seven lateral flow tests is expected to cost around £20.
End to COVID SSP
The current system allows employees to claim sick pay and Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) from the first day they take sick leave. This will return to its pre-pandemic form on March 24th. From this date staff can only claim SSP after four days off work and ESA after seven days.
Could this cause issues for your workforce?
As long as you follow the changes to SSP from the date required, there shouldn’t be any issue. If you have adjusted your policies to reflect the day-one payments, you should review and update these before the deadline to avoid any complications.
Vaccinated vs unvaccinated
Simply put, once COVID restrictions ease, employees no longer need to disclose vaccination status. There are some exceptions in certain work settings.
Firstly, it’s important that you review the risks in your workplace. A full risk assessment will highlight any potential issues, and you can then decide which measures are suitable. Should you continue to provide screen protectors? PPE? Hand sanitising stations?
This will help mitigate some of the potential risks of having unvaccinated individuals back at work.
While there are certainly health risks for allowing unvaccinated staff back into the workplace, you should tread carefully in this respect. Although vaccination isn’t currently covered by any of the protected characteristics, it hasn’t stopped many individuals from taking their employers to tribunal because of it. If you’re unsure how to manage an employee who is refusing to be vaccinated, speak to one of our HR advisors today on 01455 858 132.
Scotland, Wales & Northern Ireland
All of the rules above apply to England – but what about the rest of the UK?
In Scotland, the COVID certification scheme will end on 28th February. However, businesses can continue to use the scheme if they wish beyond this date.
From 21st March, Businesses will no longer have to follow government guidance on COVID measures. Also, masks will no longer be a legal required on public transport or in indoor venues.
Unlike England, Scotland will continue to require individuals to self-isolate if they test positive. There are no plans to change this in the near future, although future guidance will be provided in March.
In Wales, restrictions are gradually easing, but there are some measures still in place. The main restriction that will remain is face coverings in schools, shops, and hospitals.
Covid certifications are no longer a legal requirement in nightclubs. Mandatory face masks and track and trace requirements are also no longer legal requirements.
Expert support on COVID-related HR and health & safety issues
With each deadline of the restrictions easing there is the potential for HR and health & safety issues to arise. You can mitigate this risk by preparing in good time and seeking expert support.
Call a Croner consultant today for free initial advice on managing staff through each deadline on 01455 858 132.
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