What does the lifting of Covid restrictions in England mean for employers?

The lifting of Covid restrictions in England has brought more headaches for employers as they seek to navigate the different concerns of their employees.

Graphic of the covid-19 surrounding the globe

 

From yesterday Covid restrictions in England are being dropped. The legal requirement to self isolate following a positive test ended yesterday – although guidance recommending isolating for five days is still in place until April. Other legal changes that came in yesterday include the ending of the requirement to test for seven days after coming into contact with someone who has tested positive and the ending of the £500 Test and Trace Support Payment for people on low incomes who have to self-isolate because they have tested positive and routine contact tracing. From 1st April free tests will end as will guidance on voluntary Covid-status certification for certain venues.

The result has been some confusion for employers who have to decide what they should do to balance their duty of care to employees who may have underlying health issues and be anxious and the lack of any legal justification for telling someone with Covid not to come into work. Also, do they pay for tests from 1st April? If they don’t will people continue to test if they suspect they have the virus?

Experts say employers will have to have a good business case for keeping a Covid isolation policy in place if they decide to go down that route. They could introduce a contractual isolation requirement to stop people coming into work if they are infectious, but that could be problematic.  For instance, there could be issues around pay if employees are not entitled to paid sick leave.

Good communication will be essential – spelling everything out and getting people on side in what may be tricky situations. Employers may want to keep in place things like face masks and hand sanitisers.

They will have to measure safety responsibilities against economic ones, for instance, smaller employers will no longer eligible for a Statutory Sick Pay rebate after next month. Will that make them more likely to discourage self isolation? A recent survey shows around a third of employers openly admit that they won’t be expecting their workers to isolate any more, with 15% of these saying they can’t afford to continue keeping their staff at home as they seek to recover from the pandemic.

It could be a field day for employment lawyers, given employers have basically been left to their own devices to try to navigate all the different and often competing needs of their employees. Those who have already established good communications channels with their staff and regularly engage with them and update them on changes will be in the best position to navigate the next few months.

While many people are fed up with Covid, there are many others who are still extremely anxious about it. Bringing everyone along into the next phase will entail taking responsibility, explaining the thinking around any changes and building and retaining trust – all of which are increasingly vital in a turbulent world.



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