The Government's 'Living with COVID-19' plan in England raises the following immediate implications for employers.
The end of self-isolation restrictions
From Thursday 24 February, the legal requirement to self-isolate following a positive test result will become recommended guidance only. Related self-isolation/testing requirements for close contacts will also be removed on that date. From 1 April, the guidance will change again, with people expected to take personal responsibility for deciding whether they should self-isolate.
The removal of these legal requirements doesn't prevent employers taking a more measured approach to easing existing workplace self-isolation arrangements. Employers may therefore choose to continue with a more rigorous self-isolation regime. An employer's decision as to whether, and if so, when to ease workplace self-isolation requirements will be informed by its ongoing health and safety assessments (see below). General access to free COVID-19 tests will end from 1 April, so employers who require staff to test for COVID-19 will need to take into account the cost of purchasing such tests from that date.
Maintaining a COVID-19 secure workplace
The Government is removing the health and safety requirement for employers to explicitly consider COVID-19 in their risk assessments from 1 April. Despite this, employers will still need to manage the risks of COVID-19 transmission and infection as part of their general health & safety obligations. Employers should therefore keep their current health and safety risk assessments under review, taking into account updates to Government and HSE guidance. Employers will want to continue to bear in mind the need for safer behaviours to reduce the risk of infection for vulnerable workers, who remain at higher risk if they catch COVID-19.
End of Statutory Sick Pay eligibility extension
From 24 March, the provisions extending entitlement to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) for COVID-19 related absence in circumstances where a worker wouldn't ordinarily qualify for SSP will be removed. Entitlement to SSP from day 1 of COVID-19 related absence will also be removed - the usual 3 qualifying days waiting period will be reinstated. Employers will want to bear in mind the impact of this loss of SSP entitlement in certain circumstances, for example where an employer pays sick pay to a worker who can't work from home but who the employer requires to self-isolate, even though they are asymptomatic.
If you would like more information on how best to manage COVID-19 workplace issues, please get in touch with your usual Mishcon de Reya contact or with a member of our Employment team.