The Prime Minister has this week announced the Government’s “Living with COVID-19” plan, which involves the removal of the last remaining COVID-19 legal restrictions. The plan sets out the Government’s objective in the next phase of the COVID-19 response to manage COVID-19 like other respiratory illnesses. The first round of removals came into effect yesterday and we have summarised the details below.
From Thursday 24 February 2022:
- People who test positive for COVID-19 are no longer legally required to self-isolate. However, they are still advised to stay at home and avoid contact with others for at least 5 full days or until there have been two negative tests until 1 April 2022.
- Routine contact tracing has ended, close contacts and those under 18 are no longer required to test daily for 7 days, or self-isolate if they are unvaccinated.
- The self-isolation support payments for people on low incomes who test positive for COVID is no longer available.
- Workers are not required to tell their employers if they have coronavirus.
From 24 March 2022:
- The rules relating to Statutory Sick Pay (“SSP”) for coronavirus-related absences will end, so SSP will be payable after 3 waiting days have passed and where the individual satisfies the criteria.
From 1 April 2022:
- Free mass symptomatic and asymptomatic testing for the general public will end and will instead be targeted towards the most vulnerable.
- People with COVID symptoms will be asked to exercise personal responsibility when deciding whether to stay at home.
- Current guidance on voluntary COVID-status certification will be removed and it will no longer be recommended that certain venues use the NHS COVID Pass (although the NHS apps will continue to allow people to indicate their vaccination status for international travel).
- The requirement for every employer to explicitly consider COVID-19 in their risk assessments will be removed (with some exceptions).
- “Working Safely” guidance will be replaced by new public health guidance and guidance for the public and businesses to be consolidated in line with public health advice.
This applies to England only, restrictions remain in place in other parts of the UK.
End of the SSP Rebate Scheme
The SSP Rebate Scheme will also come to an end on 17 March 2022, with a deadline of 24 March 2022 in place to submit any final claims or amend any claims they have already submitted. Until then, claims can be made for employees who off work on or after 21 December 2021 in accordance with the rules of the scheme.
After 24 March 2022, the rules will revert to the normal SSP rules, meaning that employers will not be able to reclaim SSP for any employee absences and they should pay SSP from the fourth qualifying day of an employee’s absence.
Impact on businesses
Employers will need to consider how to approach and manage COVID-related absences and also employees who have COVID but want to come to work, particularly as legally employees no longer have to self-isolate. Government guidance should continue to be followed and employers may want to consider putting their own policies in place to deal with this.
The position for employees who have COVID and are too unwell to work will remain the same as all other sickness absences. This is different if an employee has COVID but feels well enough to work, particularly where they cannot work from home. If an employee can work from home then their pay should not be affected. Where the employee needs or wants to come to work and they are ready and willing to do so, but are prevented from doing so by their employer, then they should be paid as normal.
Flexibility will be required in applying absence management procedures in these types of situations and such procedures may have to be adapted to deal with them, such as discounting any absence ‘trigger’ levels that the business may have in place where appropriate.
Testing employees for COVID-19 may also become more difficult in the absence of free testing facilities. ACAS have produced some guidance on this which can be found here, and legal advice should be taken if employers wish to implement a policy or rules around this.
We will be discussing this in more detail as one of the 5 “hot topics” that employers need to know on Tuesday 1 March at Blackburn College and also COVID health data at our upcoming Employment Law Update Seminars. Details here.
If you have any queries regarding the change in the COVID-19 regulations and what this means for your business, require any advice on company policies or have any other queries, please contact our employment team on 01228 552600 or 01524 548494.
This alert does not provide a full statement of the law and readers are advised to take legal advice before taking any action based on the information contained herein.