Speaking at a Downing Street news conference yesterday (21 February 2022), Boris Johnson confirmed what he had earlier told Parliament - that all remaining Covid restrictions in law will end in England this Thursday, 24 February 2022. The government’s document titled “Covid-19 Response: Living with Covid-19” sets out a roadmap for the coming weeks, and we have set out the key provisions for employers to be aware of, as follows:
From 24 February:
- People who test positive for Covid will no longer be legally required to self-isolate but are still advised to stay at home and avoid contact with others for at least five days;
- Routine contact tracing will end, so fully-vaccinated close contacts and those under 18 will no longer be legally required to test daily for seven days;
- The £500 self-isolation support payment for people on low incomes who test positive for Covid will no longer be available; and
- Employees will no longer be under a legal obligation to tell their employers when they are required to self-isolate.
From 24 March:
Covid provisions within the Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) and Employment Support Allowance regulations will be removed. From this date, pre-pandemic SSP rules will apply meaning SSP will no longer be payable from day 1 for those who are unable to work because they are sick or self-isolating due to Covid. It will therefore revert to SSP being paid from the fourth day of sickness absence, with three unpaid waiting days. See the latest update here.
From 1 April:
- The health and safety requirement for every employer to explicitly consider Covid in their risk assessments will be removed;
- Free mass symptomatic and asymptomatic testing for the general public will end (with limited exceptions remaining for those aged 75 and over and older care home residents and those aged 12 and over who are immunosuppressed);
- People with Covid symptoms will be asked to exercise personal responsibility when deciding whether to stay at home - until then they are still advised to do so;
- Current government guidance on Covid passports will end and it will no longer recommend venues use the NHS Covid pass; and
- The existing “Working Safely” guidance will be replaced with new public health guidance.
Implications for employers
These announcements will no doubt have a profound impact on the workplace and employers will need to consider the right approach to the issues arising from the removal of restrictions for their business. We have set out below a number of current unknowns which employers will need to be aware of and consider in respect of their businesses:
- Should employees who have COVID but are asymptomatic or at least well enough to work be expected, or even permitted, to attend the workplace or otherwise work? If not, what will their pay entitlement be?
- If an employee chooses to self-isolate as a result of a positive test despite being otherwise well enough to work, should they be required to come to work (or work from home if they are able to) or offered sick pay?
- What of an employee who wishes to self-isolate and not come to work, due to a close contact (perhaps someone they live with) having tested positive?
- Despite the removal of the legal requirement for an employer to consider Covid-19 in their health and safety risk assessments, what Covid-safe measures should employers still maintain or implement, if any?
- If a requirement (such as telling your employer that you have Covid) is no longer law, is it a reasonable management instruction for an employer to operate a policy that requires the employee to still tell them?
As always, there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ answer for employers adapting their businesses to the ever-changing Covid legislation. However, employers should consider formulating a policy or formal approach for their business in light of yesterday’s announcement to outline workplace protocols for the situations contemplated above. Whilst this policy will likely evolve as we pass the 24 March and 1 April staging dates, and as the extent of the risks to employees and businesses becomes more clear in a post-restriction setting, it will nevertheless be useful for managers to have an early indication of the business’ approach so that they can respond appropriately to any new issues arising as a result of the changes in the next few weeks.
Our Employment Team has advised employers throughout the pandemic and helped a number of businesses to develop and implement the right Covid policies for their workplace. If you are an employer concerned about the lifting of restrictions, our specialist team of Employment lawyers would be happy to assist you further. Please email email@example.com or call us on 01603 281153.
Note: this article is for general information only and does not constitute legal advice. Specific legal advice should be taken in any particular circumstance.