As of today (1 April 2022), Covid-19 restrictions have come to an end in England. In the absence of government measures and support, will employers continue to manage the risk of Covid in the workplace? Bray & Bray’s Head of Employment, David McBride, explores the issue and the challenges employers may face going forward.
On 23 March 2020, the UK government placed the country in lockdown due to Covid-19. Nearly two years later, pandemic related restrictions in England have officially come to an end. The UK government has taken the view that we must now ‘live with and manage’ the risks of Covid, as set out in its ‘Living with Covid Plan.’
Just over a month after the Plan was published, instances of Covid have increased dramatically. Indeed, living and managing the risk of Covid is easier said than done. The increase in infection rates is creating a challenge for employers who must balance the end of government restrictions and support against the continued threat of illness in the workplace. The different stages in the Plan have thrown up some difficulties for employers in England when it comes to managing Covid in the workplace.
- As of 24 February 2022, anyone with Covid is no longer legally required to self-isolate. The Plan ‘recommends’ that those who do test positive should stay at home and avoid contact with other people for a period of five days.
- The self-isolation payments of £500 for those on low income have stopped.
- There is no longer a legal requirement for employees to inform their employer that they have contracted Covid.
- As of 24 March 2022, employees will no longer be entitled to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) from the first day of their absence, unless they are not well, subject to the usual SSP Rules.
- As of 1 April 2022, those with Covid symptoms will be asked to use their personal responsibility when deciding whether to stay at home.
- Testing for the general public will end.
- Employers will no longer have to consider Covid as a separate risk when assessing how to keep their employees safe.
Duty of care
Employers have a duty of care to their employees to ensure that the working environment is safe. Moving forward, employers will manage the risk of Covid differently depending on the industry they operate in and/or the size of the business. Some will adapt quite a strict approach, whereas others will be more relaxed.
The Plan does throw up several key questions and potential issues going forward, which may impact on an employer’s ability to provide a safe working environment to its employees. Some important questions being raised include:
- With the removal of free testing, will an employee whose employer’s policy is that they must take a Covid test before returning to the workplace if they have any symptoms of Covid or if a member of their household has contracted Covid be willing to pay for a test?
- Will an employee be willing to self-isolate if they have tested positive for Covid?
- How can an employer protect those at greater risk from Covid, given that there may be an unwillingness on the part of some employees to pay for testing and/or to report that they have contracted Covid, or a member of their household has contracted it?
Managing Covid going forward is going to create difficulties for some employers. It is a careful balancing act for an employer who wants to return to ‘normal.’ Normal may mean the risk of Covid spreading in the workplace. And sadly, normal may mean an employer not appropriately considering the needs of those employees at greater risk of contracting or being adversely affected by Covid.
The government may think the pandemic is over, but it remains a key concern for some employers and many employees.
Get in touch
If you would like to discuss this matter, or would like support and advice about managing the risk of Covid in the workplace, Bray & Bray’s Employment & HR team can help.
Contact us here.