Government’s ‘Living with COVID’ plan released – FAQs for employers

On Monday 21 February, the Prime Minister unveiled the government’s strategy for ‘Living with COVID’ in England. The plan will involve a move away from government restrictions to an approach based on ‘personal responsibility’, relying on vaccines and treatments as the first line of defence.

All COVID-19 restrictions will end in England from Thursday 24 February – including the legal requirement to self-isolate if testing positive – and free mass testing is slated to stop from 1 April, with only the most vulnerable having access from then on.

With the burden shifting entirely to employers on how to best manage COVID risks in the workplace, many business owners are likely to face increased legal challenges around issues such as COVID testing policies, sickness and absence management, pay during isolation as well as potential concerns from employees that the measures put in place go too far or do not go far enough.

To help you get to grips with these crucial changes, and to help you get a handle on how best to manage them in your business, our experts have put together some essential FAQs.

Timeline of changes

24 February – legal requirements relating to self-isolation and reporting the need to self-isolate to employers are scrapped. The requirement to self-isolate is replaced with government guidance that individuals who test positive for COVID should self-isolate for at least five full days and then continue to follow the guidance until they have received two negative lateral flow test results on consecutive days.

17 March – the Statutory Sick Pay Rebate Scheme closes, and employers will have until 24 March to submit claims for COVID-related absences up to 17 March.

24 March – the COVID-related amendments to the Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) regulations come to an end and employers will revert to paying SSP from the fourth qualifying day of absence.

1 April – employers will no longer need to explicitly consider COVID-19 in their risk assessments.

The government will update guidance setting out the ongoing steps that people with COVID-19 should take to be careful and considerate of others. This will be ‘similar to advice on other infectious diseases‘.

Free COVID testing will come to an end for most people.

Key questions for employers

With no concrete guidance coming from the government – and responsibility falling squarely on the shoulders of business owners – we’ve covered some of the most common questions employers are likely to be facing following this update.

Do I still need a risk assessment for COVID-19?

Yes. Although from 1 April the government will no longer legally require employers to have a COVID-titled risk assessment, in the meantime and beyond this date, the virus will still present a risk to the workplace and should be addressed and mitigated in line with the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999.

If you already have a COVID-secure risk assessment, you could review and retain this or you could include control measures relating to COVID-19 within an existing risk assessment.

In any case, we recommend you complete a risk assessment and ensure that your workers are aware of its contents.

Should I review my COVID-19 arrangements between now and April?

Yes, the pandemic has made it clear that even the best-formed plans, timelines and roadmaps can change very rapidly if infections rise, or if new variants are discovered. We recommend that you keep a watchful eye on this and regularly review your control measures to make sure you’re keeping the risk of infection as low as is reasonably practicable. This is particularly important if your business operates within a number of different UK regions as differing rules apply.

Is there any legal requirement for individuals to self-isolate after 24 February?

In England, the legal requirement to self-isolate will be removed with effect from Thursday 24 February, along with the legal obligation for individuals to tell their employers when they are required to self-isolate. However, until 1 April the government will still advise people who test positive to stay at home and self-isolate.

After that date, updated government guidance will be issued which will encourage people who have COVID symptoms to ‘exercise personal responsibility just as we encourage people who may have flu to be considerate to others.

If the government is replacing legal requirements with ‘guidance’, do employers have to follow them?

Although the government is removing legal requirements from their guidance, it’s always best practice to follow what the government recommends to avoid the risk of illness within your workplace, or any regulatory issues.

COVID-19 has presented a clear workplace risk for the past two years and it remains that way. As employers are required to assess risks and introduce control measures to mitigate that risk, the government will expect you to follow their selected controls (appropriate to your workplace) in line with your risk assessment for the workplace.

What do I need to tell my workforce?

Make sure that your employees are aware of the content of your risk assessment and have been briefed on any safe procedures or controls you’re keeping and why you’re keeping them.

You also need to make sure that they’re aware of any company requirements, such as whether you require them to report to you if they test positive for COVID and if you need them to self-isolate.

It’s a good idea to have posters up to remind people of what the rules are and what you’re expecting and monitor this to make sure that people comply where required.

What should I do if an employee who has tested positive for COVID wants to attend work?

This will certainly be a challenge for many businesses.

Employers have a duty of care to their employees to provide a safe working environment. Many individuals in the workplace may be concerned about catching COVID, particularly those who may be clinically vulnerable or who live with someone who is clinically vulnerable. By removing the legal requirements, the government is placing the responsibility on employers to implement the appropriate COVID Health & Safety measures for their business, in particular by complying with the their Working safely through COVID-19 guidance and completing risk assessments, or revisiting the risk assessments already in place.

Having reviewed your risk assessments, you should update your policies in light of those assessments. It would be helpful to remind employees that the current government guidance remains that they’re advised to self-isolate if they have a positive test. Based on your risk assessment, you may wish to go further and require employees to notify you if they test positive for COVID-19 and to self-isolate for a minimum period. This should be expressly communicated to employees so that everyone understands what is expected from them.

While government guidance still recommends isolation for positive cases, we recommend that businesses do not encourage staff in to come into work when they have tested positive for COVID-19.

So, what should I pay an individual if I have asked them to stay away from the workplace as a result of a positive COVID test?

The special provisions for COVID in the Statutory Sick Pay Regulations will remain in place until the 24 March and employers could therefore argue that until then, when they require employees to comply with government guidance to self-isolate, they will continue to receive SSP.

However, as there’s no legal requirement to isolate, employees who wish to return to work could argue that they’re entitled to full pay rather than SSP. No guidance has yet been issued by the government on this point.

From the 24 March 2022, if an employee who has COVID wants to attend their place of work and is unable to work from home, employers who require them to self-isolate would have to pay full pay for that period (this would not be the case if the employee is too ill to work in which case the usual SSP rules would apply).

I’d like my employees to carry on testing, as they have been doing throughout the pandemic to try to keep my workforce COVID free. Can I still do this?

From the 1 April the government will end free asymptomatic and symptomatic testing for the general public. The government has advised that it will work with retailers to make sure that people can buy tests after that time.

Businesses will need to consider how they approach testing when this not freely available. It may be that some businesses decide to buy test kits for their employees, but this could be costly and the requirement for continued testing would need to be documented via policy documentation and justified. There are also data protection implications to consider.

Will the Government be updating their Working safely through COVID-19 guidance?

Yes, from 1 April, the Government will replace the existing set of Working Safely guidance with new public health guidance.

How Citation can help

If you have any questions following the government’s announcement – from risk assessing for COVID to drafting testing policies – as a Citation client, you can call our 24/7 advice line on 0345 844 4848 for guidance through these new updates.

Pop in your details and we'll call you straight back

We'll get back to you as soon as we can.

Copy link
Powered by Social Snap