COVID – What must employers do now?
COVID restrictions have been removed altogether but COVID has not gone away. We are now in the stage we have to live with it, the same as with cold and flu of the past.
Yes, COVID is causing fewer hospitalisations and we have to get back to normal sometime. However, while some people have been asymptomatic, others had a bad illness. Some of your employees may be concerned as they are vulnerable or live with vulnerable people.
With that in mind, what are the implications for employers?
What issues are you likely to face?
In the days before COVID, if someone had a cold they would either come into work, sniffling and coughing or take the day off work, with “flu”. In my opinion, the same thing is going to happen now with COVID.
Until things really settle down, I can foresee the following being common issues:
- People coming into work ill, not wanting to lose pay, infecting those around them.
- Others refusing to work with or around them.
- Some refusing to come into the workplace as they or someone they live with is vulnerable.
- Concerns as to whether COVID is being misused as a reason to take a time off (eg if they have been declined annual leave).
- Questions about pay and isolation.
- Potential outbreaks of COVID among your team as caution naturally fades.
As employers, you have a duty of care to your employees and also need to run a business. You should therefore be thinking now what your policy is going to be.
COVID Protection measures
Employers have conducted risk assessments and put measures in place to protect their teams. These included regular testing, face masks and social distancing. Just look around, many people stopped wearing face masks weeks ago. After 1st April 2021, a charge will be introduced for tests. From that point on, it is highly unlikely that your employees will be testing.
Therefore, you should:
- Revisit your COVID risk assessment. What measures do you need to keep in place?
- Consider what you want people to do, if they have any symptoms. Can they work from home?
- Have a supply of lateral flow tests to use if someone thinks they may have COVID or comes to work ill.
- Consult with anyone who is vulnerable or particularly concerned. If they want you to, can you do anything to support them such as move them to a less populated work area or close to a window that opens?
- Keep your employees informed of your changing policies and ongoing expectations.
We have learnt a lot about controlling workplace infections over the last two years. By continuing the best of these practices, we may actually reduce absences from other common illnesses.
Throughout COVID, the self-isolation rules have caused a lot of frustration. Not only for employers, but also for employees who are paid Statutory Sick Pay only.
There is no longer a legal requirement for people to self-isolate if they test positive for COVID. That means, unless they are ill enough to be off work, some may well come in, even if they know they are positive. Medical advisors still recommend self-isolation for anyone who tests positive for COVID.
I’d strongly recommend getting ahead of this situation and deciding on your policy. For instance, will you:
- Require anyone who has a positive test to work from home or self-isolate for a period?
- Pay them Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) only or full pay for a number of days, provided they have a positive lateral flow?
- Find another way to protect others around them?
Note, staff who believe there is a “serious and imminent danger” to their health and safety can file a claim against their employer.
What do I pay them?
So far, anyone who has been required to self-isolate has been entitled to SSP from day one. Some employers have been entitled to reclaim up to 2 weeks Statutory Sick Pay. This rebate scheme will close on 17th March 2022. Claims must be submitted by 24th March 2022.
With effect from 25th March 2022, COVID absences will be treated like any other sickness absences. In other words, there will be no eligibility for SSP until day 4 of absence.
If your employee can’t work from home and presents themselves at work, but you choose to send them home, you have to pay their salary in full. This is because you are denying them work. A supply of lateral flow tests may help you decide on the best course of action.
If you have any questions regarding this, please contact me.Categories Uncategorized