Covid-Status Certification: what is it and what could this mean?
As the Government continues to push towards greater normality, a lot of questions are now being asked about one particular issue: Covid-Status Certification.
Despite the hugely successful vaccination programme throughout the UK, the risk of new variants of the virus spreading widely remains very much a concern. With England now in stage two of its lockdown easing plans, and Wales and Scotland similarly pushing ahead with relaxations of their own restrictions, the UK Government is now considering how it will work to ensure it reaches one clear goal: never having to lockdown again.
What is Covid-Status Certification?
Whilst it has not been confirmed how this will work, the Government has provided some information. The idea would be that individuals could present a certificate that demonstrates three things in order to provide reassurance that they are at minimal risk of spreading Covid-19:
- proof of having been vaccinated
- proof of having natural immunity through previous infection, or
- proof of a recent negative test result.
The Government expects that these could be presented when there is potential for an increased number of people mixing, such as at large sporting events. They could also be used for the permissible entry to certain businesses, such as nightclubs, which are currently due to reopen in England on 21 June 2021.
Whilst Ministers accept that certification would not be needed all the time, and that it would likely only be necessary for as long as Covid-19 remains a significant threat, they conducted a ‘call for evidence’ from 15-29 March 2021 to ask for opinions on if, and how, such a provision should be implemented. The result from this ‘call for evidence’, and the government’s final decision on whether Covid-Secure Certification will be introduced, has been promised before 21 June 2021.
With the Government yet to confirm if and how they are going to approach this, and with what will no doubt be a bitter debate between MPs still to come, it does remain to be seen how employers will need to respond to this. If introduced, employers caught under this requirement may need, by law, to ensure that they are not permitting entry to anyone who does not present the relevant certification.
This also raising the burning question as to whether staff will also need to have a valid certificate in order to be permitted to attend work, and how often this would need to be renewed. Employers will have to ensure that the relevant documentation is up to date for all staff and that any employee who does not meet this requirement has a sound reason to support this. Exemptions are something that the Government will hopefully provide further clarity on.
Another key issue employers will want clarity on is whether they will be able to discipline and even dismiss staff in this situation. Would such an action fall into unfair dismissal territory and how can employers work to avoid this? Whilst one method would be to set a clear procedure in place, including how many times staff can fail to meet this requirement before further action is taken, this again brings up a number of questions surrounding fairness. However employers respond, they will need to ensure that they are consistent, non-discriminatory, listen to staff concerns, and operate within the remit of the law.