Q&A: What 'living with COVID' means for your business

James Potts - Legal Services Director

March 09 2022

In England, there’ll be no more universal free testing. No more legal self-isolation. And no more contact tracing. This means the return to ordinary life for most people. But what does it mean for your business?

If you are an employer, you’ll have big decisions to make. And understandably, a lot of questions. You might wonder what rights your workers have now. Do you still need to make provisions for remote working? How do you handle COVID-positive cases?

Here’s what you need to know…

Can I still require my staff to self-isolate?

There is no longer a legal requirement for anyone to self-isolate – with or without COVID symptoms. So, if your employee tests positive for COVID-19, you have a few options.

Depending on your preference, you can ask them to:

  • Self-isolate for five days and provide full pay.
  • Work from home on full pay.
  • Do daily lateral flow tests and allow them back into work when they start testing negative. (This could be before day five).
  • Come into work regardless.

The government advises that anyone with COVID symptoms or a positive test result self-isolate for five days. But this is now guidance, rather than legislation.

So, if you want your staff to self-isolate, you’ll need to introduce a dedicated COVID policy.

Can I ask my staff to continue working with COVID?

You might have an employee who’s unwell with COVID symptoms.

If you ask staff to come into work while they’re sick, you could face a grievance or complaint.

Plus, you don’t want them to put other colleagues at risk. And you also don’t want your sick employee to struggle on the job. This is why it’s important to have a sick leave policy in place.

This means if your employee is sick and needs time off, you can require them to:

  • Give notice
  • Provide a sick note from their GP

On the other hand, you might have an employee who has COVID – but feels fine. In this case, consider whether they can work from home. This might involve redeploying them to tackle different duties.

If they can’t work remotely, you might need them to come into work. To prevent the virus from spreading, you may need to tighten your health & safety measures or adjust your employee’s role.

What if an employee comes into work with COVID?

If your employee can’t work from home – and they don’t receive sick pay – they might want to come into work.

So if you’d rather not allow your workers to bring COVID into the workplace, it’s worth rolling out enhanced sick pay. This encourages staff to stay home instead.

If you write this into contracts, you can tell your staff not to come into work if they test positive. And if they do try to come into work, it’ll be in breach of their contract. This gives you grounds to take disciplinary action if necessary.

What if my staff can’t work from home?

Your staff might not be able to do their job from home, as is the case for workers in the hospitality sector.

So, if you have a COVID-positive employee, you’ll need to decide whether you want them to come into work. If they have symptoms and you ask them to come in, consider the impact this might have on their health and other vulnerable colleagues.

You could (re)introduce COVID measures such as face masks, social distancing, and a one-way system for all your employees to follow. That offers greater protection to your staff if someone does test positive.

Do I need to adjust sick pay?

If your employee is too ill to work, they’re entitled to statutory sick pay (SSP). From March 2020, isolating employees have been able to get SSP from day one of self-isolation.  But the law around sick pay is now changing back to how it was pre-pandemic.

The government will no longer be covering ‘day one’ sick pay for isolating employees from 24th March. So if you want your staff to self-isolate, you’ll need to think about how and if you are going to financially support them.

You should review your sick pay policy and consider whether you need to revise this now.

Remember, the Coronavirus Statutory Sick Pay Rebate Scheme ends on 17th March. So, you’ll need to make sure you’ve submitted any final claims for your staff by 24th March.

Do I need to keep testing my staff?

As testing will no longer be free, the decision to keep up routine COVID testing at your workplace is down to you and your employees.

From 1st April, you’ll have to start paying for lateral flow and PCR tests unless you’re:

  • Over 75
  • Over 12 & have a weakened immune system
  • Symptomatic social care staff
  • In a select at-risk group (the criteria for which the government has yet to confirm)

With the end of free testing, it’s important to consider a testing policy.

Are you going to provide tests for your employees? If you want your workplace to keep up regular testing, it would be unreasonable to expect your staff to cover the expenses. So, you may need to cover the costs yourself.

Need a new policy? Amend your contracts with expert support

It’s a stressful time to be an employer. You might be uncertain about how to manage COVID-positive employees. You might worry about how your vulnerable staff are going to react to the news. You might need to update your health & safety policies and procedures. It’s a lot to take in.

But you don’t have to face this alone. The guidance and laws are constantly changing, and this brings new issues for you to deal with. But with Peninsula support, you have:

Not yet a Peninsula client? For unlimited HR and health & safety support, get your quote today.

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