Post Covid Where do Employers Stand…
Post covid many employers are asking where they stand in the wake Of the self-isolation period ending and how this affects their current contracts and policies.
On 24th February 2022 England started “living with and managing” the risk of Covid-19, following the Government’s announcement in February. One of the biggest changes was that the period of self-isolation that was previously required was removed.
This was not the only change. On 1st April 2022 free Covid-19 testing, such as PCR and Lateral Flow tests, stopped being offered by the Government, apart from to people in an at-risk group. The Government also stopped refunding statutory sick pay (SSP) for Covid-19 related absences, as well as ending “day 1” SSP on 24th March 2022.
What does this mean to you?
Whilst England has removed its measures, you still have a duty of care to your staff as an employer post covid. This applies throughout the UK. As such you do need to take steps to reasonably manage the risk of Covid-19 to your staff and have particular care for any vulnerable staff you have. We would therefore recommend carrying out an up-to-date risk assessment and reviewing your policies and procedures. As a business, you may:
- wish to advise staff to wear masks in lifts, bathrooms, or client areas etc.;
- wish to ask staff to work from home or self-certify their sickness if they have cold-like symptoms;
- require staff to self-isolate or offer free testing. If you do this, you will need to make clear what you will be paying to staff during that time. However, practically speaking, employees may not want to test if the free testing is no longer available and the requirement to self-isolate has ended;
- wish to speak to staff to understand their concerns;
- take a view that home or flexible working is no longer appropriate for the employee’s role and that staff should return to the office. Whilst a refusal to return by the employee, could be a dismissible offence, caution should be exercised here, as there may be a risk of discrimination, so seek advice on a case by case basis;
- see an increase in flexible working requests;
- wish to keep a record of employee’s vaccination statuses or whether they’ve had Covid-19 and when. However, you will need a legitimate interest to do this, unless you have the employee’s express consent to hold and process that personal data. As such, you will need to look at updating your GDPR policies and carefully consider the commercial reasons for wanting to gather this data.
As Boris Johnson said, individuals will need to take “personal responsibility.” Managing absence will continue under your existing absence management policy, but the important thing is that you assess the risk to your own staff, clients and businesses and set this out clearly in your policies. Taking legal advice on those policies and procedures to ensure compliance with employment law, particularly in relation to discrimination and health and safety issues, is strongly advised.
Updating Staff Contracts and Polices
Given the evolution of how the workplace operates in the wake of Covid-19, it is important to make sure that all contracts and policies are up-to-date.
What does this mean to you?
Contracts are the tool employers use and rely on to set out how the employment relationship will work. For example. they set out working times and places of work, which may be something that has changed since pre-pandemic times. You may also offer different benefits or staff incentives. Furthermore, s. 1 Employment Rights Act 1996 changed the minimum requirement for a contract of employment on 6th April 2020 and contracts for new starters should comply with this. As such, now is a good time to review your contracts.
As outlined in “managing sickness above”, new policies may need to be implemented, or existing policies may need to be reviewed. It is good practice to review your polices on an annual basis. Policies, assuming they’re not contractual, do not require employee approval and should therefore be easy to update.
If you would like advice or guidance post covid in regard to your company’s policies and procedures…Talk to Tollers on 01604 258558. Our experience Employment and HR law team is on hand to assist you with all you need to know. We’re here for you.