Removal of self-isolation requirement and support payments in England
From 24 February 2022 the legal requirement to self-isolate following a positive test for COVID-19 no longer applies in England. From the same date, there is also no longer a legal requirement for unvaccinated close contacts of a person who has tested positive for COVID-19 to self-isolate.
This follows on from previous changes withdrawing the advice to work from home where possible and withdrawing the legal requirement to wear a face covering unless exempt.
Different rules apply in Wales. Positive cases in Wales are still required to self-isolate for a minimum of five days. Fully vaccinated close contacts of persons who test positive for coronavirus no longer have to self-isolate. Unvaccinated employees may still be notified by a contact tracer that they have to self-isolate for 10 days.
What can / should employers be doing now?
Until 1 April 2022 those testing positive are still advised to stay at home. From 1 April 2022, people who have COVID-19 symptoms will be encouraged to exercise personal responsibility.
According to the latest version of the government guidance on working safely in offices and similar indoor environments (which can be found here), there are 5 main actions you can take to protect yourself, your staff and your customers during COVID-19:
- Complete a health and safety risk assessment that includes the risk from COVID-19. Also consider reasonable adjustments needed for staff and customers with disabilities.
- Provide adequate ventilation. This can be natural ventilation through opening windows, doors and vents, mechanical ventilation using fans and ducts, or a combination of both.
- Clean more often. This involves cleaning surfaces which are regularly touched and continuing to provide plenty of hand sanitiser.
- Ask people with COVID-19 or any of the main COVID-19 symptoms to stay away. Workers or customers who have any of the main symptoms of COVID-19, or a positive test result, should continue to follow the public health advice to stay at home and avoid contact with other people. If a worker is unable to work from home, you should talk to them about the options available to them. For example, they may be entitled to statutory sick pay.
- Communicate and train. Ensure everyone knows what safety measures you are taking and what their own obligations are.
Employers are best advised to be clear about what individuals with symptoms, or who have been in close contact with someone with COVID-19, should do. This does not need to be written down, but should updated from time to time to reflect changes in law and guidance and should be applied consistently across all staff.
Employees with particular vulnerabilities should be treated with particular sensitivity by employers; if necessary do seek specific advice.
Statutory Sick Pay (SSP)
The Statutory Sick Pay Rebate Scheme will close on 17 March 2022. The scheme currently allows employers with fewer than 250 employees (as at 30 November 2021) to recover up to two weeks' SSP for each employee who is off work due to COVID-19, including those in self-isolation.
Employers will no longer be able to claim back SSP for their employees’ coronavirus-related absences or self-isolation that occur after 17 March 2022, with a deadline for new claims and amending existing claims of 24 March 2022.
Employees who are self-isolating and, for that reason, are unable to work, will continue to be deemed incapable of work for SSP purposes, notwithstanding the removal of the Rebate Scheme and employers’ ability to recoup the costs of SSP.
Risk assessments in England
The Government has suggested the requirement for every employer to explicitly consider COVID-19 in their risk assessments will be removed on 1 April 2022. In practice though, it will still be a good idea to include it for some time to come.
Possible revocation of vaccination as a condition of deployment across all health and social care
The Government is considering this following its public consultation (which ended on 16 February 2022).
Currently these may be carried out over video calls, and job applicants (and existing workers) may send scanned documents or a photo of their documents to employers, rather than sending the originals. This temporary measure was originally due to end on 5 April 2022, but will now end on 30 September 2022.
How can we help?
Please get in touch with our employment lawyers if you require advice generally or help with anything relating to this topic.