March 2022 Guidance for Managing Covid-19 in the Workplace

Since 24th February 2022, there has no longer been a legal requirement to self-isolate after testing positive, however, the guidance remains (until 1st April) to isolate for a minimum of 5 days after testing positive. Anyone who tests positive “should avoid contact with anyone in an at-risk group”.

There is now no legal requirements for individuals to tell their employers when they are required to self-isolate therefore the following considerations are under the assumption that you are aware of a positive Covid-19 case. In general, whilst the guidance remains to isolate for a minimum of 5 days businesses may want to encourage regular testing.

For clarity, from 24th March 2022 the guidance is as follows:
- Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) is not available for Covid positive asymptomatic individuals who are isolating
- From 24th March 2022 employees are only entitled to SSP due to a Covid-19 related absence if they are too unwell to work and they will only be able to receive this from the 4th working day of absence (as opposed to the 1st day). Please note company sick pay schemes may be more generous than this and should continue to be followed.

At present, from April 1st:
- The Government will no longer provide free testing for all (there will be some limited ongoing free symptomatic testing for a small number of at-risk groups and social care staff)
- The Government will update guidance for what individuals who have tested positive should do to minimise contact with others
- There is no health and safety requirement for employers to explicitly consider Covid-19 in their risk assessments

Clearly with isolation being no longer a legal requirement and SSP only being applicable from the 4th day for employees who test positive for Covid-19 (and who are too unwell to work), individuals may prefer despite guidance to be at work due to financial implications.

So, as a result of the changes on 24th March 2022 the biggest question Employers need to consider is what to do if an employee tests positive for Covid-19 but feels well enough to work whether that be as they are asymptomatic or only have mild symptoms.

The reality is that whilst we are moving towards a Living with Covid-19 plan many may already feel comfortable living with Covid-19 whilst others may still want to remain cautious. It is important to consider and respect everyone’s attitudes to ensure workplaces remain fair and inclusive for all employees.

Clearly, if the employee is able to work from home this seems to be the obvious solution, however, what about individuals who cannot work from home? And, if some of your team can and some can’t work from home how do we ensure all employees are treated fairly?

Careful thought is needed by the organisation about how to manage a Covid-19 positive individual. It is important to consider the individuals’ preferences and the preferences of their colleagues and contacts of the business.

So, let’s look at the potential options where, from 1st April, there is no longer a requirement for individuals to stay at home if they contract Covid-19 and a Covid-19 positive individual feels well enough to work but is unable to work from home:

Allow them to continue working

In this case there is obviously no requirement for SSP or company sick pay. Some considerations for this course of action are:
- How do the Team feel about this and how will this be communicated to the Team?
- Will you take any precautionary measures to reduce the risk of transmission in the workplace? This may be important to outline if other Team members have any concerns.
- How will you communicate this to stakeholders e.g., customers or suppliers? Do they need to be informed that someone in your workplace has Covid-19?
- Are you able to reasonably accommodate any issues any stakeholders may have?

Some potential risks for this cause of action may include:
- If other employees are uncomfortable working with someone who has tested positive, they may ask to take holiday or be reluctant to work and you may experience increased absence. You may also be exposed to complaints or even claims for breaching your duty to protect employees.
- If you work directly in others’ homes or work in an industry where personal hygiene is a health and safety consideration, would customers be concerned about a positive Covid-19 case?
- If Covid-19 spreads in the workplace freely there may be a higher likelihood of someone becoming too sick to work in which case they will have to take time off and receive SSP.

Of course, in many situations, customers would not be aware that someone in the workforce has Covid-19 however, you have a duty of care to keep anyone that comes into contact with your business’ operations safe.

Ask them to stay at home

As a business you are able to ask an individual to stay at home if they test positive for Covid-19. However, as SSP is no longer payable if the individual is well enough to work, if they are asked to stay at home, they will need to be paid their full pay (medical suspension).

Some considerations for this option:
- Would you require evidence of a positive Covid-19 test?
- Would the employee have any concerns about this solution?
- Is this a financially and operationally feasible option for your business?
- How do colleagues feel in the workplace?

This may not be financially feasible for your organisation but would potentially reduce the risks outlined above.

Planning your organisation’s approach

Transparency and openness at all stages of the decision-making process with all stakeholders may help maintain trust-based relationships.

Perhaps some next steps could be:
1. Send out a survey to staff to gauge an understanding of the consensus towards Covid-19 in the workplace. This could include questions about whether anyone they live with or look after may be vulnerable as well so that this can be considered.

2. Use this feedback to define your approach to Covid-19 as a business
- Do customers need to be made aware of a Covid-19 case?
- What measures can you consider putting in place to reduce transmission if you are happy for employees to continue working with Covid-19 but others in the workforce are not as comfortable?
- Could you review your company sick policy to request staff to inform managers if they are Covid-19 positive?

Each situation will be unique therefore to some degree there may need to be some flexibility in your policy to accommodate for manager’s discretion in each situation, however, it is useful to have these processes clearly outlined to ensure cases are managed fairly.

The guidance regarding Covid-19 is dynamic and therefore we endeavour to keep you up to date with any new guidance and our recommendations as this develops.

If you have any questions, please contact Tamar HR at 01579 343 700 or email us at enquiries@tamarhr.co.uk and a member of our team will be happy to help!

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