The change in emphasis of the Government’s Living with Covid guidance raises many questions for employers; what does the lifting of the legal requirement to self-isolate for those who test positive for Covid-19 mean for employers? How should employers implement the guidance that those who test positive for Covid-19 should self-isolate for at least five full days? How should employers manage the risks presented by close contacts of positive cases of Covid-19, who are no longer legally required to self-isolate? What issues may arise from the fact that workers are no longer legally obliged to tell their employer when they have tested positive?; and what impact will the end of free access to testing have on workplaces?
So where does this leave employers? The changes will increase the risk of employees with Covid-19 attending the workplace, particularly when free access to testing ends. This could place vulnerable workers at risk and could even lead to an outbreak at work, leading to a drop in productivity.
If employers choose to require staff who have tested positive to stay at home and not attend the workplace during the recommended self-isolation period, they will need to clearly communicate that to employees. If an employee is not able to work from home and is otherwise willing and fit to work, they would be entitled to full pay.
Employers may also consider requiring staff to inform them if they have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive and, if so, whether the employer recommends they work from home if they are able. If they do attend work, employers should consider what steps they could take to protect staff and the public, such as requiring that individual to wear a face covering.
Employers are also encouraged to review any policy which requires employees to regularly take lateral flow device (LFD) tests. If employers want employees to continue to testing, from the 1 April, when access to free testing ends, they will need to provide and pay for LFD tests.
Careful thought also needs to be given to an employer’s policy in relation to workplace attendance if employees exhibit symptoms of COVID-19. As symptoms are similar to those of the common cold, a requirement to stay at home could be problematic.
All of the above leads to the inevitable balancing act that employers now need to make between the needs of the business and their duty to take reasonable care for the health and safety of their employees and to provide and maintain a safe place of work.
Rebecca Berry and Sarah Taylor are senior associates at Stevens & Bolton LLP