March 31, 2022

Living With COVID-19: What Is Changing in England and What Does It Mean for Employers?

On 21 February 2022, the U.K. government announced its “Living with COVID-19’” plan. This month’s U.K. Employment Law Update outlines the key changes in England and what it means for employers.

Key Changes

As of 24 February 2022:

  • Individuals no longer need to self-isolate if they test positive for COVID-19 or have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19. Those who test positive are advised to stay at home for at least five full days and minimise contact with others.
  • Staff no longer have a legal obligation to tell their employer when they are required to self-isolate.

As of March 2022:

The enhanced regulations that allow employees with COVID-19 to be eligible for Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) from day one of their absence have been removed. Instead, employees who have COVID-19 will be eligible for SSP from day four of their absence onwards, in line with other illnesses.

From 1 April 2022:

  • Free of charge testing for the general public will end and will only be available to the most vulnerable.
  • Employers will no longer be required to explicitly consider COVID-19 in their health and safety risk assessments. Instead, employers should implement safety measures which are appropriate to their circumstances.
  • New public health guidance for employers will be issued (currently awaited).

How Do These Changes Impact Employers?

The phased removal of the remaining COVID-19 measures in England indicates that the government considers the current COVID-19 threat level to be much lower. As such, employers in England may determine that the COVID-19 risks in the workplace are also lower. As a first step, employers should review their risk assessments to assess what safety measures are appropriate in light of the COVID-19 risks in their own workplace. Where employers have had stricter safety measures in place, for example requiring employees to be vaccinated as a condition of entry to the workplace, employers will need to consider whether such measures continue to be proportionate and justifiable, particularly considering the employment law risks of such measures (for example, claims of disability discrimination if a disabled employee is unable to be vaccinated because of their disability).

Additionally, as the legal requirement to self-isolate is removed, employers will need to consider implementing workplace policies requiring staff to isolate when they have tested positive for COVID-19 or are exhibiting symptoms in order to protect the wider workforce. Employers will also need to review sick pay policies and consider whether to provide additional sick pay for staff who are self-isolating due to COVID-19. Employers may also wish to consider providing lateral flow tests to employees once these tests stop being available free of charge from 1 April 2022.

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