Living with Covid in the workplace: what should employers do as restrictions lift
As the prime minister announces that from today (Monday the 19th of July) Covid-19 legal restrictions will be lifted, HR Consultant Lucy Cotterell explains what businesses should expect in the next few weeks.
What will change from the 19th of July?
- The government instruction to work from home will be lifted.
- There will be no limit on the size of groups which can meet indoors and outdoors as the 1m+ social distancing rule is abolished
- There will be no legal requirement for people to wear facemasks.
- School bubbles will end meaning that children will no longer have to self-isolate where one person in their bubble has a positive Covid-19 test result.
From the 16th of August:
It is proposed that an individual who is identified as having close contact with a positive Covid-19 case will not have to self-isolate provided they are fully vaccinated. Instead, they will be advised to take a PCR test (rather than a lateral flow test).
It will remain a legal requirement for all individuals to self-isolate for 10 days if they test positive for Covid-19.
What should employers do now?
How an employer responds to the latest announcement will need to be considered based on each employer’s own circumstances. All employers retain a duty to ensure the health and safety of their employees (and others impacted by their business) so far as reasonably practicable. Employers should continue to ensure that any measures which they do put in place do not discriminate directly or indirectly under the Equality Act 2010.
Continue to encourage vaccination take-up
The numbers being vaccinated remain high; however, it remains the case that there will be those who for various reasons choose not to be vaccinated.
While the government has committed to introducing compulsory vaccination requirements into care homes and potentially other NHS settings, there are no indications at present that this legal requirement will be expanded further.
Many employers are therefore left to consider whether it would be prudent to introduce some form of compulsory vaccination requirement. However, given the inherent legal risks and sensitivities in requiring individuals to be vaccinated, businesses should continue to consider how they can manage any risks through continued use of other measures, such as social distancing etc.
Provide reassurance to staff, visitors and other third parties
Against the backdrop of rising Covid-19 cases and with many people not being fully vaccinated until early autumn at the earliest, employees are understandably likely to be concerned as to how their employer responds to the government’s lifting of restrictions.
It is vital that employers clearly communicate with staff at the time regarding the measures being put in place or kept in place in order to protect the health and safety of everyone as we entered this new phase of unlocking.
Clear policies should also be put in place for visitors and other parties attending premises, as well as for your staff who are required to attend third party premises.
Manage individual concerns carefully and sensitively
While for most employees the measures put in place by an employer should provide sufficient comfort, there may be instances, for example where an employee has vulnerabilities, that further steps should be considered.
Employers should ensure that individual issues are considered carefully and sensitively as failing to consider individual issues could lead to claims of breach of trust and confidence and depending on the circumstances, potential discrimination claims under the Equality Act 2010
Pre-empt any practical repercussions arising from the lifting of restrictions
With cases expected to rise as restrictions are lifted, employers should anticipate increased staff sickness absence in the immediate period surrounding the removal of restrictions.
Likewise, while the relaxation of the self-isolation rules for those who are fully vaccinated will be welcomed, with many workers still unlikely to be fully vaccinated, businesses should ensure staff are clear on when they are expected to self-isolate and will they be expected to work from home during isolation or benefit from company sick pay for example.
Employers should also prepare for an increase in flexible working requests and be prepared with clear policies on how hybrid working will actually work long term. Against the backdrop of extended homeworking during the pandemic, these requests will need to be handled particularly carefully to avoid legal claims and employee relations issues.
While Boris Johnson has indicated that once restrictions are lifted it is up to individuals and businesses to work out what they want to do – what is clear is that just because all restrictions are lifted employers should not rush to remove all restrictions overnight. As we continue to live with Covid-19 and are yet to fully understand the impact of long covid businesses will undoubtedly be left with some difficult decisions to make over the coming weeks and months.
For guidance and support on reshaping your workforce as restrictions ease and we learn to live with Covid our Employment and HR team are here to help your business. Call Lucy Cotterell today on 01225 750 000 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.