Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on 21 February 2022, the lifting of all remaining Covid-19 restrictions in England. After two unprecedented years, such news will come as a relief to all. Such relief may be short-lived for employers, however, as many in industry argue that the stark lack of governmental regulation and guidance going forward will create a legal and health and safety limbo. In this post, we look at COVID-19 restrictions in the UK lifted – what does it mean for employers?
Living with COVID plan
The introduction of the Government’s new “Living with Covid Plan,” sees the requirement to self isolate end on 24 February 2022 as well as the testing requirements for close contacts cease. From 24 March 2022, statutory sick pay will return to normal rules, with eligibility for SSP available from the fourth day of absence. In addition, the £500 support payment for that self-isolating will also end as well as the NHS ceasing to provide free lateral flow tests. Boots are already charging £5.99 including delivery for a single test.
Without the safeguards in place that we have been used to, a mass return to work of employees will have to be managed carefully by employers to placate fears in the workforce about Covid and to manage infection levels. Without any authoritative government guidance much is going to be left to employers to use their discretion.
Secure working practices
Employers will have the knowledge of the last two years to use and build upon in order to ensure Covid-19 secure working practices. These will include things such as ensuring adequate ventilation, limiting numbers of groups, and encouraging sanitation. However, where no such laws exist employers cannot compel employees to do anything that has no legal backing. For example, they will not be able to enforce the use of masks or insist employees are vaccinated. However, Health and Safety legislation does however give employers some latitude in what they can require employees to conform to.
Safe working environments
An employer must be able to provide a safe working environment and if in the pursuit of that the employer can show that the means it requires is reasonably necessary to achieve that aim- then some practices which are no longer enshrined in law may actually be able to reasonably continue in the workplace. For example, in health care settings it may still be appropriate to enforce mask-wearing.
Of particular worry, to employers will be the end to the self-isolation rules. How will employers curb the potential for mass infection outbreaks if they have no right to stop Covid positive employees attending the workplace? This could have dramatic effects on productivity and profitability as was seen in the mass absences during the acute Omicron outbreak. Employers will have to think carefully about how they mitigate these risks, and this will require robust health and safety policies.
They may even go as far as considering contractual clauses which insist employees do not attend the workplace if Covid positive. Like with most of the pandemic much of this will be a learning exercise and employers will need to be flexible and provide dynamic responses to a changing landscape.
We hope that you have found this post on COVID-19 Restrictions in the UK lifted useful.
For support with dealing with the lifting of restrictions, drafting HR policies to protect your business, speak to a member of our Employment Law team on 02079036888 or email email@example.com