Businesses will need a covid isolation policy to help vulnerable staff feel comfortable at work from Thursday, say experts. 

The advice comes after the Prime Minister announced this week that the legal requirement to self-isolate following a positive test ends on February 24th.

Covid provisions for Statutory Sick Pay can still be claimed for a further month.

But Boris Johnson said: “We will end routine contact tracing, and no longer ask fully vaccinated close contacts and those under 18 to test daily for seven days.”

After this time, people will be advised to stay home if they test positive until April 1st. After that, those with symptoms are being asked to ‘exercise personal responsibility’ similar to those who might have the flu.

Advice for employers

Alan Price is CEO at BrightHR. He says those who are clinically vulnerable may be concerned by the announcements, which are also complicated and confusing for employers.

He said:  “Employers will have to look closely at their H&S policies and procedures, to ensure the workplace continues to be safe from Covid; this might mean (re)introducing safety measures such as face masks, hand sanitiser, etc.”

Mr Price suggests employers create a policy or contractual isolation requirement with staff. 

He said: “Employers will also need to make decisions about pay for employees who are test positive for Covid. SSP for Covid absences has been payable from day 1 of absence throughout the pandemic. This will stay in place for the next month, before returning to pre-pandemic allowance from day 4 of illness.”

But added: “Whilst this will reduce the amount of SSP to be paid to eligible employees and standardise the payment of SSP, an impending removal of the SSP Rebate Scheme for smaller employers will mean that all employers will, once again, have to foot their entire SSP bill.

“Businesses will need a sound business case to explain very clearly why a Covid isolation policy is needed – e.g. to protect vulnerable staff/clients. The best advice I can give right now is for businesses to communicate openly and honestly with employees to allay any fears they may have.”

Legal requirements

Samantha Dickinson is a Partner at lawfirm Mayo Wynne Baxter, and says there are still legal requirements for employers to provide a safe space to work – despite the Prime Minister’s announcements.

She said: ‘businesses should not see this as a green light that allows them to insist everyone return to the office.’

Ms Dickinson said there are additional responsibilities owed to those who are disabled or have underlying health conditions, making them more susceptible to severe illness if they get Covid-19. 

She advises employers to carry out a risk assessment of their offices to identify and reduce any specific risk to infection and transmission.  

She said: “Allowing an employee to work from home – especially if they have done so successfully for the last two years or so – is bound to be viewed as a reasonable adjustment and any employer who imposes a blanket ‘office-based working only’ policy is likely to face claims of discrimination or constructive dismissal in the Employment Tribunal.” 

Ms Dickinson warns: “Tribunal risks aside, employee turnover is high at the moment and businesses wanting to attract and retain good staff will need to offer flexibility.”

Union criticises SSP removal

Dan Shears is the GMB National Health and Safety Director. He warned that the plan to remove SSP will prolong the pandemic, causing more outbreaks.

He said restoring the three day limit was an act of ‘national sabotage”

Mr Shears said: “The UK’s poverty Statutory Sick Pay rates, among the lowest in Europe, are a public health hazard as workers cannot afford to stay home when they are ill.

“The situation will be made even worse in April when SSP is cut in real terms against a backdrop of rampant inflation.

“Restoring the three day limit is an act of national self-sabotage. It’s time for wholesale reform of Statutory Sick Pay rate.”