Many British employers will not require staff who test positive for Covid-19 to isolate at home, as remaining legal restrictions are lifted today.

A poll of 250 business owners, CEOs and senior managers, by HR software provider CIPHR, found that fewer than half (48%) are planning to keep staff with Covid at home and away from the workplace. 

One in five (21%) of those surveyed are still unsure how they’ll deal with the imminent easing of self-isolation restrictions for positive or asymptomatic people.

 “It’s really interesting to see the different stance employers are taking on this one, and there are clearly several factors to consider,” said Claire Williams, chief people officer at CIPHR, “specifically the working environment and the level of risk that it presents to other employees, customers, patients, children, and so on. “

A third of employers don’t believe in isolation

 Around a third (31%) of employers openly admit that, once the legal duty to self-isolate is removed, they won’t be expecting their workers to do so. One in seven – around 15% of these – claim that they can’t afford to continue keeping their staff at home.

“In environments that are purely office-based, where a large proportion of employees will have been vaccinated, employers may take the view that employees should use their common sense and treat it like any other flu or illness,” said Ms Williams, adding,” don’t work if you are unwell, and be conscious of not coming into the office and spreading any bugs.”

According to the findings, employers with a predominantly desk-based workforce are more likely to keep their self-isolation policies in place, compared to their non-desk counterparts (58% compared to 37% who say they will continue to require staff who test positive for Covid-19 to self-isolate at home).

Ms Williams said isolation is most important for those in health and social care, where it is imperative workers are healthy and germ free in their roles: “There is certainly no right or wrong in this scenario and it has to be assessed as per any other risk that a company is presented with.”

The decision needs careful consideration

Samantha Dickinson, partner at law firm Mayo Wynne Baxter said the decision should be made by both the employer and employee: “A prudent employer will carry out a risk assessment of its offices to identify any specific risk to infection and transmission in that workspace and then take steps to reduce those risks, but employers will also need to consult with individual employees who are reluctant to return.” 

Williams adds: “The difficulties come where employers enforce self-isolation in roles that are unable to be completed from home, and how this will impact people’s pay – especially when employees may be well enough to work. 

She said: “Careful consideration will need to be given to the legalities of policies and procedures that are introduced to cater for those situations, and any impact of new policies on the wider organisation that could affect areas such as staff turnover.”

Alan Price CEO of BrightHR said employers also need to make decisions about Statutory Sick Pay (SSP). Through the pandemic, SPP for Covid absences had been payable from the first day of absence. This is being removed next month and go back to being payable from the four day of illness. 

Mr Price said: “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.”