Living with Covid plans announced – how will these impact employers?
The start of this week brought major announcements by both the UK and Scottish Governments
UK Government announcement
On Monday 21 February, the Prime Minister set out the UK Government’s ‘Living with Covid’ plan for England. This includes the retraction of the legal requirement to self-isolate when returning a positive result and the end of routine contract tracing, both set to end from Thursday 24 February. In place of these legal restrictions will be public health advice to still self-isolate if you have symptoms or receive a positive test result. Additionally, close contacts will no longer be required to self-test for 7 days.
On 24 March, the Covid-19 provisions relating to statutory sick pay will be removed – this means that instead of being eligible for statutory sick pay on day 1 of illness, it will revert to the standard entitlement of day 4 of illness.
From 1 April, free mass testing is also set to end in favour of targeted testing of those most clinically vulnerable. Importantly, from the same date, the UK Government will remove the health and safety requirement for every employer to explicitly consider Covid-19 in their risks assessments.
Scottish Government announcement
In close succession, the First Minister made an announcement in the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday 22 February 2022 detailing the Scottish Government’s strategic framework for the next stage in the pandemic. The First Minister detailed that vaccine passports will no longer be required in Scotland from Monday 28 February, and the legal requirement to wear face masks in certain indoor settings will end on 21 March, although it was emphasised that people would still be advised to wear masks in shops and on public transport through Government guidance.
The legal requirement for businesses and service providers to collect and retain customer details for contact tracing is also to be removed on 21 March, as is the legal requirement for businesses, places of worship and service providers to have regard to guidance on Covid, and to take practical measures set out in the guidance
At this point in time, there has not been further details on how the Scottish Government may change its advice regarding testing and further clarification on this is expected at a later date.
Both announcements this week highlight a shift from reliance on legally imposed measures to a focus more on vaccines, treatments and good public health behaviours, with guidance being given by the UK and Scottish Governments.
Whilst these are significant changes in the approach to Covid-19, employers should consider their own policies and approaches to the pandemic in the workplace, and to what extent that provision should still be made for Covid-19. For example, it is likely that – notwithstanding that the removal of the express legal duties relating specifically to Covid-19 – employers will still wish to carry out relevant risk assessments and consider Covid safety in the workplace, in line with their general health and safety obligations.
Furthermore, employers should be alive to the concerns individuals may have regarding the easing of restrictions and ensure there is an open and transparent line of communication within the business regarding changes to current Covid-19 practices.
Get in touch
If you are unsure how to navigate the next steps of the pandemic for your business, or have any other employment law issues, do not hesitate to get in touch with our Employment Team.
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