Managing the workplace: Living with COVID
The government have recently announced their plan for ‘Living with Covid’ which includes a timetable for removing COVID measures within England. As of April 1st, all free Covid testing has ended which has had a ripple effect in the workplace.
The guidance that employers have been given is to ‘reduce the spread of respiratory infections, including Covid 19’, in the workplace - also introduced to aid in the continued approach to keep everyone safe from Covid are:
- Guidance for people whose immune system means they are at higher risk
- Guidance for people previously considered clinically extremely vulnerable
- Health and Safety Executive guidance, including Covid-19 advice for workplaces
- Guidance on ventilation
- Acas Covid 19 advice
The phrase ‘we need to live with Covid’ is easier said than done for employers and employees alike and moving towards a ‘should do’ instead of a ‘must do’ approach leaves a lot to interpretation.
Here is what we do know, from the 1 April rules are now stating that:
- Covid 19 tests will no longer be free except for the most vulnerable
- Covid passports will be scrapped (except for travel internationally)
- Employers will no longer have to explicitly consider Covid in their health and safety risk assessments
But what exactly does this mean for the workplace, and what exactly are the responsibilities of employers now? Let’s break it down to understand it better by answering people's most asked questions…
What if my employees test positive?
As the self-isolation laws are ending, this now puts the responsibility of managing Covid positive employees onto the business owner – this can put employers in an uncertain situation regarding sick policies. However, the government guidelines do still suggest that those who test positive should stay at home and avoid contact with others for at least five days.
Employers insisting that employees must be tested are likely to have to fund this themselves and this cost depending on the number of staff within the business could become costly, therefore suggesting either paid leave is taken for those too ill to work or the option to work from home if they are able to is recommended.
What are the Health and Safety rules?
The health and safety rules as of April 1 have been removed by the government, this, therefore, means that employers are no longer required to consider Covid-19 in their risk assessments. The recent Health and Safety Executive however recommends adequate ventilation and cleaning and hand sanitation.
Policies which employers may wish to include within their ‘Living with Covid’ policies are:
- Wearing a face mask/covering
- Avoiding crowded/enclosed/poorly ventilated spaces
- Exercising outdoors away from others
- Maintaining good hand and respiratory hygiene
It is worth mentioning also that extra care should continue to be taken for those at high risk (e.g., those with disabilities) with adjustments being made with those workers so they can work safely.
How can I plan and manage a safe workplace?
We suggest an individualistic approach is taken regarding workplace safety, in which employers should consider the emotional, physical and mental wellbeing of their workforce whilst following the Government's guidance. A duty of care to ensure the workplace is safe to work in is paramount for all employers, we have a couple of suggestions for steps to ensure a safe workplace, such as:
- Clean workplace
- Workforce management/tests/vaccinations
- PPE (face coverings)
- Improved ventilation
It is an employer’s legal duty to manage the risks to those affected by their business and the need to carry out risk assessments for health and safety to ensure everyone is protected now and in the future.
Key points for employers
The governmental advice suggested is a little lengthy but worth the read, however if you don’t have the time to read it all here are the top 5 key points we have picked out that are of particular interest:
- If a member of staff tests positive for Covid 19, they should stay at home (whether this is paid leave or working from home) for five days after the day they first tested positive and should consequently avoid meeting people of high risk for ten days after the test.
- Employees must be ‘sick’ or ‘incapable of work’ to be eligible for SSP (statutory sick pay) – this is no longer an automatic entitlement.
- Covid 19 is no longer a requirement for employers to consider as part of their statutory health and safety risk assessments.
- There are no requirements to report workplace outbreaks of Covid 19
- Free Covid testing has ended for the general public and is only free for those at risk of serious illness – these lateral flow tests are reported to be £1.99 each for the general public.
If you do want to read it, find the full ‘Living with COVID-19’ guidance here: https://bit.ly/3vIre4m
The way to ‘live with Covid’ in the workplace is through communication – communication with your staff is key!
Employees are happier when they know they are valued, supported and their well-being is prioritized by their employers.
Whilst we have collated a lot of information here to assist with the move towards living with Covid in the workplace, we understand you may have more questions.
HR:4UK are experts in helping businesses approach these situations in the right way and we highly recommend developing tailored communication and expectations around Covid – and we are at hand to help with this!
Contact us today at 01455 444222 and let’s work together to move your business forward during these challenging times.
COVID-19 Response: Living with COVID-19 - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)
Lewis Silkin - Living with Covid: what this means for the workplace
Living with Covid in the workplace – new guidance is released (farrer.co.uk)
Living with COVID-19 and managing risks in the workplace | Safety Services - UCL – University College London
‘Living with Covid’ plans: Can employers relax all workplace restrictions? | HRZone
What does ‘living with Covid’ mean for your workplace? | ArtsProfessional
Living with Covid – what does this mean for employers? (penningtonslaw.com)
Self-isolation scrapped: How will it impact small businesses? - Startups.co.uk
COVID-19: managing workplace safety | CIPD
Living with Covid. What does the future look like for England? | Conservative Home