The government reviewed Plan B in the first week of 2022 and confirmed its measures will remain in place until at least 26th January. We look below at some practical implications of this.
Working from home
The ongoing guidance from the government is that those employees who can work from home should do so. The difference this time around is that there is no binding legal obligation for employees to remain away from the office, it is guidance only.
The government recognises now that every situation is different, and that there may be individual issues that impact upon the decision to work in the office. In summary, it is permissible to continue allowing staff to attend the workplace, but we would advise employers to ensure that they undertake a fresh review of the business need for attendance, update the Covid risk assessment, and approach the ongoing situation in a proportionate manner, taking account of individual concerns and circumstances.
Ideally those employees who can perform their work from home should continue to do so, but with a little more flexibility this time around, taking into account the above points.
Of some limited assistance to employers is the slightly reduced self-isolation period of just seven days for employees with symptoms or who test positive, as long as they then have 2 negative lateral flow tests (LFT) and no high temperature.
The 1st LFT is to be taken on day six and, if negative, the 2nd is taken at least 24 hours later. If also negative, the self-isolation can come to an end on day seven. If the 1st test is positive, the employee will need to do further tests on subsequent days until two negative tests are produced at least 24 hours apart, or the full 10-day isolation period has expired.
There is no requirement to self-isolate for employees who are fully-vaccinated, under 18, or medically exempt from vaccination if they live in a household with someone who has tested positive. A person is considered fully-vaccinated if they have had both of the initial two doses of the vaccination; the booster is not required for this purpose.
If staff can work from home, this may generally have little practical impact for the employer. However, we would remind businesses to ensure that managers are trained not to pressurise employees to return to their home-based desks if they have tested positive and in fact feel unwell. Sickness absence procedures should be invoked in those cases.
With a view to reducing the burden upon GPs during the booster rollout, there was a sudden announcement just before Christmas that the government had temporarily increased the sickness self-certification period from 7 to 28 days. The increased period of self-certification applies to employees whose period of absence commences between 10th December 2021 and 26th January 2022 inclusive. In that scenario, an employer must permit the employee to self-certify the first 28 days and cannot require a GP fit note during that time.
Finally, of some good news to employers with less than 250 employees (on 30/11/21), was the government’s recent reintroduction of the SSP Rebate Scheme, allowing employers to receive refunds for up to two weeks’ worth of Covid-related SSP costs for each employee.