The end of self-isolation: a guide for employers
Almost two years after Covid-19 self-isolation rules came into force, people in England will no longer have to self-isolate if they have coronavirus. The news has had a mixed response, with some people believing that we should learn to live with it as we would any other virus, and others wondering if it’s just too soon. The end of isolation is a topic that employers and business owners, in particular, are still trying to get their heads around.
When does the requirement for self-isolation end?
As of 24th February 2022, you will not be legally required to self-isolate if you test positive for Covid-19, however, you are encouraged to stay at home and avoid contact with other people.
You will also not have to take daily lateral flow tests or be legally required to isolate if you have had contact with someone with coronavirus. During this time, free LFT and PCR tests will still be available to the public.
This guidance applies up until 1st April 2022, after which, free testing will end, unless you are considered vulnerable.
If you have Covid-19 symptoms after 1st April 2022, the Government has advised that you ‘exercise personal responsibility’ when considering whether to stay at home or limit contact with others, putting the onus very much on the individual.
Can employers make their own self-isolation rules?
As with many other elements of workplace ‘rules’ or policies, it is up to the employer or business owner to establish set practices for employees to follow which are legally compliant. This means that essentially, employers can decide to enforce their own self-isolation rules for those who test positive for Covid-19 (or suspect that they have it).
Employers have a duty to protect the health and safety of their workforce. Although it is no longer a legal requirement, employers can ask staff to self-isolate if they have coronavirus, as long as their policy is non-discriminatory, they have communicated it to staff and updated their policies to reflect that.
If an employee has Covid-19, can they still come into work?
As mentioned above, legally, an employee can come into work even if they test positive for Covid-19. However, an employee must follow their employer’s policy. If they fail to do so, they could face disciplinary action.
What if an employee doesn’t have symptoms?
Before this new Government guidance, if you had tested positive for Covid-19 but didn’t have symptoms, you were still required to isolate. This is because you still carry the risk of spreading the virus to others. Now that this rule is obsolete, technically, an employee could still come to work if they test positive but don’t have symptoms. However, an employer’s policy would still apply and override the Government’s guidance.
If you have an employment policy that states workers should self-isolate following a positive result, it is worth considering whether you will pay for tests once free testing ends. Expecting employees to prove a negative result before returning to work, and asking them to pay for these tests with their own money could prove problematic.
If workers test positive but have no symptoms then employers may still consider their duty of care to all employees and encourage home working in this case and consider other measures such as mask wearing and social distancing.
Working from home
When the pandemic first hit, many employers, on the advice of the Government, asked their workforce to work from home to limit the spread of Covid-19 and to keep everyone safe. As a result, many businesses are now well-equipped with remote working practices and employees are used to working from home. In fact, hybrid working is now a standard offering for employees in many businesses across the UK.
As a result, it is expected that many employers will ask their staff to work from home if they test positive for Covid-19, rather than come into the office. Of course, this is not possible for some businesses, especially the retail and hospitality industry. In these cases, you would presume that staff would be encouraged to stay at home if they test positive, as they would if they were suffering from any other illness.
Updating employment policies
Now is a good time for employers to review their hybrid working and sickness policies, and ensure they are relevant to this change in guidance and fit for purpose. If you are making significant changes to your policies, it is worth speaking to a specialist employment lawyer to ensure it is legally sound and robust.
How does the end of self-isolation affect sick pay?
The Statutory Sick Pay Rebate Scheme closes for coronavirus-related absences after 17th March 2022. Employers have until 24th March to submit or amend any claims.
If an employee was told to self-isolate before 24th February, when the guidance changed, you can still make a claim up to 6th April 2022.
After the SSP coronavirus scheme ends, it will be up to employers to decide on their stance, whether this is in line with their existing sickness policy or according to a new policy formed off the back of the latest change in guidance.
Get in touch with our employment law solicitors
Employers have faced a lot of significant changes in the last two years, requiring them to make difficult decisions on behalf of their workforce and introduce new policies that change the way their staff work. The next couple of months will no doubt be challenging and employers will be wondering how they can best support their staff.
If you are an employer or business owner needing advice on updating existing policies or any other employment-related matter, we are here to help. Call our employment lawyers on 0117 325 2929 or fill out our online enquiry form.