Under new public health guidance (here), in the  UK Covid-19 is now to be treated in the same way as other respiratory infections.

Employers should be aware of the possible symptoms of respiratory infections and may wish to consider how best to encourage any member of staff with the symptoms to follow the relevant guidance, as well as determining and communicating their own policies to staff.

Symptomatic Staff

Staff members who have symptoms of a respiratory infection (including Covid-19) are encouraged to follow the government guidance (here). The guidance states, among other precautions, to try to stay at home, avoid close contact with others (particularly high risk individuals) and wear a face covering where possible.

For employers, this means symptomatic individuals should work from home where possible. If it is not possible, employers should consider asking the individual to take leave, either paid or un-paid.  With the ending of the temporary covid-related provisions for Statutory Sick Pay, employers may now need to review their policies on sickness absence pay to persuade symptomatic staff not to come into the workplace.

High risk staff

The relaxation in the Covid-19 guidance may cause concern for high risk employees, or for those who live with a high risk individual, potentially causing a reluctance to return to the work place. The government has issued guidance (here) for high risk individuals, which advises those with weakened immune systems to work from home if they feel it is right for them. If this is not possible, employers should speak to those individuals to discuss any arrangements that can be made to reduce the risk of infection.  Employers will need to consider their legal obligations under equality legislation for workers with protected characteristics, such as disability, and this may include making reasonable adjustments.

Reducing the spread in the workplace

Whilst there is no longer an explicit obligation on employers to consider Covid-19 in a risk assessment (unless they work specifically with Covid-19, such as laboratories), they can choose to do so.  Employers should, however, continue to comply with the statutory requirements for cleaning, ventilation and welfare facilities, and consult with their employees/representatives on health and safety matters.  Employers may now want to review any policies and additional measures which were brought in for working safely with coronavirus but should still be mindful of the needs of staff who are at greater risk of covid-19.  

There is no requirement to report multiple infections in the workplace. The guidance, however, states if high levels of employees experience respiratory symptoms, the actions mentioned above should be applied 'more rigorously'.  

Testing for Covid-19 is no longer freely available and employees are no longer legally obliged to tell their employer if they test positive for the virus. Employers will need to consider their own policy in relation to testing, as they may consider purchasing and distributing tests a useful precautionary measure in some circumstances.

Employers should be mindful of processing employees' data in relation to health or vaccination status. The latest guidance from the Information Commissioner's office (here) encourages employers to ensure their data processing, collection and retention is still reasonable, fair and proportionate to the current circumstances.

Michael Burns

Michael Burns

Partner, Employment
Manchester, UK

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