The government recently announced that we are entering a new phase of the pandemic; one where we now learn to live with Covid-19. All domestic Covid-19 regulations restricting public freedoms have come to an end. We are now being encouraged to act reasonably and use our discretion. Covid as we all know has not gone away. We are now in an uncertain phase. The disease is still with us albeit less virulent but there are no hard or fast rules and regulations to provide employers with a framework to carry out their activities in a safe manner. How should employers proceed?
Health and safety must remain a priority
Covid restrictions have been replaced by public health advice from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) on continuing to work safely during Covid. The HSE no longer requires every business to consider Covid in their risk assessment or to have specific measures in place. There is a requirement to protect those who will come into contact with the virus due to their work activity.
Returning to the office
Employers should now look at what working patterns have been adopted and whether they need to change over the coming months. This might mean a phased return to the office, permanent hybrid working or an immediate full-time return to the office. Business needs, market standards and company culture will all influence that approach.
If an employee is denied the hybrid working arrangement they are looking for through informal channels then, provided they have more than six months’ service, they can submit a more formal flexible working request. Requests should be considered in accordance with the ACAS guidance and can be accepted or rejected, based on eligibility grounds or for one of eight prescribed statutory reasons.
Employers who implement permanent changes to their staffs’ working patterns need both to update their employment contracts and policies and to be confident that the home working area is fit for purpose.
Implement Covid-19 policies
Staff are no longer legally obliged to self-isolate if they have symptoms and access to free tests has come to an end. Without the right policies, this could make for a perfect storm when managing sickness absence and office attendance. Here are some factors that employers should consider when formulating those policies:
Failure to comply with a reasonable request
There then remains those employees who either refuse to take a test, or refuse to provide evidence that they have tested positive. If they refuse to take a test but are absent, without reasonable excuse, because they’re symptomatic, it’s potentially a disciplinary matter with the consequences that could follow.
Failure to provide evidence of a positive test
If they neglect to send evidence of a positive test then it’s the same as failing to provide a Fit for Work certificate. While employees can self-certify a week’s absence to maintain their qualification for statutory sick pay, consider withholding company sick pay where applicable pending the provision of a genuine picture of a positive test result.
To implement Covid-19 policies, employers should consult with employees or explain their objectives in working with covid and providing a safe working environment, and the employer might introduce consequences for failing to comply. By thinking about those consequences from the outset, employers will be able to implement effective strategies that both reflect their culture and achieve their objectives.
For more help and advice specifically in the preparation of policies or preparing employment contracts reflecting changes to operating conditions and dealing with flexible working applications contact me at https://www.