The Government has recently published an updated strategy document entitled “Living with COVID-19”, which delves into the vaccination programme to show the rationale for the latest lifting of restrictions, all whilst “continuing to protect people most vulnerable to COVID-19 and maintaining resilience”.
Under the current plan, all remaining legal restrictions ended on 24 February 2022, including most importantly the legal requirement to self-isolate after a positive test. Employers are encouraged to familiarise themselves with the workplace guidance document, which has also been updated to reflect these changes.
The below is a brief overview of the main changes:
From 24 February 2022:
- End of legal requirement to self-isolate. The advice for those who test positive is to “stay at home and avoid contact with other people for at least 5 full days and then continue to follow the guidance until they have received 2 negative tests results on consecutive days”.
- End of routine contact tracing;
- End of self-isolation payments of £500 for those on low incomes;
- Employees are no longer required to inform their employers if they are required to self-isolate.
From 24 March 2022:
- End of the Statutory Sick Pay Rebate Scheme (expanded below).
From 1 April 2022:
- Removal of NHS COVID-pass recommendations for venues;
- End of free universal testing for the generic public;
- Removal of health and safety requirement for employers to explicitly consider COVID-19 in their risk assessments.
SSP Rebate Scheme – CLOSURE IMMINENT!
As the requirement to isolate comes to an end, as does the ability to claim sick pay in respect of enforced periods of isolation – also known as ‘SSP Rebate Scheme’ (the Scheme).
This Scheme is set to close on 17 March 2022, with employers having until 24 March 2022 to submit any new claims for absences up until the closure date, or to modify claims that have already been submitted.
As of the 24 March 2022, we are effectively reverting back to the statutory sick pay (SSP) provisions that were in force before the pandemic hit, and so employers should ensure that SSP is paid from the fourth day of sickness, rather than the first, regardless of the reasons for absence.
Should employers wish to continue to encourage self-isolation on a positive test, they may wish to ‘top-up’ SSP themselves, however they will no longer be able to reclaim this from the Scheme.
Employers should exercise caution in respect of this. There is no legal requirement for employees to inform their employer of a positive test, and therefore some difficult situations may arise when employees do not want to self-isolate. A balance will need to be struck by employers between ensuring that workplaces remain COVID-19 free, whilst considering the additional financial burden of offering any enhanced sick pay. In any event, enforcing self-isolation on employees and only providing SSP leaves employers on uncertain ground and opens up potential tribunal action. Advice should be sought as early as possible to minimise any such risks.
For more information on this or to discuss any similar issues your business is facing, please contact Burnetts Employment and HR team at email@example.com or 01228552222.