Sam Purvis, Managing Director at Compass Partnership, HR, employment law and learning & development specialists, provides ATF Professional with her viewpoint on what COVID safety measures employers should consider to ensure the safeguard of their employees with particular regard for those classed as clinically vulnerable.
As the government in England has announced the end of COVID restrictions, and other governments are working towards the same, employers must now consider what policies and procedures to adopt to reduce the risk to those employees who are classed as clinically vulnerable as well as avoiding pockets of sickness absence.
Undoubtedly, employers and employees alike are keen to return to a new kind of ‘normal’ and being at work with colleagues is an important aspect of employee wellbeing.
A sensible approach is to consult with staff and take on board their opinions and suggestions to ensure that all practical and responsible measures are adopted to reduce risks and absenteeism in the workplace. When deciding what rules and guidance to put in place, employers need to be led by the principles of what is fair and reasonable to ask, respecting that many people with vulnerabilities will still be very concerned about coming into places of work.
Staff who cannot work remotely and are only going to be paid SSP for absences are unlikely to declare any illnesses. This could lead to clusters of workplace infections. Individuals in England who test positive will, for now, still be advised to stay at home for at least five days. However, from 1st April, that guidance will also end, and instead, people with COVID symptoms will be asked to “exercise personal responsibility”.
Employers must still adhere to their duty of care for the health and safety of their employees and may still need to retain certain precautions in the working environment to ensure everyone feels safe and comfortable in their surroundings.
Of particular importance is the need to be clear on sickness absence and sick pay policies. If employers insist that an employee who tests positive must still remain at home, they will have to pay them in full as the legal requirement to self-isolate comes to an end.
Revisiting sickness absence policies and procedures that were in place before COVID-19 forced self-isolation upon employees who tested positive, and taking the opportunity to update them to reflect the changing needs of employees and their working environment, seems to be the approach being adopted by many organisations as the UK eases its way towards the end of the pandemic.
Legal obligations on employers
As ‘living with Covid’ becomes the norm, potentially anyone who has contracted Covid will be free to mingle unrestricted at work. The onus will be on employers to assess and manage the impact of this on their workforce and enforce their own policies.
The new position leaves several unanswered questions for employers, but businesses will need to prepare for the changes immediately.
Employers remain subject to a wide range of other laws relevant to managing Covid in the workplace, including obligations not to subject employees who raise health and safety concerns to any detriment such as disciplinary proceedings or dismissal.
As a starting point, employers could consider the following precautionary steps:
- Undertake a risk assessment to cover all areas of the workplace and particularly for those who are classed as clinically extremely vulnerable and those who are pregnant. Put in place any mitigating steps to reduce the risk to those employees who fall into these categories
- Allow employees to work from home where additional risks are identified and where a working from home arrangement is effective for all parties
- Encourage employees to get vaccinated if they haven’t already done so
- Continue to let fresh air circulate
- Ensure all health and safety precautions are followed
- Continue to provide handwashing and hand sanitising products
- Request that employees, customers, and visitors wear a face-covering where it is still mandatory to do so
- Politely request that employees, customers, and visitors wear masks in certain areas of the workplace as a precautionary and reasonable approach to minimise infection risk and avoid a spike in absenteeism, should the organisation wish to
As we learn to live with COVID, employers could encourage employees to make an informed choice if it is wise to come to work or not if they feel unwell. Or if they should stay at home on sick leave until they are recovered enough to return to work. Look at the option to work from home where possible, but only if the employee feels well enough to do so and if it is a practical alternative to attending the workplace.
With free Lateral Flow testing kits coming to an end, employers could consider buying in a supply to offer to employees who are feeling unwell or asking them to test regularly to reduce the risk of spreading any infection, particularly to protect those who are clinically vulnerable or extremely clinically vulnerable.
Governments will replace the existing set of ‘Working Safely’ guidance with new public health guidance and will consult with businesses and employers on this.
To contact Sam for more information, or to find out how The HR Toolkit can support your business, please call her on 01509 410373 or email her at email@example.com