*** Updated at 6 pm on 1 April 2022 following publication of the Guidance on reducing the spread of respiratory infections, including COVID-19, in the workplace.
Following the Government’s announcement in February 2022 of its Living with COVID-19 strategy, today sees the removal of the final COVID-19 measures in England including –
- Removal of free lateral flow tests for symptomatic and asymptomatic people.
- Removal of free PCR testing for all but vulnerable people and those in hospitals and high-risk settings.
- Removal of guidance on voluntary COVID-status certification and the recommendation for certain venues to use the NHS COVID pass.
- Removal of the health and safety requirement for every employer to explicitly consider COVID-19 in their risk assessments.
As promised, updated Government guidance has now been published to support the Living with COVID-19 strategy and publications released today include –
- Guidance on living safely with respiratory infections, including COVID-19
- Guidance for people with symptoms of a respiratory infections including COVID-19
- Guidance on protection for the extremely vulnerable
- Guidance for people whose immune system means they are at higher risk from COVID-19
- Guidance on managing healthcare staff with respiratory infection symptoms or a positive COVID-19 test result
Under the new guidance for non-healthcare settings, if an individual has symptoms of a respiratory infection, such as COVID-19, and has a high temperature or does not feel well enough to go to work or carry out normal activities, they are advised to try to stay at home and avoid contact with other people –
- If an individual hasn’t taken a COVID-19 test they should try to stay at home and avoid contact with other people until they no longer have a high temperature (if they had one) or until they no longer feel unwell.
- If an individual has a positive COVID-19 test they should try to stay at home and avoid contact with other people for 5 days after the day they took the test At the end of this period, if they have a high temperature or feel unwell, they should try to follow the advice to stay at home and avoid contact with other people until they feel well enough to resume normal activities and no longer have a high temperature (if they had one).
Individuals with a positive COVID-19 test and those with symptoms of respiratory illness (whether or not they have a positive test) are advised to:
- Try to work from home if they can. If they are unable to work from home, they are advised to talk to their employer about options available to them.
- Avoid close contact with anyone they know is at higher risk of becoming seriously unwell if they are infected with COVID-19 and other respiratory infections, especially those whose immune system means that they are at higher risk of serious illness, despite vaccination.
- If they leave home while they have symptoms –
- wear a face covering; and
- avoid crowded places or anywhere that is poorly ventilated.
In terms of individuals with existing health conditions –
- There is no longer separate guidance for people previously considered to be critically extremely vulnerable and they are recommended to follow the standard public health guidance.
- For those people whose immune system means they are at higher risk from COVID-19, there is separate guidance which advises that they should work from home if doing so feels right for them. If they cannot work from home, they are advised to speak to their employer about what arrangements the employer can make to reduce the individual’s risk
As regards “close contacts” there is guidance for those who live in the same household or have stayed overnight in the household of someone who has tested positive for COVID-19. They are recommended to –
- avoid contact with anyone at higher risk of becoming severely unwell if they are infected with COVID-19, especially those whose immune system means they are at higher risk of serious illness from COVID-19;
- limit close contact with other people outside their household, especially in crowded, enclosed or poorly ventilated spaces; and
- wear a face covering if they do need to have close contact with other people, or are in a crowded place.
The February 2022 announcement also included the withdrawal of the guidance on Working Safely during COVID and on 1 April 2002, this was replaced with Guidance on reducing the spread of respiratory infections, including COVID-19, in the workplace
This is light touch guidance which says –
- That employers must continue to comply with their legal obligations relating to health and safety, employment and equality duties.
- If a member of staff is unwell with respiratory symptoms, including COVID-19, the individual should follow the Guidance for people with symptoms (see above) and that their employer “in accordance with their legal obligations” may wish to consider how best to support the worker to follow this guidance as far as possible.
- That employers should take actions to reduce the spread of respiratory infections, including COVID-19. Specific reference is made to encouraging and enabling vaccination, ventilation and clean workplaces.
- Employers should consider the needs of employees who are at greater risk from COVID-19, including those whose immune system places them at higher risk of serious illness from COVID-19.
- While the requirement to explicitly to do so has been removed, employers may still choose to consider COVID-19 for the purposes of their health and safety risk assessments.
- Employers have a duty to consult with employees, or their representatives, on health and safety matters.
Implications for employers
Now that the Living with COVID-19 strategy is fully in effect, there are various related issues which businesses are likely to have to address going forward including:
- Given that the Government guidance is that individuals with symptoms of respiratory illness should try to work from home if they can, what the employer’s policy will be in relation to attendance at work/leave/pay for –
- Individuals who have symptoms of respiratory illness, but aren’t too ill to attend work.
- Individuals who test positive for COVID-19 but are asymptomatic or not too ill to attend work or who elect to self-isolate.
- Individuals who live in the same household as someone who tests positive for COVID.
- Despite the removal of the requirement for an employer to explicitly consider COVID-19 in their health and safety risk assessment, what COVID-safe measures to keep in place or implement.
- Managing the risks in relation to immunosuppressed staff members or employees who live with someone who is immunosuppressed.
- What health or vaccination information the business needs or wants and whether this can be processed lawfully under data protection laws.
Employers are recommended to consider these various workplace issues and to formulate and communicate a policy as soon as possible. It may be that different approaches are appropriate for different sections of the business, for example, where there are both office-based and production- line functions. However, what is important at this stage is to ensure that staff know what the business’s expectations of them are and that managers understand the policy so that they can respond to COVID-19 related issues as they arise.