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This latest guidance is part of a range of steps taken by the government in line with their ‘Living with COVID’ strategy. Since 24 February 2022, individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19 have no longer been required to self-isolate and from 01 April 2022 free, universal lateral flow testing has no longer been available for the general public in England.

The ‘Reducing the Spread’ guidance recommends that if members of staff are unwell with symptoms of a respiratory infection, such as COVID-19, they should follow the relevant steps around self-isolation in place at the time. Currently, the guidance for people with symptoms of COVID-19 advises individuals who have tested positive for the virus to try to stay at home and avoid contact with other people for five days, although there is no longer a legal requirement to do so. Employers are then told to act in accordance with their legal obligations (see below for details of some of the most common legal obligations) and that they “may wish to consider how best to support and enable their workforce to follow this guidance as far as possible”.

COVID-19 guidance for employers in 2022

Therefore, wherever staff are otherwise fit and able to work from home when they have tested positive for COVID-19, they should be allowed to do so. If they are too unwell to work, they should take a period of sickness absence and will be paid in line with their employer’s sick pay scheme. Where staff are fit and able to work but employers ask them not to attend work due to concerns around the spread of the virus, employers will need to decide whether they should receive pay, bearing in mind that a failure to pay staff where they are otherwise fit and able to work may lead to claims of breach of contract and/or unlawful deduction from wages.

The ‘Reducing the Spread’ guidance makes suggestions to reduce the risk of transmission of respiratory infections, including COVID-19, in the workplace. These include encouraging and enabling vaccination, letting fresh air into buildings by ensuring they are well ventilated, and maintaining a clean workplace.

The requirement for employers to explicitly consider COVID-19 in health and safety risk assessments has been removed, as has the requirement to report workplace outbreaks to local public health teams. However, employers should be mindful that rates of COVID-19 cases remain high and that there are likely to be vulnerable members of staff in work who will still require some level of additional protection from the virus.

The latest guidance itself reminds employers that they must continue to comply with their legal obligations under the Health & Safety At Work Act 1974, and ensuing regulations, to take reasonable steps to prevent foreseeable harm to staff. It would be prudent, therefore, for employers to continue to factor COVID-19 into their risk assessments and put in place appropriate and proportionate measures to mitigate against the risk of the spread of the virus. For example, practising social distancing wherever possible is a cheap and effective way of achieving this. Employers may also be obliged to make certain adjustments for disabled members of staff where they are at higher risk of serious illness should they contract COVID-19, such as permitting home working.

Generally, employers should continue to act in a reasonable manner when dealing with issues related to COVID-19. Clear and effective communication, setting out what is required of staff and why, will assist in managing the situation.

The full guidance can be found here: Reducing the spread of respiratory infections, including COVID-19, in the workplace – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)

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