What does the early end of Covid-19 isolation rules mean for employers?
While this might initially be thought to signal good news, Boris Johnson’s announcement to propose ending the current isolation restrictions early by around 24th February has sparked some panic amongst employers.
When the working from home guidance was lifted lots of people were willing to return to the office in the knowledge that the risk of exposure to the virus would perhaps be minimal through the sensible use of testing and self-isolation. With these measures set to no longer apply very soon, employees risk working closely with colleagues who have the virus thereby placing their own health and others at risk.
This could now result in those previously willing employees being fearful of coming to work. The issue for employers will be how they manage such situations in the absence of any Government guidance or restrictions. Employers have a legal duty to provide a safe place of work so steps should be taken to ensure they carry out workplace-specific, Covid safe risk assessments. This may also be a sensible time to introduce a “Covid policy” outlining clear rules on when employees should and shouldn’t attend the workplace. Measures might include allowing or insisting on homeworking, providing sick pay where employees test positive but are not too ill to work, or reinforcing the wearing of face coverings.
Employers will face difficulties where the employees refuse to comply with any internal policies. Consideration could be given to whether such rule-breaking or refusal to follow management instructions provides grounds for dismissal. On the flip side of the coin, employers may encounter situations of employees refusing to attend work due to fear. Bearing in mind that employers must not dismiss employees for such refusal where they believe there is a serious and imminent danger to their health, or subject them to the detriment, this could result in tribunal claims if the employer attempts to force an employee into work.
Ultimately, employers should not adopt a blanket approach as to how they handle situations and it’s important to talk to employees and keep the lines of communication open. A policy is a good starting point but employers should be mindful of individual circumstances.
If you have any queries regarding the Covid-19 isolation rules, please do not hesitate to contact a member of the employment team at Glaisyers ETL, firstname.lastname@example.org