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In this briefing, we bring you up to speed on the key issues and latest developments on working life and Covid-19.
As an overall comment, it is important to remember that, even as mandatory requirements such as mask-wearing and social distancing are relaxed, Covid-19 is still classed as a “workplace hazard”. The pandemic will remain relevant to employers’ usual obligations to:
The relaxation of restrictions also will not impact on employees’ protection from being subjected to a
for exercising their right to leave their workplace if they believe it poses a serious and imminent danger to them, or to others - including members of the public and their families.
Note that the progress of re-opening differs in each of the UK’s four jurisdictions. The Institute for Government has published a summary of the lockdown rules in each UK jurisdiction here.
A number of Employment Tribunal cases related to Covid-19 have started to come through. These rulings are not binding on other Employment Tribunals, but they do give us an indication of the likely approach that a Tribunal would take to claims brought on similar facts.
So far, Employment Tribunals have found the following.
Regulations will be introduced to make vaccination a condition of work in care homes. Whether vaccination can be made a condition for working in other sectors is an issue which has been hotly debated: you can read our ‘No jab, no job’ Q&As, here, for guidance.
Employees who have Covid-19 symptoms or have been informed that they have been a close contact of someone with Covid-19 symptoms, are required to self-isolate and are entitled to Statutory Sick Pay if they cannot work remotely.
In England, new guidelines now allow ‘critical workers’ (e.g. railway signallers and air traffic controllers) to leave self-isolation to attend work, provided they are asymptomatic: more details here.
Also in England, from 16 August 2021, ‘double-jabbed’ people and under 18s will no longer need to self-isolate if they are a close contact of someone with Coronavirus. Those who are not vaccinated will still be required to self-isolate.
Anyone who tests positive for Covid-19 will still be required to self-isolate, regardless of their vaccination status.
The government’s Working Safely During Coronavirus guidance (for England) has been updated now that workplaces in England are fully open, but employers are still required to take “sensible precautions”. The guidance echoes previous guidelines on Covid security at work. Particular points to note are:
The Department for Health and Social Care has published guidance (applicable to England) on protecting people who are clinically extremely vulnerable, including workplace guidance. The guidance is here. HSE guidance on protecting vulnerable workers is here.
The above guidance and changes apply only in England, and there is separate guidance in place in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Welsh guidance on measures to minimise the risk of exposure to Coronavirus in workplaces and premises open to the public is here.
The key changes for employers in Wales include the following.
Scottish guidance on safer work places is here.
Northern Irish guidance on Making Workplaces Safer is here and guidance in relation to vulnerable workers is here.
Acas has published guidance for employers on hybrid working: how to decide if it’s a suitable option and how to introduce it. You can read the full guidance here. Acas has also said that it expects demands for flexible working to increase as the UK comes out of the pandemic.
Note that the removal of the mandatory requirement to work from home means that you must address the question of where employees are expected to work, taking account not only of the contractual position but also any employee concerns about returning to the office.
The Furlough Scheme is currently timetabled to close on 30 September 2021. Guidance on the Scheme has now been updated to reflect the reducing government contribution to Furlough Pay.
From 1 August 2021, the government will pay 60% of wages up to a maximum cap of £1,875 for the hours an employee is on Furlough.
For claims from 1 July 2021, employers must top up employees’ wages to 80% of wages (up to £2,500) in total for hours on Furlough. The caps are applied pro rata to the hours not worked.
Contributors: Sarah Maddock and Amy Collins
This publication is intended for general guidance and represents our understanding of the relevant law and practice as at July 2021. Specific advice should be sought for specific cases. For more information see our terms & conditions.
Partner, Head of Employment Bristol
22 July 2021