With a further stage of the Covid roadmap happening as planned on 12 April, we look at the recent changes to the guidance for employers.
The overall message is that people should continue to work from home where they can, and employers continue to be advised to take “every step possible” to facilitate homeworking within their workforce. However for those who can’t work from home:-
From 1 April 2021, clinically extremely vulnerable employees in England and Wales have no longer been advised to shield, and those who have been shielding can now go to work if they cannot work from home. The expectation is that employers will explain to such employees the steps they have taken/are taking to keep employees safe at work and Government guidance suggests using OH and EAP services to support employees. For those employees who do not want to return to work, SSP will no longer be available just because someone is clinically extremely vulnerable (employees will have to be actually sick or self-isolating to qualify for SSP) but furlough may still be available.
Employers are advised to encourage a mix of home and office-based working, where full home working is not possible, and to encourage staggered start and finish times to reduce contact between employees. The guidance now also states that ventilation (mechanical, natural or both) should be used as a control measure to try and reduce the risk of aerosol transmission of Covid-19 in enclosed spaces, such as offices, alongside existing control measures.
The Government wants as many employers as possible to regularly test their employees. This may provide confidence to workers and customers, as well as help to identify positive cases and break chains of transmission. Anyone with symptoms should stay at home and order a PCR test, but with 1 in 3 people being asymptomatic then a broader testing regime will mean positive case are identified more quickly. The Government recommends that employers offer staff who are attending the office (or other sites) access to at least 2 lateral flow tests a week.
Employers had until 12 April to register to receive free lateral flow test kits for employees to be able to use. They would then have a supply of free tests until 30 June 2021, which could be used in the workplace or at home. Tests would be sent to the NHS using the address provided on the gov.uk website.
With that deadline now passed, testing programmes will be at the employer’s cost except for smaller employers (less than 50 employees) who may be able to use local authority community testing.
It goes without saying that where an employer is providing on-site testing, it needs to ensure that it is being carried out in a safe and appropriate manner with control measures in place to manage the risk of transmission of Covid-19 during the testing process. These control measures are to include social distancing, frequent cleaning, good hygiene, adequate ventilation and include an appropriate setting for individuals to wait while their test is processed. Some third party providers are in the process of seeking accreditation to be able to run testing programmes on behalf of employers.
Employers also need to be aware of the data protection issues arising from testing.
DHSC has launched a consultation on making Covid-19 vaccinations compulsory for staff working in care homes which have at least one resident over the age of 65. There would be an exception for those who are medically exempt. Those who wish to submit their views to the consultation can do so here.
Covid-19 guidance will continue to develop as we progress along the roadmap and employers are expected to keep up to date with the guidance and make the appropriate amendments to their working practices and internal policy.
For more information on the changes mentioned within this blog, please contact a member of the Employment Team.