Following the government’s recent statements, we have now moved to a new stage in the pandemic, ‘living with Covid.’ At time of writing this includes scrapping testing and isolation rules. In light of the new measures, how do business owners now manage Covid? If the legal duty to self-isolate if a person tests positive for Covid has been scrapped, what does that means for possible Covid outbreaks in the office?
From an HR perspective, I have to say that most of us in the profession are probably bracing ourselves for what feels like a potential legal minefield. According to several employment lawyers I’ve seen comment over the past few days, there are warnings that employers may face financial penalties and legal issues if they try to force Covid-positive workers to come into the office once all remaining restrictions end. In addition, employers could be taken to court should employees start blaming them for contracting Covid in the office. Another angle to consider is the potential consequences for employers who take disciplinary action or dismiss an employee for refusing to come into work, despite not being ill nor clinically vulnerable. These are just some of the dilemmas facing organisations due to the change in rules.
Employers are responsible for the health and safety of employees so there is a risk of potential action against the employer if they require employees to come into work and they suffer ill health as a result. As is often the case with employee relations, adopting a one-size-fits-all approach will be risky and organisations would be wise to consult with employees, especially those that are medically vulnerable, immune-suppressed or living with those that are.
If you don’t currently have a Covid policy and procedure in place, you may want to consider introducing guidelines and sharing your consultation and communication plans with staff. It’s always wise to be clear about rules and standards and allow time to consult and communicate these.
Taking into account the Covid risk within your sector, in your organisation and for the job roles your staff perform is key to making sure you have appropriate policies in place. As a first step, gathering staff together to discuss the recent government changes and asking for their feedback will be beneficial in terms of establishing the best policies and procedures. It’s imperative to evaluate what you need to do as a business and make your own mind up about what is safe based on feedback from your staff. Talk to your team, find out their views and together with your business needs you will hopefully be able to agree workable solutions that have employee buy-in.
By Ruth George – HR Consultant
This is not legal advice and is provided for general information only. © Ruth George HR Consulting.