The Prime Minister announced on 21 February 2022 that all coronavirus rules in England will be scrapped from 24 February, including the requirement to self-isolate if an individual tests positive. It was also announced that free PCR and lateral flow tests will generally no longer be available from 1 April 2022.

How do these changes affect employers?

It is no longer a criminal offence for someone to attend work whilst testing positive for coronavirus. Individuals are less likely to test themselves now that free testing kits are generally no longer available.

It is likely that coronavirus will increasingly be regarded in the same way as ‘flu or the common cold. Individuals are more likely to attend work whilst showing symptoms or testing positive in much the same way as they would whilst suffering from a cold. However, many individuals are, understandably, still fearful of the consequences of contracting coronavirus for themselves and others.

The changes in the legal rules raise difficult issues for employers, especially if individuals attend work with coronavirus symptoms or whilst positive for the virus.

Many employers are keen for staff to return to the office and will want to avoid staff refusing to return because they consider it unsafe to do so. A balance must be struck between living with the virus and ensuring the safety of employees.

We recommend that employers review existing policies so that they can adapt to these changes and reassure their staff.

Employers should continue to follow the Government’s guidance for working safely. This will help combat any potential claims that the working environment is unsafe.

The end of the legal obligation to self-isolate does not mean that employers cannot have their own more restrictive rules on workplace attendance if they choose. These should be included in staff policies and may provide, eg, that those who test positive or display symptoms should work from home for a period (where possible) or remain off work. The policy may also provide for those with symptoms to take a test and, if positive, to work or remain at home for a period. Employers may consider purchasing testing kits for employees who are displaying symptoms to use if they wish to take a test. It is also advisable for employers to continue to maintain rules on face coverings, handwashing and other safety measures which might reassure employees that the work environment is safe.

Coronavirus has not gone away and infection rates continue to rise. It is sensible for employers to continue to keep their employees feeling safe and to have a clear policy in place. Contact us if you require assistance in putting together a suitable policy.