We are only three weeks or so into January 2022 and are already seeing the continuation of a rapidly changing minefield for businesses within the UK in relation to the Covid-19 pandemic. In some areas of the UK, restrictions have been reintroduced limiting trade and creating operational difficulties. Even in areas and industries where there are no restrictions, maintaining staffing levels due to staff either having Covid-19 or having to isolate as a close-contacts is becoming a real challenge for the healthcare & transport sectors and the wider business community. 

What are the current requirements

Firstly, I am finalising this post on 17th January 2022 and so the goalposts may have moved for some or all of the UK soon after! The following is as it stands in Scotland at present:

A positive PCR or LFT result requires immediate self-isolation for a period of 10 days, from the day of the test or from the day when the symptoms started (if any). Isolation may only finish after the 10 days as long as you no longer have a fever. Isolation can finish early if:

  • You give 2 negative LFT results on 2 consecutive days from day 6 onwards, taken 24 hours apart; and
  • No longer have a fever.

Should you have symptoms, you should isolate for 10 days from the date the symptoms started and you should book a PCR test. If a positive PCR is returned, follow the above requirements.

Being identified as a close-contact of someone who gives a positive Covid result now means:

  • If you have received three doses of a registered Covid-19 vaccine and the most recent of those was longer than 14 days prior to your close-contact, provided you give negative LFT results on 7 consecutive days, you do not require to isolate.
  • If the close-contact is with someone you live with, the 14 days are counted from the day the symptoms started or the day they tested positive if they don’t have any symptoms. If you develop symptoms, you should self-isolate and book a PCR test. If this is negative, you must continue to isolate and take LFT tests for 7 days. If positive, self-isolate for 10 days from when the symptoms started.
  • If you have received less than 3 doses of the vaccine and/or your most recent dose was within 14 days of the close contact, you must book a PCR test and isolate for 10 days (regardless of the PCR result). 

What considerations does this create

These changes may be welcomed by some organisations in the sense they may serve to reduce the number of days lost to employees having to self-isolate; but they also throw up a series of considerations and complexities which we are beginning to see clients getting in touch about. Gravitate HR work with SME businesses across all industries and sectors, some of what we have been asked for HR advice on include:

  • A concern that there is the potential for abuse of sick pay provisions where falsely reported positive tests/isolation requirements are made;
  • What evidence is required/appropriate to ask for from an employee of their positive test/requirement to isolate;
  • Organisations still wishing to apply the more rigorous self-isolation requirements in place prior to the recent ‘relaxations’ to further reduce the risk of positive cases, despite the law not requiring the individual to isolate out with the above stated rules.

What should you do

There is not necessarily one correct answer for each of the above scenarios as can often be the case where Covid and employment is concerned!

Fundamentally where possible and where an employee is well enough working from home should be the default position which removes the complexity from the situation. However clearly, not all roles can be carried out from home.

With regards to false reporting from staff in order to take time off work, there is a link here with any sickness absence that may be falsely reported. The mutual trust between employer and employee will hopefully apply here and your attendance at work policy can still be applied for repeated short term absence if there is a suspicion that absence is being falsely reported, particularly where absence relating to Covid isolation may be higher than the average across the workforce.

In any case, it is reasonable for you as an employer to ask for evidence of a positive test and/or requirement to self-isolate. This may come via a screenshot of a notification from the NHS app, an official communication from Track & Trace or the employee themselves can obtain a formal notice of requirement to isolate via this link which employers can then check. The requirement for some form of evidence if you as an employer wish to ask for it, should help further reduce the number of potential sickness absence that is not genuinely required.

The point regarding asking staff to remain home for what we knew as the standard 10 days of isolation, even though this is not necessarily required provided the conditions referred to above are met, is an interesting one. In this instance, the advice provided was that again if work can be done from home, then asking the employee to remain there for the final extended part of isolation should be communicated up front and this should be considered a reasonable request.

Where employers are considering a more cautious approach to self-isolation and asking staff to remain home for the full 10 days period even if the legal requirement to end isolation has been met, then full pay should be provided for the extension if work cannot be done from home.

As this post shows, there are lots of different scenarios and considerations thrown up as Covid-19 continues to disrupt our lives, that’s without even discussing what sick pay entitlements apply and when, which would add another page or two to this post! If you have any questions or are dealing with these issues within your business and would like some support, email info@gravitatehr.co.uk or book a 15-minute call through our website.

  • Accurate 17th January 2022