• Michael Dobson

" Living with COVID " at work (A HR Consultant's perspective)

Following yesterday’s announcement that the government’s plan b restrictions are set to come to an end from 26/01/2022, we have taken a look at some of the implications from an HR Consultant’s perspective for small businesses.

Firstly, what are the current Plan B rules in place?

These were issued via Government Guidance on 08 December 2022. They consisted of three key areas:

  • Compulsory face coverings in most indoor public places

  • Advice to work from home where possible

  • Mandatory Covid passes for entry into nightclubs and significant events (e.g. football matches)

The government announced a Covid update yesterday afternoon; it should be noted as with most COVID updates, these changes apply in England only. Sapphire HR has HR Consultant’s who can provide expert advice on matters related to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. However, we are focussing on changes within England only for this blog.

The following changes were announced:

  • Guidance to work from home wherever possible was to end with immediate effect (19/01/2022).

  • From 27 January 2022, the legal requirement to wear a mask in public places will be removed,

  • Also, from 27 January 2022, the use of Covid passes will no longer be mandatory.

  • The government confirmed that a long-term strategy on living with Covid within the UK, will be set out in the coming weeks.

Are any Plan B measures staying?

There will still be a legal requirement to self-isolate if you test positive for Covid.

Self-isolation rules are due to expire on 24 March 2022 – the government doesn’t expect to renew these, and the government may bring the expiry date forward if the data supports this.

What does this mean for employers right now?

  • Employers should update their employees and prepare their workforce for their return.

  • Employers should complete a risk assessment to ensure all necessary Covid-secure measures are in place – e.g. one-way systems, hand sanitisers, screens/barriers, regular cleaning, social distancing, mask-wearing reminders etc.

  • Many employers will have already gone through the process (sometimes multiple times) of sending staff home then welcoming them back to the workplace.

  • Where employers have already completed such processes, it may be helpful to assess what worked well and what didn’t previously. Reflective exercises can ensure adequate measures are put in place this time round to succeed in the return.

  • Employers should have supportive conversations with employees who are hesitant about returning to the office.

  • Reasonable adjustments (e.g. temporary hybrid arrangements to phase return to full-time office working) can go a long way in ensuring employees feel comfortable and supported. Should you require support with this, it is essential to take professional advice from a specialist HR Consultant.

  • Where employees unreasonably refuse to return to the workplace, employers may treat this as a failure to follow reasonable management instructions and manage it as a normal conduct issue. Still, they should first adopt a supportive tone to see what is causing the hesitancy and if there is a way the employee and employer can work together to reach a beneficial conclusion. Should an employer wish to take this approach, professional advice taken from an HR Consultant before doing so would minimise the risk of any claims.

  • In considering the above, employers should remain wary of the implications of Section 44 of the Employment Rights Act. If any employee raises concerns that they reasonably believe they may be at risk of imminent danger from COVID, then consult an HR Consultant before proceeding.

In summary and perhaps, said very cautiously, it appears that the restrictions placed upon small business for the vast majority of two years may now begin to be replaced by guidance. As always, we will continue to look forward to the guidance on living with COVID. However, perhaps reassuringly both for small businesses and us as HR Consultants, we appear to be moving away from reactive changes due to COVID-19. The approach from now on will be one where we have time to plan for employment changes as we continue throughout 2022.

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