Last reviewed 4 March 2022

The risks from Covid-19 are still very much present in the workplace and it is important to remember that employers have a duty of care towards their employees to protect the health and safety of their workforce. This information is being continually checked and updated.

Coronavirus (Covid-19)

The World Health Organization (WHO) explains that coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome). This particular episode has been named “Covid-19” and appeared in December 2019 in Wuhan, China.

The symptoms

The symptoms include a fever, cough, shortness of breath and loss or change of sense of smell or taste. Some people may suffer from a mild illness and recover easily, while in other cases, infection can progress to pneumonia. Reports suggest that the elderly, those with weakened immune systems, diabetes, cancer and chronic lung disease are the most susceptible to serious illness and death. Symptoms can appear in as few as two days after infection or as long as 14 days.

The virus

The virus is said to most likely spread from person to person through:

  • direct contact with a person while they are infectious

  • contact with droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes

  • touching objects or surface that were contaminated by droplets from secretions coughed or sneezed from an infected person with a confirmed infection.

Employer considerations

Latest Government guidance

The advice is under constant review and is subject to change. You can keep up to date on latest Government developments here.

Duty of care

Employers have a duty of care towards their employees which includes not exposing them to unnecessary risk. In this case, that may include not putting them in a position in which they could become infected by the virus without taking all reasonable precautions.

Your duty of care, where coronavirus is concerned, may differ depending on an employee’s specific circumstances, for example, if they are in the risk category, for example over 70 or if they have underlying conditions.

Wellbeing

In addition to having a duty of care to protect health and safety, you also need to consider their wellbeing. Consider any wellbeing initiatives you have and remind employees of them, for example, an Employee Assistance Programme.

Give employees the facts

The risk of becoming infected will differ depending on personal circumstances but it is important to convey to employees the reality of the situation to keep concern proportionate to the risk and encourage good hygiene.

Travel advice

For the latest travel advice, you can keep up to date with the latest Government guidance here.

If an employee has a confirmed case of coronavirus

Your normal sickness absence and pay policy will apply to employees who have coronavirus, as will payments of SSP. For sickness absences related to Covid, there are no waiting days so payments can be made from day one, where a period of incapacity for work is created.

See our Statutory Sick Pay topic for further details.

If an employee has returned from an affected area, then develops symptoms and stays at home

This is best treated as sickness absence due to the display of symptoms and your normal policies will apply. You may wish to consider other options such as working from home as a temporary measure while the employee self-isolates (see above).

Employers who have concerns about an employee’s exposure

Where you have concerns about a non-symptomatic employee (for example, it is known or suspected that the employee has had contact with someone known to have the virus but does not live with them) then the best advice is to follow the Government and NHS advice and advise the employee to self-isolate as needed.

Self-isolation, shielding and pay

Rules in place after 24 February 2022

The legal requirement to self-isolate following a positive test will be removed, as will the legal requirement for individuals not fully vaccinated to isolate following close contact with a positive case. There will also no longer be a requirement for individuals to tell their employer that they must isolate.

Until 1 April 2022, Adults and children who test positive will continue to be advised to stay at home and avoid contact with other people for at least five full days and then continue to follow the guidance until they have received two negative test results on consecutive days.

Self-isolation support payments will also end, as will national funding for practical support and the medicine delivery service.

There will also be no more routine contact tracing, and contacts will no longer be required to self-isolate or advised to take daily tests.

Rules in place from 24 March 2022

The above will continue and from this date no further claims under the SSP rebate scheme can be made. SSP will also no longer be payable from day one for Covid-related absences, nor will it be paid for isolation where the individual is not actually unwell.

After 1 April 2022

Guidance setting out the ongoing steps that people with Covid-19 should take to minimise contact with other people will be updated and aligned with the changes to testing.

Rules in place from 28 September 2020 and 24 February 2022

The Government is advising that certain people should self-isolate. Exact rules differ between England, Scotland and Wales.

Self-isolation is generally for a period of 10 days (5 full days if two negative LFT are taken) but remains at 14 days prior to a hospital admission.

Between 28 September 2020 and 24 February 2022, the Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) (Self-isolation) (England) Regulations 2020 were in force in England which introduced various criminal offences in respect of self-isolation. It was an offence for an employer to knowingly allow a worker to attend any place for any purpose relating to their employment during the designated period of self-isolation. Breaches of this law could have resulted in a fixed penalty notice of £1000 for the first offence increasing to £10,000 for repeated offences.

The terminology here was important; a breach was not restricted to an employer’s requirement for the employee to attend the workplace or even a request. It was also not restricted to attendance at the workplace but covered attendance at any place for any purpose relating to their employment.

The employer must have been aware of the employee’s need to self-isolate and of any breach of the self-isolation requirement by the employee. Workers were under a legal obligation to inform their employer of the need to self-isolate; however, this only applied where the employee was not already working from the place they are self-isolating which was likely to be their home. Therefore, this will not apply when the employee is already working from home.

Employers may wish to confirm this stance to their employees by reminding them of the need to inform the employer of the requirement to self-isolate and that they are prohibited from attending the workplace, or any other place for the purposes of work, during the self-isolation period.

Emergency legislation put in place requires statutory sick pay (SSP) to be paid to those self-isolating as described above in order to prevent the infection or spread of the virus in accordance with public health guidance, who is then unable to work as a result, providing they meet the other eligibility criteria.

Where the first day of absence was 13 March 2020 or later, SSP is payable from day one for anyone self-isolating, provided that other eligibility criteria are met including that the employee earns at least the lower earnings limit, and has been absent for at least 4 days in order to create a “period of incapacity for work”.

Those advised to shield on or after 16 April 2020 were entitled to SSP, again, subject to the qualifying criteria. The maximum length of SSP payment (28 weeks) applied; shielding periods could be long and, if other periods of absence are “linked” under SSP rules, it was possible a shielding employee could exhaust their SSP entitlement. Some employers sought to agree furlough, subject to meeting the qualifying criteria, with a shielding employee due to the apparent difference in treatment of furlough for such individuals.

In addition, measures have been put in place for employees to obtain medical evidence from NHS 111 rather than their own GP. “Isolation notes” provide evidence that an employee has been advised to self-isolate. Employers may ask for this document to evidence absence of over seven days, in the same way as with a normal “fit note” from the GP. As with normal sickness absence, no isolation note will be issued for the first seven days, during which employees can self-certify.

The notes can be accessed through the NHS website and NHS 111 online. The note will be emailed to the employee, or in some cases, directly to the employer.

In respect of those who were shielding, the letter received from the NHS advising the individual to shield is sufficient evidence for employers for payment of SSP.

In respect of those who have received a notification informing them of close contact with someone who has tested positive for coronavirus, the notification they received can be used as evidence.

Employers may be able to agree a period of homeworking during self-isolation provided the employee remains fit for work, or annual leave, in which case full pay will be maintained.

Employees who are pregnant

Previous guidance outlined that pregnant employees should be considered as clinically vulnerable; they are now identified as a group at higher risk of serious illness as a result of Covid.

Employers already have a legal duty to assess the risks that the workplace could pose to pregnant employees and must take steps to mitigate these. The threat of the coronavirus must therefore also be taken into account when decisions are made regarding whether pregnant employees can continue to conduct their role safely.

Employees who refuse to come to work due to concerns

Government advice in England is that all workers should now return to their place of work. Employers are encouraged to update their risk assessments and put in place Covid safety measures, but there is no longer guidance to remain at home.

The governments in Wales and Scotland continue to encourage working from home, with Scotland in particular advocating for a hybrid model of working, where time is split between home and the office.

Employees and workers are protected against dismissal or detriment if they have a reasonable belief that their workplace poses a serious and imminent threat of danger. Sharing the risk assessment and being transparent with all of the modifications made will help to dispel a reasonable belief. If the employee still refuses to come to work, this may be dealt with through the disciplinary procedure. Alternatively, you may decide to offer a period of paid annual leave or unpaid leave.

Employees who work from the workplace may be worried about catching the virus and refuse to attend work. Where this happens, Acas suggests listening to the employee’s concerns and offering reassurance. Your response to this will depend on the actual risk of catching the virus at work. It will be different for every employer and will depend on specific circumstances including whether anyone in the workforce has already been diagnosed or there is another real risk of exposure. You may decide to offer a period of paid annual leave or unpaid leave or allow the employee to work from home where this is feasible. Your response should be reasonable to the specific situation.

Working from home

Government advice in England is that all workers should now return to their place of work. Employers are encouraged to update their risk assessments and put in place Covid safety measures, but there is no longer guidance to remain at home.

In Wales, the guidance states that working from home is encouraged as a control measure for Covid, however this is not required, and fines for leaving home to work has now been revoked.

In Scotland, a hybrid model is encouraged, combining working from home and at the workplace, in order to limit contact with others.

The previous position

Vulnerable employees

When measures were first implemented to protect people from contracting the virus, the Government stated that certain people who fell into the “vulnerable” category were “strongly advised” to work from home where possible. This category included people who are 70 years old or over; women who were pregnant and those who have an underlying health condition such as diabetes, asthma, heart disease, etc.

There were no instruction for employees in the above categories to self-isolate meaning that where it was not feasible for an employee to work from home, they could still be in work but ensure precautions should have been put place to protect their wellbeing. An employee in one of the above categories who wished to remain at home but could not work from home was technically withdrawing their services and will not be entitled to pay. However, employers may have chosen to show leniency in this situation, given the circumstances, and pay an amount equivalent to SSP or full pay. It should be noted that the SSP equivalent payment did not qualify for recovery from the Coronavirus SSP Rebate Scheme which allowed employers with fewer than 250 employees to recover coronavirus-related SSP payments to a maximum of two weeks’ payment per employee, because the individual was not under government guidance to self-isolate.

On the other hand, if the employee was happy to present themselves for work but the employer did not wish to take any risks and, as a precautionary measure, sent the employee home, the employee was entitled to full pay unless the contract said otherwise.

Alternatively, the employer may have chosen to try to agree/enforce a period of annual leave if the employee could not work from home.

All employees

Governments in Scotland and Wales encouraged businesses to allow all staff to work from home where necessary and appropriate from the beginning of the pandemic.

New laws were implemented in Wales from 20 December 2021, which essentially provided that no person could leave the place where they are living, or remain away from that place, for the purposes of work or to provide voluntary or charitable services. This rule applied where it was “reasonably practicable” for the person to work from home.

There was no further guidance on what “reasonably practicable” meant. Guidance says that employers should be as flexible as possible to enable staff to work from home including providing laptops, phones, etc.

Employers in Wales who continued to require employees to work from the workplace had to think carefully about whether it really was not reasonably practicable for someone to work from home. In most cases, it was obvious that work must had to be done from the workplace, eg shop assistants; restaurant waiting staff.

In other cases — offices, for example, “reasonably practicable” was shaped differently. A general rule of thumb (though this quote has only been specifically used in Scotland, not Wales) was that if someone worked from home in March 2020, then they could again. If something had arisen or changed since then a different approach was needed; for example, if someone moved house and had poor internet coverage, or it was clear that the employee suffered from poor mental health because of working from home, then these were likely to be sufficient reasons for not working at home.

Where the rule was breached, a penalty notice could be issued. Employers could be fined £1000 per breach, rising to £10,000 for repeated breaches. Individuals could also be fined up to £60 for their breach. It is unclear whether a worker and an employer would both be fined in relation to the same incident. However, an employee landed with a £60 fine for going out to work when required by their employer is likely to want to pass that fine on to their employer. It is difficult to see that a reasonable employer will not accept to pay the fine on behalf of the employee.

In England, the Government stance from 13 December 2021 was that employees should work from home where they are able to do so, unless physical or mental difficulties mean this was deemed inappropriate, or where there was a particularly difficult home environment.

Foreign travel and quarantine

The rules for international arrivals into the UK are being regularly reviewed and updated by the Government, and the most up-to-date information is available on the Government website. 

The current rules on international travel

For those who are fully vaccinated, they must complete a passenger locator form 48 hours before arrival in England. No testing or quarantine prior to or after arrival is required.

For those not fully vaccinated, the following applies.

  • A Covid test must be taken in the two days before arrival in England.

  • A PCR test must be taken after arrival.

  • A passenger locator form must be completed. This must include the PCR test booking reference.

  • Quarantine is not required.

  • The test must be taken before the end of day 2 (the day of arrival is day 0).

For those travelling with children, those 17 and under do not need to take any tests or quarantine. 

Previous rules

11 February 2022 to 28 February 2022

Travel from other countries.

Note that special rules apply for red list countries, see below.

Fully vaccinated

From 11 February 2022, fully vaccinated travellers to the UK will not need to take a Covid test prior to or after arrival. A passenger locator form will still need to be completed.

Before travel to England:

  • take a Covid-19 test — to be taken in the two days before travel to England

  • book and pay for a Covid-19 PCR test — to be taken after arrival before the end of day 2

  • complete a passenger locator form — to be completed in the 48 hours before arrival

  • even where the stay in England is for less than two days, a test must be booked and paid for on day 2. Travellers must quarantine until either they leave England or receive a negative test.

On arrival, all vaccinated travellers must quarantine at home or other accommodation until a negative test result is received (or 14 days, whichever is sooner). If a positive result is received, a full 10 day quarantine had to be completed.

The fully vaccinated rules apply for:

  • under 18s

  • those taking part in an approved Covid-19 vaccine trial in the UK or the USA (US residents only for USA trials) or a phase 2 or 3 vaccine trial that is regulated by the EMA or SRA

  • unable to have a Covid-19 vaccination for a medical reason which has been approved by a clinician under the medical exemptions process, and resident in England.

Proving vaccination status
  • NHS Covid Pass for England and Wales.

  • NHS Scotland Covid Status app.

  • CovidCert NI in Northern Ireland.

  • Paper certificates are also available.

  • There are different ways to prove vaccination status for vaccinations outside of the UK.

Not vaccinated

For those not vaccinated, from 11 February 2022 only one PCR test was needed after arrival.

Before travel to England:

  • take a Covid-19 test – to be taken in the two days before travel to England

  • book and pay for day 2 and day 8 Covid19 PCR tests — to be taken after arrival in England

  • complete a passenger locator form — to be completed in the 48 hours before arrival in England.

After arrival:

  • quarantine at home or in the place they are staying for 10 full days, regardless of test results

  • take pre-booked Covid-19 PCR tests on or before day 2 and the second test on or after day 8

  • even where the stay in England is for less than two days, a test must be booked and paid for on day 2 and day 8.

Test to release scheme

It was possible to pay privately for a test and be released from quarantine early.

Travelling with children

Children aged 4 and under do not have to take any Covid-19 travel tests.

Children aged 12 to 17 must take a Covid-19 test in the two days before travel to England.

Children aged 5 to 17 have to follow the testing and quarantine rules for people who qualify as fully vaccinated on arrival in England.

This means that they have to quarantine on arrival and take a PCR test on or before day 2.

Ireland, the UK, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man

The following did not apply when travelling from the above:

  • complete a passenger locator form

  • take any Covid-19 tests

  • quarantine on arrival in England.

Red list countries

This list is kept under constant review. The most up to date list is available on the Government’s website.

Only the following may enter England from a red country (or where the traveller has been in a red country within 10 days of arrival):

  • are a British or Irish National

  • have residence rights in the UK.

The rules for red list countries apply to all travellers, regardless of vaccination status.

Before arrival from a red list country, travellers had to:

  • take a Covid-19 test in the two days before travel to England

  • book a quarantine hotel package, including two Covid-19 tests

  • complete a passenger locator form.

On arrival:

  • Quarantine in a managed hotel, and take two Covid-19 tests.

Travelling with children

Children aged 12 to 17 had to take a Covid-19 test in the two days before travel to England.

On arrival in England children aged 5–17 had to quarantine in a managed hotel for 10 full days and take two Covid-19 tests.

Children aged 4 or under did not have to take any travel tests but must enter managed quarantine.

Transiting through a red list country on the way to England

Whether the red list rules needed to be followed as a result of a transit stop in a red list country depended on what happened during the stop.

Air passengers

Where border control was passed at the airport during the transit stop.

Ship passengers

Where:

  • the traveler disembarked from the ship

  • other passengers disembarked then re-board the ship

  • new passengers got onto the ship.

Train passengers
  • If the traveler left the train.

Private vehicles or coaches travelling through red list countries or territories

The rules of the countries and territories driven through apply. Where the traveller drove through a red list country, then the red list rules had to be followed on arrival in England, whether the vehicle stopped or not. 

Red list countries

Only the following could enter England from a red list country (or where the traveller had been in a red list country within 10 days of arrival):

  • a British or Irish National

  • those with residence rights in the UK.

The list of countries on the red list is regularly reviewed and updated. The most up-to-date list is available on the Government website. 

The rules for red list countries apply to all travellers, regardless of vaccination status. 

Before arrival from a red list country:

  • take a Covid-19 test in the two days before travel to England

  • book a quarantine hotel package, including two Covid-19 tests

  • complete a passenger locator form.

On arrival:

  • Quarantine in a managed hotel, and take two Covid-19 tests.

Travelling with children:

  • children aged 12–17 must take a Covid-19 test in the two days before travel to England

  • on arrival in England children aged 5–17 must quarantine in a managed hotel for 10 full days and take two Covid-19 tests

  • children aged 4 or under do not have to take any travel tests but must enter managed quarantine.

Transiting through a red list country on the way to England

Whether the red list rules needed to be followed as a result of a transit stop in a red list country depended on what happened during the stop.

Air passengers

Where border control was passed at the airport during the transit stop.

Ship passengers

Where:

  • the traveller disembarked from the ship

  • other passengers disembarked then re-boarded the ship

  • new passengers got onto the ship.

Train passengers
  • If the traveller left the train.

Private vehicles or coaches travelling through red list countries or territories

The rules of the countries and territories driven through apply. Where the traveller drove through a red list country, then the red list rules had to be followed on arrival in England, whether the vehicle stopped or not.

All other countries

Fully vaccinated

Before travel to England:

  • take a Covid-19 test — to be taken in the two days before travel to England

  • book and pay for a Covid-19 PCR test — to be taken after arrival before the end of day 2

  • complete a passenger locator form — to be completed in the 48 hours before arrival.

Even where the stay in England was for less than two days, a test had to be booked and paid for on day 2. Travellers had to quarantine until either they leave England or receive a negative test. 

On arrival, all vaccinated travellers had to quarantine at home or other accommodation until a negative test result is received (or 14 days, whichever is sooner). If a positive result is received, a full 10-day quarantine must be completed. 

The fully vaccinated rules apply for:

  • under 18s 

  • those taking part in an approved Covid-19 vaccine trial in the UK or the USA (US residents only for USA trials), or a phase 2 or 3 vaccine trial that is regulated by the EMA or SRA

  • those unable to have a Covid-19 vaccination for a medical reason which has been approved by a clinician under the medical exemptions process, and resident in England.

Proving vaccination status
  • NHS Covid Pass for England and Wales

  • NHS Scotland Covid Status app

  • CovidCert NI in Northern Ireland.

Paper certificates are also available.

There are different ways to prove vaccination status for vaccinations outside of the UK.

Not vaccinated

Before travel to England:

  • take a Covid-19 test — to be taken in the two days before travel to England

  • book and pay for day 2 and day 8 Covid-19 PCR tests — to be taken after arrival in England

  • complete a passenger locator form — to be completed in the 48 hours before arrival in England.

After arrival:

  • quarantine at home or in the place they are staying for 10 full days, regardless of test results

  • take pre-booked Covid-19 PCR tests on or before day 2 and the second test on or after day 8. 

Even where the stay in England was for less than two days, a test had to be booked and paid for on day 2 and day 8. 

Test to Release scheme

It was possible to pay privately for a test and be released from quarantine early. 

Travelling with children

Children aged 4 and under did not have to take any Covid-19 travel tests.

Children aged 12 to 17 had to take a Covid-19 test in the two days before travel to England.

Children aged 5 to 17 had to follow the testing and quarantine rules for people who qualify as fully vaccinated on arrival in England.

This meant that they had to quarantine on arrival and take a PCR test on or before day 2.

Ireland, the UK, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man

The following did not apply when travelling from the above:

  • complete a passenger locator form

  • take any Covid-19 tests

  • quarantine on arrival in England.

Statutory sick pay was not payable to those who self-isolate on return from overseas.

Closure of business

During the pandemic, certain businesses were instructed to close, including but not limited to pubs, bars, restaurants, etc.

No business of any type is currently instructed to close.

Previous rules

Various lockdowns and business closures were in effect for much of 2020 and into 2021.

From 10 December 2021, “Plan B” was applied in England. This meant that with effect from Friday 10 December, masks had to be worn in most public venues, including theatres and cinemas, unless someone was medically exempt. This did not apply in premises where people are eating or exercising.

Monday 13 December, guidance to work from home wherever possible was reintroduced.

Wednesday 15 December, Covid passes became mandatory for nightclubs, unseated indoor venues with more than 500 people, unseated outdoor venues with more than 5000 people and any venue with more than 10,000 people.

Two doses were sufficient for a Covid pass, as will a negative lateral flow test, but this requirement was kept under review as the booster programme is rolled out.

In Wales, employers (and other businesses) had to undertake a bespoke coronavirus risk assessment and take reasonable measures to minimise exposure to, and the spread of, coronavirus based on that bespoke risk assessment. Also, adults and children over 12 had to wear face-coverings in indoor public places, with the exception of hospitality settings such as restaurants, pubs, cafes or nightclubs, or for solemnisation of a marriage, formation of a civil partnership or an alternative wedding ceremonies.

In Scotland, face coverings continue to be required in most indoor place, and employers should follow relevant guidance to keep their staff safe.

Furlough and the Job Retention Scheme

The Government announced the Job Retention Scheme on 20 March 2020. The Scheme ran until the end of September 2021.

The Job Support Scheme

The Job Support Scheme was due to commence on 1 November after the end of the Job Retention Scheme. However, due to the extension of the Job Retention Scheme, the Job Support Scheme will not now be used.

If the employer continue to have issues providing work after furlough

Lay-off or short-time working may be an appropriate alternative. Employees who are ready and willing to work but are not provided with work (as would be the case with a temporary closure), or reduced work, can be placed on lay-off or short-time working. Lay-off must be with full pay unless there is a provision within the contract for lay-off without pay (subject to the payment of statutory guarantee pay for employees with at least one month's service at the time of lay-off). If there is no contractual provision, you can attempt to agree with employees a period of unpaid lay-off.

This may also occur when the business itself has not taken the decision to close, but where, for example, the landlord of the building from which the business operates has decided to close its doors, meaning that no one can enter. In this situation, employers should consider whether it can temporarily move to an alternative location or permit its employees to work from home. If no other alternative can be found, a period of lay-off may be required.

Closure of schools

School closures have been in place from time to time as part of the pandemic response, but currently schools are open for all children.

NHS test and trace service

On 28 May 2020, the NHS test and trace service was launched in England.

Routine contact tracing ended on 24 February 2022 in England as isolation is no longer required for close contacts of a positive case.

The service:

  • provides testing for anyone who has symptoms of coronavirus to find out if they have the virus

  • gets in touch with anyone who has had a positive test result to help them share information about any close recent contacts they have had

  • alerted those contacts, where necessary, and notified them they need to self-isolate to help stop the spread of the virus.

When self-isolation was legally required, the Government stated that by following instructions to self-isolate, people who had close recent contact with someone with coronavirus were protecting their family, friends, colleagues and other people around them, and played a direct role in stopping the spread of the virus.

When someone first develops symptoms and orders a test, they were encouraged to alert the people that they had close contact with in the 48 hours before symptoms started. If any of those close contacts are colleagues, the person who has developed symptoms could (but was not obliged to) ask their employer to alert those colleagues. At that stage, those close contacts were not advised to self-isolate, but they:

  • had to avoid individuals who were at high-risk of contracting coronavirus, for example, because those with pre-existing medical conditions, such as respiratory issues

  • had to take extra care in practising social distancing and good hygiene and in watching out for symptoms.

“Close contact” means:

  • having face-to-face contact with someone (less than 1m away)

  • spending more than 15 minutes within 2m of someone

  • travelling in a car or other small vehicle with someone (even on a short journey) or close to them on a plane.

Those who test positive were asked, via the service, whether they had any such close contact in the 48 hours before they developed symptoms and the time since they developed symptoms.

The service then contacted anyone they reported as having had close contact with and to tell them to begin self-isolation for 10 days from their last contact with the person who tested positive, even if they did not feel unwell, unless they were fully vaccinated, under 18, or medically exempt from vaccination (these exemptions do not apply if there has been contact with the Omicron variant).

The practical effect of this service was that many more individuals were likely to self-isolate. In addition, large parts of a workforce, or an entire workforce, could receive an alert telling them they should self-isolate because one member of the workforce has tested positive for coronavirus. Employers could help to combat this by ensuring that employees work from home where possible, or implementing strict social distancing and hygiene measures in the workplace where home working is not possible.

Self-isolation was a legal duty until 24 February 2022 and anyone under the duty found not to be self-isolating faced fines starting at £1000 and increasing to £10,000 for repeat offenders.

The Government put together guidance for employers, which stressed that their role in the system is vital by:

  • making their workplaces as safe as possible

  • encouraging workers to heed any notifications to self-isolate and supporting them when in isolation.

It acknowledged that, although it may seem disruptive for businesses, it was less disruptive than an outbreak of coronavirus in the workplace will be, and far less disruptive than periods in lockdown.

Employers had to support employees who need to self-isolate and not ask them to attend the workplace.

If an employee needed to self-isolate, employers had to consider whether they could work from home. This might have included finding alternative work that could be completed at home during the period of self-isolation.

Employees who couldn’t work from home were entitled to receive SSP in line with the guidance on self-isolation given above due to further legislative amendments. SSP is not payable to those who are required to quarantine on return to the UK from overseas. Alternatively, the employer could have agreed that a period of annual leave is to be taken so that full pay is maintained, or another form of paid leave that is available to the employee.

Giving options to ensure full pay is maintained may be particularly important due to the possibility that an employee may be reluctant to self-isolate if it means a drop in pay. Employers may wish to strongly encourage employees who receive a notification to make this known, and to self-isolate, in order to protect the rest of the workforce.

The NHS test and trace service provided a notification that can be used as evidence that someone has been told to self-isolate.

A similar scheme, called “test and protect” is in place in Scotland.

Maintaining records of staff

On 18 September 2020, the Government changed its guidance surrounding the maintaining of records to track who is visiting venues within certain venues in England, making it a legal requirement for designated venues to collect contact details for the purposes of NHS Test and Trace in England, alongside displaying official NHS QR code posters. This has now been repealed, but businesses and venues remain strongly encouraged to continue to collect this data, especially in the following sectors:

  • hospitality

  • tourism and leisure

  • close contact services

  • facilities provided by local authorities.

Surge testing for new variants

Surge testing is increased testing (including door-to-door testing in some areas) of all residents and enhanced contact tracing in specific locations in England and can look different depending on assessment of local requirements.

There are currently no areas affected by this, but this is subject to change.

Wider effect on employment law

Gender pay gap reporting

The Government suspended the obligation to report on the gender pay gap in 2020 due to the coronavirus. Companies with 250 or more employees are required to submit their gender pay gap information once a year; for the private sector, the deadline is 4 April; for public sector, it is 30 March. In recognition of the extra pressure placed on businesses at this time, there was no requirement to publish the data in 2020.

The requirement to publish data returns for 2021. This means reporting on data from the snapshot date of 5 April 2020 (31 March 2020 for public sector). The Government will not consider implementing enforcement action for failure to provide 2021’s report until October 2021; this effectively gives employers a further six months past the usual deadlines for reporting data.

The Government has confirmed the following in relation to 2021 reports:

  • employees who were on furlough on the snapshot date are counted when determining whether the 250-employee threshold is met

  • employees on furlough on the snapshot date are not to be included in calculations on hourly pay

  • but employees on furlough on the snapshot date are to be included in calculations on bonuses.

Because employees who are not in receipt of full pay on the snapshot date are excluded from the reporting pool for calculations on hourly pay, the pool may be a lot smaller than usual due to the fact that a significant number of employees in the UK would have been on furlough on the snapshot date. Employers may find that the resulting gender pay gap in hourly pay is quite different from previous years. It is important, therefore, for employers to use the accompanying narrative to explain any impact on the results caused by coronavirus.

There is currently no indication that reporting will be delayed for 2022. This means that reporting should be done in accordance with the pre-Covid deadlines, ie 30 March 2022 for the public sector and 4 April 2022 for the private sector.

Annual leave

The laws on annual leave have been amended to allow more flexibility on the carry over of leave. Previously, four weeks of annual leave was exclusive to the year in which it was accrued, meaning it could not be carried over except where it could not be taken because of sickness absence or annual leave. The remaining 1.6 weeks of leave could be carried over to the next leave year subject to the employer's agreement.

The restriction on carrying over the four weeks of leave has been lifted for circumstances where it was not reasonably practicable for a worker to take some or all of their leave as a result of the effects of coronavirus (including on the worker, the employer or the wider economy or society). Workers now have the right to carry forward leave accrued in this leave year to the next two leave years. The carry over of the 1.6 weeks' leave is still subject to agreement from the employer.

The rules on pay in lieu of accrued holiday on termination of employment have also been amended. Pay in lieu should include an element reflecting leave which was carried over in this way but remains untaken at termination.

Modern slavery statements

The Government has relaxed the rules around compliance with modern slavery requirements. An updated Government guide makes clear that businesses must continue their activity to identify and address risks of modern slavery in their operations and supply chains but recognises the challenges presented by the virus in publishing their statement within the usual timeframe. It notes “reduced staff capacity” as one such challenge. It states that “businesses which need to delay the publication of their modern slavery statement by up to six months due to coronavirus-related pressures will not be penalised”. The reason for any delay to the publication should be set out in the delayed statement.

Statements are required from all businesses who have an annual turnover of at least £36 million, and must normally be published within six months of the end of the company's financial year.

Employer checklist

  • Move to home working if it is possible to do so.

  • Assess the risk of exposure in your business operations including any overseas workplaces.

  • Remind yourself of your business contingency plan/pandemic contingency plan.

  • Send communication to all employees reminding them of good hygiene measures.

  • Ensure there are sufficient soap supplies available and consider providing tissues and hand sanitiser to the workforce where the workplace is permitted to remain open.

  • Speak with those in charge of cleaning the workplace and ask for frequent deep cleans.

  • Ask employees to keep you informed of any overseas holiday travel so you can manage their return.

  • Remind employees of your annual leave cancellation procedures.

  • Decide how you will deal with pay during self-isolation, eg will it be no pay, sick pay or full pay?

  • Create a work contingency plan in case key members of the workforce are absent.

  • Ensure managers are aware of coronavirus symptoms so they can spot it quickly.

  • Check whether you have a lay off with reduce pay clause in place in the event that you need to close the business temporarily.

  • Remind employees of any employee assistance programme available to them if they have general concerns about virus.

Seek professional advice

For professional advice on dealing with any HR matters, speak to a qualified consultant on 0844 561 8149.