There are a number of new COVID-19 related rules in force in England and Wales that you need to be aware of.
According to the ONS, around 1 in 15 people in England had the virus in the last week of 2021 (1 in 20 in Wales). Daily cases are at record levels and people are being urged to test themselves regularly even if they don't have symptoms.
The new rules only apply to people without symptoms. Anyone who tests positive in England and Wales using a LFT, doesn't now have to obtain a confirmatory PCR test. Instead, they must report their result on the government website and self-isolate immediately.
Anyone who is eligible for the £500 Test and Trace Support Payment will be asked to take a confirmatory PCR test to enable them to access financial support.
Anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 can take further LFT on day six and seven of their isolation period. And, if these tests are negative, they can leave isolation on day eight. Many employers are asking staff to take tests so that they can return to work earlier and are asking their staff to send a photo image of their positive test result.
Travel rules have been relaxed in England and there has already been a huge spike in the number of people booking overseas holidays. The new rules (which only apply to fully vaccinated people) require people who return to England from abroad to take a PCR or LFT within 48 hours of arrival. They don’t have to quarantine and only have to self-isolate if they test positive.
You have a duty to protect your staff and put in place measures to prevent the disease spreading. It therefore make sense to insist your staff obtain a negative test before they return to work and ask them to test themselves regularly afterwards.
Dealing with holiday requests
Unvaccinated staff have to quarantine for the full 10 days. Whilst that won’t be a problem for employees who work from home, it poses a number of practical problems for those who don’t which you may need to address. For example, most holiday policies only require employees to set out the dates they want off. Employees don’t have to tell you where they are going on holiday etc but you will need to know if they have to quarantine on returning to the UK to make sure you have enough staff to cover their absence. But, asking someone about their vaccination status is legally complex and throws up a number of complicated GDPR issues.
One way around the GDPR issue is to make it clear that any unvaccinated member of staff who requests holiday (and intends to travel abroad) must book enough days off to include the current quarantine rules. If they don’t have enough holiday remaining you should advise them not to book the holiday. It’s important to have a clear policy in place which explains what will happen if staff can’t return to work on time because they are having to quarantine (which might include treating their absence as a disciplinary issue and/or not paying them during their quarantine).
Please note: you should not discipline anyone who is forced to quarantine because the government's rules have changed.
Your policy should also remind staff that if their foreign holiday is cancelled for any reason, they will usually still have to take the period they’ve requested off even if they can’t get away.
Your policy should also remind staff about how you will deal with multiple requests for time off at the same time of year and advise them to apply for leave before booking a holiday to avoid disappointment. You can turn down any requests you can’t accommodate provided you allow the employee take holiday at another time.
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