There’s a definite increase in the numbers of people travelling on public transport and the numbers of cars on the roads. It feels like September is the month when many employers are asking office staff to come back to the workplace, even just for one or two days per week.
But with the effects of the ‘pingdemic’ over August still fresh in the mind, causing staff shortages in many sectors and leading to temporary closures of some outlets like restaurants and shops, many employers are still exercising caution about opening up.
And from 16th August, those employees who have been double jabbed may not need to self-isolate, even if they’ve been identified as a close contact of someone who has Covid-19. But where does that leave employers with their Health and Safety obligations to other staff? We give answers to some key questions below.
What is the latest self-isolation rule change?
From 16th August 2021, there are different rules for anyone who is double jabbed and who has been in close contact with someone testing positive for Coronavirus. This is part of the easing of restrictions, and to take account of the reduction in transmission of Covid-19 among people who have received both doses of their Covid-19 vaccination.
For anyone who is 14 days beyond their second dose of the vaccine when they came into contact with someone with Covid-19, they no longer need to isolate if they don’t have symptoms. They will instead be advised to get a PCR test to confirm whether they have contracted the virus. There is no legal requirement to get the PCR test in these circumstances and they don’t need to isolate while they wait for the results of the PCR test.
How will I know if an employee has been pinged?
There is a legal obligation on staff to tell you if they need to self-isolate and how long they need to do this for. So, if an employee is pinged by the NHS app who has not been vaccinated, or they are contacted by NHS Test and Trace and told to isolate, they are required to tell you this information.
However, under this new rule, if the employee is 14 days beyond their second dose of the vaccine and does not have any symptoms, there is no legal requirement for them to isolate. They therefore don’t have to tell you they’ve been pinged. There may, therefore, be a situation where that person is coming into the office, has not told you about the advice to get a PCR test or the close contact with Covid, and they may not be planning to get the PCR test.
This is where the level of trust and open communication with your staff is key. If you are encouraging regular lateral flow testing before coming into the office, for example, this may pick up any infection anyway, even if sometimes a few days later. The best way for you to know for sure is to encourage staff to be open about these sorts of contacts straight away, you can use our HR software to help you track any positive cases or tests should you want too. That way, you can agree a way forward together in the interests of the safety of all of the workplace, and in order to keep transmission rates down to a minimum.
Can I ask staff if they’ve been double vaccinated?
Deciding whether to collect staff vaccination data is tricky, especially as this information is classed as special category data for data protection purposes under GDPR. ICO guidance explains that you need to be very clear about what you’re trying to achieve, and how recording staff vaccination status will help you achieve this. Recording ‘just in case’ is unlikely to be sufficient reason and it may be difficult to justify unless you are, for example, working in health and social care, or work with clinically vulnerable individuals. Should you decide this is right for your small business though, our HR software can help with that.
Can I ask the employee to stay away from work?
If your employee does tell you that they have been pinged and advised to get a PCR test, you will want to look at the risks associated with letting them come into the workplace. While they are waiting to take their PCR test and for the results of that to come through, which should only be a matter of a few days, you may want to agree with them that they will work from home for that time, if that’s possible, or that they will temporarily change their location or their role to minimise contact with others.
What else can I do to reduce any risks to other staff or customers?
Many employers are proceeding cautiously, keeping some social distancing and hygiene restrictions in place, and reviewing whether they can increase ventilation even in colder weather, particularly while we see how the opening up of workplaces affects Covid infection rates, including hospital admissions and death rates.
This, combined with options such as a phased return or hybrid working are all possibilities, but the ultimate decision on all of these options, and therefore the responsibility, rests with you as an employer, in consultation with staff. If you want help working through any of these options, our team of HR experts will be happy to help.
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