UK: COVID-19 – New Public Health Guidance
Authors: Robert Hill and Corinna Harris
The ‘Working Safely during coronavirus’ guidance has now been replaced with new guidance published by the Health Security Agency for England on 1 April 2022. New guidance for ‘People with symptoms of a respiratory infection including COVID-19’ and on ‘Living safely with respiratory infections, including COVID-19’ and was also published on 1 April 2022. There is separate guidance for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Universal free testing for all has also now ended.
Employers continue to have a legal duty to provide a safe place of work and manage risks to those affected by their business. While the requirement for every employer to explicitly consider COVID-19 in their health and safety risk assessment has been removed, employers may choose to continue to cover COVID-19 in their risk assessments in any event. The guidance for employers continues to stress the importance of good ventilation and maintaining a clean workplace, and encouraging and enabling employees to get vaccinated.
People who test positive for COVID-19 or have symptoms of a respiratory infection such as COVID-19 are advised to try to work from home if they can. Employers, in accordance with their legal obligations, are encouraged to consider how best to support and enable their workforce to follow this guidance as far as possible.
Employers should continue to consider the needs of those who are at greater risk of serious illness from COVID-19, such as those with compromised immune systems. There is specific guidance for people whose immune system means that they are at higher risk, because they have a reduced ability to fight infections, such as COVID-19.
Key Action Points for Human Resources and In-house Counsel
The responsibility is now more on individuals and businesses to put in place measures that they think are appropriate given their particular circumstances and health and safety risks – guided by the guidance mentioned above. Taking an approach that goes against the guidance could put employers at risk of claims and other employee issues.
Employers should decide what measures are appropriate to take in their workplace following these changes. They should also communicate with employees about what steps are being taken and any expectations of employees going forwards.
There are some tricky issues for employers to grapple with as we move to the next phase of ‘Living with COVID-19’.