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Employment law for employers

Changes to isolation rules and impact on workers

On 21 February the government announced plans to end all Covid restrictions in England starting on 24 February. This includes scrapping the requirement to self-isolate following a positive COVID test.

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These changes will mean some workers who test positive for COVID will face a difficult choice about whether to stay at home if their sick pay is insufficient or they do not qualify for Statutory Sick Pay (SSP).

Currently, those who test positive are required to isolate for 10 days but can end their isolation early if they register negative lateral flow tests on day five and day six. From Thursday 24 February those who test positive will be advised, but no longer required, to isolate for five days and avoid contact with vulnerable people.

Also from Thursday, the £500 payment for some on lower incomes will come to an end and on 24 March, SSP and employment support allowance will only become payable after four and seven days off work respectively, rather than immediately as was the case during the pandemic. Free lateral flow tests will come to an end on 1 April.

The government has promoted the announcement as a return to normality and a final step towards restoring freedom by encouraging “personal responsibility”. The announcement also comes alongside a campaign to get workers back to the office. Concerns have been raised about an end to the legal obligations and guidance around COVID safety in the workplace which employers were required to follow in addition to their general health and safety obligations. Going forward, some workers who test positive for COVID may need to rely on their employer’s goodwill to allow them to remain at home when they test positive and provide adequate sick pay, if they are asymptomatic.

The UK’s statutory sick pay provision is one of the lowest in Europe; the statutory amount is £96.35 per week, estimated to be around 19% of the average UK salary (in Germany employees must be paid 100% of their salary or wages during the first six weeks of sickness). In addition, employees in the UK must earn at least £120 per week to be eligible for SSP.

The BBC reported that 2 million workers in low-paid jobs do not qualify for sick pay; many will be faced with what the Trades Union Congress (TUC) has called the “terrible choice” of deciding whether to go into work with Covid or risking losing income by keeping colleagues safe and self-isolating at home.

What should employers do?

It is predicted that arrangements will be made based on conversations between employers and employees, although measures such as working from home or isolating from others in the office won’t always be an option. Going forward, employers will need to put in place clear policies and will need to remember that their duty to safeguard the health and safety of all workers remains in force.

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Zoë Deckker

Trainee Solicitor

zoe.deckker@collyerbristow.com



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