COVID-19: Plan B update for employers
Employment law expert Cecily Donoghue provides a Plan B update for employers.
Over the last week, there have been a number of updates and developments on COVID-19 measures, particularly following the increase in cases relating to the Omicron variant. Last night the Prime Minister confirmed the move to Plan B.
Plan B update for employers
Last night it was confirmed that the Government would move to Plan B, with additional measures as follows:
- From Friday 10th December – face coverings will become compulsory in most public indoor venues such as cinemas, theatres and places of worship. There will be exemptions in venues where it is not practical to wear one, such as when eating, drinking, or exercising. Face coverings will not therefore be required in hospitality settings.
- From Monday 13th December – those who can work from home are advised to do so.
- From Wednesday 15 December, and subject to parliamentary approval, the NHS Covid Pass on the NHS App will become mandatory for entry into nightclubs and settings where large crowds gather – including unseated indoor events with 500 or more attendees, unseated outdoor events with 4,000 or more attendees and any event with 10,000 or more attendees.
The full detail of the announcement can be found here with further details around these measures set to be announced in the next few days.
Take time today and tomorrow to consider which staff should move to working from home, or who should remain in work. Ensure you properly communicate with staff in relation to any changes and be open to discuss any concerns or queries that they may have. This WFH measure is advisory guidance, not an absolute legal requirement.
Updated self-isolation guidance
Last week, on 2nd December, the guidance changed to:
- If you live in the same household as someone with COVID-19 then you must stay at home and self-isolate if you are not fully vaccinated, or if they have been identified as a suspected or confirmed case of the Omicron variant.
- If however, you live in the same household as someone with COVID-19 that has not been identified (either suspected or confirmed case of the Omicron variant) and you are fully vaccinated (or under 18 years of age and 6 months) then you are not required to self-isolate.
The Governments Stay at Home Guidance was updated on 2nd December 2021 and can be found here.
However, last night the PM announced an intention to introduce daily contact tests for contacts instead of the 10 day isolation so we expect the guidance to be updated shortly.
It remains an offence for an employer to allow a worker to attend the workplace or to work anywhere other than the place they are self-isolating if they are aware that the worker is legally required to self-isolate. Remember that if an employer breaches these rules then they may receive a fixed penalty notice starting from £1,000 (an individual may also be separately fined).
Disruption and Staff Absences
Whilst we all remain optimistic that the previous disruption caused by staff self-isolating will not return, employers should still prepare for increased absences where staff are required to isolate and particularly for staff who are unable to work from home.
Businesses may also want to consider whether any additional measures should be put in place to minimise the potential risk of staff being identified as close contacts.
From 4am on Tuesday 30th November, the requirement to wear face covering in shops and on public transport returned (and will be extended as outlined in Plan B above).
See updated guidance here.
As a result, employers may experience an increase in staff becoming increasingly reluctant to undertake travel to the workplace or business travel on public transport. If so, then the business should remain sensitive to such individual concerns and keep under consideration whether staff can travel at quieter times of the day, or whether business meetings in person could instead be carried out virtually where concerns exist.
The measures, at the moment, don’t impact on business premises, however some employers have put in place or may be considering implementing their own requirements in this respect and care must be taken to ensure that those who are medically exempt are treated with understanding.
If business travel has resumed for your staff then remember to keep on top of the changing requirements to isolate and take tests – particularly across the different UK jurisdictions.
Business are reportedly reconsidering their Christmas parties and other social events in light of the new variant, despite Boris Johnson’s comments (on 2nd December) that there’s “no need” to cancel Christmas parties.
While there is currently no guidance from the government to avoid such gatherings, employees may be more reluctant to attend events as many are keen to avoid catching COVID-19 or risking self-isolation before the Christmas period. Consider the position for your own business and the responses by staff and make a decision accordingly.
Expert legal advice for employers
As always, the only guarantee is ongoing change. Be prepared, keep up to date and if you have any queries, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us. Contact Cecily Donoghue or Nick Jones by calling 0117 906 9400 or email email@example.com