COVID-19: Key changes January 2022
COVID-19 challenges look set to stay with us for at least the first few months of 2022. With absence rates continuing to plague employers and changes to the rules on self-isolation, PCR testing and sick pay, organisations should keep in review their business continuity plans and existing sickness absence policies and procedures. Communication with the workforce also remains key. Below is a summary of recent developments and what they mean for your business.
1. Self-isolation – There have been several changes to the rules on self-isolation in recent weeks. The updated guidance is available here. Those who test positive, or who have symptoms of COVID-19 must self-isolate for 10 days following the start of their symptoms. It is possible to reduce the self-isolation period to 7 days following two negative lateral flow tests taken 24 hours apart, with the first test not to be taken before the sixth day of isolation. This is now the position across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Whether close or household contacts need to self-isolate will depend on vaccination status. Fully vaccinated contacts are not required to self-isolate and are advised to take lateral flow tests every day for 7 days, only being required to isolate following a positive result. Unvaccinated contacts will still need to isolate for 10 days. It’s important that employers take steps to communicate these changes to their workforce. Under the self-isolation Regulations staff are required to notify employers when they are self-isolating, and employers commit an offence if they ‘knowingly’ allow self-isolating employees to attend a workplace outside their home. The current self-isolation Regulations are in place until 24 March 2022 and further legislation will be required to extend this.
2. Confirmatory PCR testing – From 11 January 2022, those testing positive using a lateral flow test will no longer need to take a PCR test to confirm the result. Individuals must self-isolate if they test positive using a lateral flow test and should report the result on the UK website. Employers that require evidence of a positive PCR test result before paying company sick pay for COVID-19 related sickness absences will need to update practices or policies allowing employees to evidence a positive result using lateral flow tests. This change should also be communicated to staff.
3. SSP Rebate Scheme reintroduced – As part of the £1bn support package for businesses, the Government reintroduced the Statutory Sick Pay Rebate Scheme which had previously ended on 30 September 2021. This means that small and medium sized businesses with fewer than 250 employees will, again, be able to seek reimbursement of SSP for up to two weeks for employees off work due to a COVID-19 related sickness absence. If an employer has made a claim for an employee under the previous scheme, they will be able to make a fresh claim for a new COVID-19 related absence for the same employee. The claims portal is due to open mid-January for employers to submit claims for COVID-19 related sickness absences from 21 December 2021.
4. SSP self-certification rules – Towards the end of 2021 the Government introduced a temporary change to the SSP self-certification rules allowing all employees to be able to self-certify sickness for up to 28 days, including non-working days, such as weekends and bank holidays. You can see our update here. In light of this temporary change, employers may need to revisit company sick pay policies that refer to this period of self-certification to ensure that company sick pay is being paid correctly, and also ensure that managers are aware of this change so that fit notes are not unnecessarily requested during this self-certification period. This temporary change is due to revert to the previous position on 26 January 2022, however the rules could be extended if the pressure on primary care providers continues.
Freeths’ Employment team have extensive experience of working with employers to manage their workforce, and can help you answer the questions you will no doubt be asking in the wake of Coronavirus. If you would like to talk through the consequences for your business, please email us and one of our team will get in touch.
The content of this page is a summary of the law in force at the date of publication and is not exhaustive, nor does it contain definitive advice. Specialist legal advice should be sought in relation to any queries that may arise.
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