The government’s ‘Living with Covid’ plan is the latest phase in its response to the covid 19 pandemic.
It is designed to continue to help protect the lives and livelihoods of UK citizens whilst enabling society and the economy to open up and return to a state that we may recognise as the ‘normal’ we knew before.
The pre-pandemic employment model has become a distant memory. Remote and hybrid working arrangements have become standard for many across the UK, as employers seek to comply with government instructions and protect their employees from the threat of the pandemic.
But what about now? What does the ‘Living with Covid’ plan mean for employers, and how can employers deal with the virus going forward?
Are you a business leader considering your approach to the pandemic in 2022?
Here are some key considerations for employers as you navigate your policies on ‘Living with Covid’.
Health and Safety.
The latest guidance says there is no longer a legal requirement to self-isolate. However, it doesn’t prevent employers from having their own rules regarding on-site working. As an employer, you still have a duty of care to your employees and must take steps to protect the health and safety of your team.
The government has put the ball in the court of employers. Each organisation must ‘take responsibility for implementing policies that are ‘appropriate for its circumstances’. In short, businesses must decide what their approach to self-isolation will be. And what about testing? How will you manage those who may be ill coming to work, especially once free testing stops?
The grey areas mean that your policy must be clear, communicated directly, and as early as possible. Not only will you need to think about attendance, but you must also be prepared to answer questions from those who choose to self–isolate, especially relating to sick pay entitlements.
Protecting the vulnerable.
Despite the seeming ‘end’ of the pandemic, some of your employees may still feel concerned about the threat of getting ill. Measures that may feel sufficient to most employees may feel inadequate for others.
For employers, this may mean there has to be consideration of individual risks to vulnerable employees or those who live with vulnerable people.
Employees may like to encourage hybrid working and put policies in place that require those who feel unwell to work from home, especially once free testing kits become unavailable.
Mental health and wellness.
Part of your duties as an employer regarding health and safety is to consider employee mental wellbeing.
The pandemic has put a huge strain on mental health, with many suffering from ongoing stress, anxiety, depression, and other health concerns. For some who have missed social interactions and physical connections, a return to the office may help with these conditions. However, for others who have health concerns, the lifts on restrictions may induce further anxiety and stress.
As an employer, you will need to acknowledge and respond to employee mental health concerns, being mindful of the individual employee’s mental wellbeing and safety.
It will also be necessary to consider that certain mental conditions could constitute a disability under the Equality Act of 2010, and as such you will need to make reasonable adjustments to an employee’s duties or workplace to address any disadvantage.
Managers and staff should also be trained to spot any signs of distress and to support mental wellbeing. This is particularly true in remote working or hybrid working models. Remote workers are significantly more at risk of burnout than their onsite colleagues.
For more advice on how to keep your remote workers happy, this blog may help.
Vaccinations and vaccination data.
The wide take-up of the vaccination program has significantly contributed to the gradual and careful removal of the restrictions placed on us all, including the return to the office.
If you are an employer that has previously recorded vaccination data or other health data and provided the reasons for doing so in its employee privacy notice, you will need to review your policy. With the change in government approach, you should question if you still need (or want) to continue to record this data. You should ask yourself; is it still necessary or proportionate to do so?
The way forward.
Remote working is one hangover from the pandemic that many are happy to see continue, and it is certainly one way in which employers can manage their response to Living with Covid.
Since discussions about a return to the office began, there has been a significant increase in informal requests for flexible and remote working from employees. While this model does address some employer and employee concerns about moving forward with Covid, it is not a blanket answer. Some businesses models cannot support remote working, and for some employees, remote working is not desirable.
In these scenarios, businesses and employers must have a plan that best prepares for the future of ‘living with Covid’. They must weigh up the delicate balance between business needs and employee concerns.