- Plan B ends: On 19 January 2022 the work-from-home guidance was lifted. Employers planning to return staff to the workplace should review their risk assessments and health and safety measures in light of the current working safely guidance and handle any individual employees’ concerns sensitively. Legal requirements to wear a face covering in indoor public spaces and for certain venues to check COVID passes are also removed from 27 January. Employers may choose to continue to require coverings to be worn, particularly in communal areas.
It has been suggested that self-isolation requirements, and the associated payment of statutory sick pay to those self-isolating, will end on or before 24 March 2022 (when the relevant regulations expire). The temporary change to self-certification of illness (see here) for statutory sick pay purposes ceases to apply for absences beginning on or after 27 January, which can therefore be self-certified only for 7 days.
- From 17 January 2022, the self-isolation period for those testing positive for Covid-19 was reduced to 5 full days, provided a negative lateral flow test is received on the 5th and 6th days – see here.
- Advice for pregnant woman was updated on 14 January 2022, strongly recommending vaccination and that additional precautions may be appropriate for those who are more than 26 weeks pregnant (due to data suggesting there is an increased risk from infection after this point). Employers planning a return to the workplace for staff should bear this guidance in mind.
- From 11 January 2022, people who received a positive lateral flow test are required to self-isolate immediately and start the required period without the need for a confirmatory PCR test – see here.
- A precautionary testing scheme for critical workers was introduced for an initial period of 5 weeks from 10 January 2022, providing daily lateral flow tests to the workplaces of 100,000 critical workers – see here.
Update 23 December
From 23 December the self-isolation period for positive Covid-19 cases has been reduced from 10 days to 7 days, where someone receives two negative lateral flow test results on day 6 and day 7 of the self-isolation period. Thereafter they are advised to take greater precautions until day 11 (ie, to limit close contact with other people outside your household, especially in crowded, enclosed or poorly ventilated spaces, and to wear a face covering if this is unavoidable; to work from home if possible; and to limit contact with anyone who is at higher risk of severe illness if infected with Covid-19).
Updated guidance is here.
Update 14 December
The Department of Health and Social Care has confirmed that, from Tuesday 14 December, people who are fully vaccinated and identified as a contact of someone with COVID-19 – whether Omicron or not – should take an NHS rapid lateral flow test every day for 7 days and do not need to self-isolate unless they test positive or develop symptoms (in which case they should self-isolate while obtaining a PCR test). During this period they are strongly advised to limit close contact with other people outside their household, especially in crowded or enclosed spaces and with anyone who is more vulnerable, and to follow government guidance on wearing a face covering and working from home where possible.
The 10 day self-isolation period still applies to unvaccinated close contacts of positive cases.
Employers remain liable to a fine of up to £10,000 if they knowingly allow an employee to attend the workplace in breach of a legal requirement to self-isolate.
See here for further details.
Update 13 December
The Government’s “Working Safely” guidance has been updated to reflect the guidance to work from home. This notes that individuals who cannot work from home, for example because their role must be completed in-person or requires them to access equipment in the workplace, can and should continue to go into work but should consider taking lateral flow tests regularly to manage their own risk and the risk to others. Employers should also consider whether home working is appropriate for workers facing mental or physical health difficulties, or those with a particularly challenging home working environment.
The guidance also sets out the self-isolation requirements. Currently, those who are close contacts of individuals testing positive for Covid do not need to self-isolate if they have been double-jabbed (or are medically exempt) and the infection is not the Omicron variant. Close contacts of a person with a suspected or confirmed case of the Omicron variant are currently required to self-isolate regardless of vaccination status; this is due to be replaced with daily testing for those who have been vaccinated from a date yet to be specified – further details are promised shortly.
The Prime Minister has just announced that the ‘work from home if you can’ guidance will be reintroduced in England from this coming Monday. Employers will need to communicate any changes to working arrangements prior to the weekend. As yet, there does not appear to be any suggestion that more restrictive ‘working safely’ measures are required for workplaces where staff are unable to work from home, but it would obviously be prudent to review these measures again if staff will need to continue coming into work.
Mandatory masks will be extended to most public venues, including theatres and cinemas, from this Friday 10 December.
From Wednesday 15 December (and subject to parliamentary approval), the NHS Covid pass (for the time being still obtainable with two doses, or a negative lateral flow test) will be mandatory for entry into nightclubs and larger venues. As Omicron spreads in the community, daily tests will be introduced instead of self-isolation for contacts.
The press release is available here. This indicates that guidance on these changes will be available on gov.uk in the coming days.