As has often been a major consideration over the course of the pandemic, staff and businesses will continue to be concerned with their entitlement to pay in the event they develop COVID-19 symptoms or test positive.
From 24 March, statutory sick pay will no longer be payable from the first day of absence, for staff who are unable to work because they are sick or self-isolating due to COVID. This means staff will qualify for SSP after three 'waiting days', which are the first three qualifying days in any period of incapacity for work. COVID related absence will therefore be treated as any other absence for SSP purposes from this date onwards.
Free access to most COVID-19 tests will be removed from 1 April, although some free symptomatic testing will continue to be available to a small number of at-risk groups, as well as to social care staff.
Aligned with the removal of free testing, guidance will be updated around what action people with COVID-19 should take to minimise contact with others. The sector set of working safely during coronavirus guidance documents will also be withdrawn and replaced with new public health guidance.
As a result of the end of free testing and these associated changes, staff who are symptomatic are less likely to be able to say with certainty whether they are suffering from COVID-19. There will be a policy decision for employers to take around how long staff are asked to stay away from the workplace if they are displaying COVID-19 symptoms, and what the pay arrangements will be during any time away from work. This may be particularly complicated where working from home is not a possibility and/or where staff are saying they have mild symptoms and feel able to work, but are being asked to remain at home.
In addition, fewer asymptomatic people will know they are COVID-19 positive. This means there will inevitably be more people with COVID-19 going about their daily business and attending work in the usual way. This may lead to feelings of nervousness from staff around whether they will be exposed to an increased risk of catching COVID-19 at work. Employers may wish to consider how they can support and reassure staff in order to build confidence, particularly in the early days of life without access to free tests.
From 1 April, most employers will no longer be obliged to specifically consider COVID-19 as part of their risk assessments. Whilst this is a significant step, it is important to note the general duty for employers to carry out workplace risk assessments will remain. Depending on the nature of an organisation and the way it works, it may be sensible and appropriate to continue to take specific account of COVID risk factors as part of this wider assessment.
The Government has made no secret of its desire to replace hard and fast COVID-19 rules with softer guidance and advice over time. Businesses will need to get used to considering their individual approaches to COVID-19 as wider guidance tapers off. Much will depend on the nature of the organisation, the work it carries out and how its workforce operates.