The coronavirus (COVID-19) guidelines have been updated once again, with effect from the 1st April 2021 onwards.
The general updated guidance is now contained in Coronavirus restrictions: what you can and cannot do, replacing the lockdown guidance. Although the new guidance generally outlines an easing of restrictions, it still asks people to work from home if they can, and that employers should continue to facilitate this 'wherever possible'.
Additional Changes From 1st April 2021
Some employees may now gather in larger groups and meet indoors where it is necessary for work - although the guidance does not specify a limit on numbers, it makes it clear that this does not include social gatherings. In Scotland, guidance has been updated to contain additional wording regarding 'work cohorts' which allow small groups of workers to physically work together where required, as long as the employer adheres to strict conditions and the group contains the fewest number of people required to do the job.
Clinically vulnerable people, including clinically extremely vulnerable employees in England and Wales, are no longer advised to shield. This means that those who cannot work from home, but could not attend work because they had been shielding, are now able to go into work (although they are encouraged to continue working from home where this is still possible). Please see our previous article on this for further details.
The Working Safely Guidance has now also been updated to include additional information on ventilation, regular testing for staff who cannot work from home and the roadmap for easing of restrictions.
Offices and contact centres are also now permitted to open if they are COVID-secure, although employers are advised to encourage a mix of home and office based working where possible. Employers are also encouraged to stagger start and finish times.
Where possible, employers need to consider reasonable adjustments for disabled staff and customers when carrying out risk assessments. This includes the consideration of shift patterns.
The guidance has updated the 'self-isolation' section to emphasise that the day of a coronavirus test counts as day zero for the purpose of the isolation period (ie you must isolate for 10 days from the day you receive a positive test result).
The Department of Health and Social Care confirmed that all businesses with over ten employees will be able to offer free rapid home testing for staff, where on-site testing is not available. The NHS Test and Trace workplace guidance was also updated, and it now states that every customer or visitor (as opposed to solely the lead member of a group) must be asked to scan the NHS QR code or provide their contact details when entering a site.
If you have any queries as to how the updated guidance affects you as an employer, or if you would like advice on how you can support those in your workforce who are clinically extremely vulnerable, please get in touch with Ellie Boyd in our Employment Law team on 020 7665 0940 or complete the form below.