What do the government restrictions mean for employers and employees? Can your Christmas parties still go ahead?
Further to the arrival of the new Omicron variant of Covid-19, which is said to be "spreading faster than Delta”, Boris Johnson has re-introduced restrictions saying, “It’s now the proportionate and the responsible thing to move to Plan B.”
But what is Plan B in an employment context and what does this mean for employers and employees?
- The main message was that employees should return to working from home where possible so they can help curb the spread of the variant. Employers have been instructed to put in place the necessary arrangements to achieve this.
- Where employees are unable to work from home and need to attend work, employers should continue to take as many Covid-19 secure measures as possible. These may include encouraging employees to participate in regular lateral flow testing, keeping workstations two metres apart where possible, ensuring there is adequate ventilation, requiring mask wearing in communal areas and supplying antibacterial sanitising products to clean communal contact points and workstations.
- The Prime Minister also announced that the requirement for face masks will now be extended for most indoor settings, and this is particularly relevant for employers operating in the entertainment/hospitality sector.
- Christmas parties can continue provided appropriate secure measures are taken. This may include asking staff for sight of a Covid-19 Vaccine Pass (available on the NHS app) or evidence of a negative lateral flow test in the last 24 hours to gain entry to the Christmas party. The benefit of only asking for quick visual proof of a vaccine pass or lateral flow test is that the Information Commissioner’s Office does not consider this to be processing of special category personal data and so this avoids the need for certain compliance steps otherwise required under the UK GDPR. Furthermore, it would be sensible for employers to conduct a Christmas party risk assessment and consider introducing as many measures as possible to mitigate the risk of a post party outbreak. The Prime Minister suggested temperature checks at the door, mask wearing in communal areas, social distancing, adequate ventilation and providing antibacterial disinfectant where possible. It is likely to be difficult for an employee to prove they caught Covid-19 at a Christmas party itself and accordingly, from a legal perspective the risks should be low where necessary Covid-19 secure measures are taken to keep staff safe. Notwithstanding this, the only party that is completely free of Covid-19 risk will be a virtual party.
- Eligible employees should have booster vaccinations and employers should consider supporting this government initiative by allowing employees paid time off to do so and responding reasonably if employees feel unwell after having the vaccine, including paying sick pay over and above SSP. Boris Johnson has not gone as far to suggest introducing mandatory vaccines stating, “I didn’t want to have a society in a culture where we forced people to get vaccinated. “ Therefore, whilst it remains reasonable to encourage employees to get vaccinated, it currently remains unadvisable to restrict employment opportunities to those who are unvaccinated in the vast majority of cases. In care homes it is now mandatory for workers to be vaccinated. But in other contexts, there remains a possibility that a ‘no jab, no job’ policy could fall foul of the Equality Act 2010, which protects individuals against discrimination. This is because certain groups in society remain less likely to be vaccinated including those with certain medical conditions, younger people, women of childbearing age and individuals from black and ethnic minorities and this leads to the respective possibilities of indirect disability, age, sex, and race discrimination.
- Daily tests have also been introduced for those who have encountered individuals who have tested positive for the Omicron variant.
If you need any further help or guidance on what the new Covid-19 restrictions mean for the workforce, please contact Heather Love.