HR Bits and Bytes (January 2022)

Dealing with isolation periods, changes to SSP payments and sick notes & working from home requirements.

Isolation Periods

Since Wednesday 22 December, the 10-day self-isolation period for people who record a positive PCR test result for COVID-19 has been reduced to seven days in most circumstances, unless you cannot test for any reason. Individuals may now take a Lateral Flow Test from day six and day seven of their self-isolation period. Those who receive two negative test results are no longer required to complete 10 full days of self-isolation.

The first test must be taken no earlier than day six of the self-isolation period and tests must be taken 24 hours apart. If both these test results are negative, and your employee does not have a high temperature, they can end self-isolation after the second negative test result and return to work.  Anyone who is unable to take a Lateral Flow Test will need to complete the full 10 day period of self-isolation.  For further information on self-isolation please follow the link here

Possible Case of COVID-19

As the spread of new versions continues to rise, it important that you remind your teams that if they have any symptoms of COVID-19 (a new continuous cough and/or high temperature and/or loss of, or change in, normal sense of taste or smell), they must self-isolate and take a LFT.

As from 05th January there are some additional changes to contacts of a positive case

if they are a contact of a positive case, either inside or outside work, they are not required to self-isolate. Instead, they are required to take a Lateral Flow Test every day.

From 11 January in England, people who receive positive lateral flow test result for coronavirus (COVID-19) will be required to self-isolate immediately, however they won’t be required to take a confirmatory PCR test.  It remains possible to ask for proof of a positive test or isolation request for those absences that are Covid related.

This is a temporary measure while COVID-19 rates remain high across the UK. Whilst levels of COVID-19 are high, the vast majority of people with positive LFT results can be confident that they have COVID-19.  Further details can be found here

SSP Rebate Scheme (SSPRS) makes a return & sick notes now only needed after 28 days

From 21 December 2021, the SSP Rebate Scheme, which reimbursed employers for the sick pay paid to employees due to Covid-19, has been reinstated.

The Scheme was created in April 2020 to assist employers with the rising cost of sick pay as employees took time off work because they had Covid, or they were self-isolating.

Eligible employers were able to claim back Covid related Statutory Sick Pay (SSP), up to 2 weeks per person, for any absences which fell before 1 October 2021. Paying SSP is a legal requirement provided that the employee meets certain criteria. At the start of the pandemic, SSP laws were extended to include those who were self-isolating, in addition to those who were sick. Because of this, employers found that they were paying substantially more SSP to employees than before.

The Scheme enabled employers with fewer than 250 employees, counted at 28 February 2020, to claim back Covid related SSP to a maximum of 2 weeks per person. The Scheme was closed on 30 September 2021 – the same day the Job Retention Scheme (furlough scheme) was closed – due to the UK being in a better place in terms of Covid cases.

However, the emergence of the Omicron variant has seen an increase in cases and therefore an increase in time off from work due to either sickness or self-isolation.

To help employers meet this extra cost, the Scheme re-opened today (21 December 2021) for eligible businesses across the UK however claims cannot be made until mid-January 2022, when they can be made retrospectively.

  • Employers should ensure they carefully record absence, reasons for absence and accompanying evidence in order to be able to make an accurate claim.

It is worth noting that the recent changes to evidential requirements for absence reporting do not apply where the reason for absence is Covid related, so evidence for Covid related reasons can be requested as normal.

As we await further guidance from the Government on the actual mechanics of the re-ignited SSP Rebate Scheme, the areas that remain unanswered are:

  • whether eligibility to use the scheme still depends on headcount at 28 February 2020 or whether a new, more recent, date will be used; and
  • whether the scheme will be reset entirely, meaning that employers can claim in respect of employees that had already reached the maximum re-claim amount permissible.

We will update further once we have received clarification on these points.

Temporary change to sickness absence certification requirements announced and new paperwork to support the changes.

It has been announced that between 10 December 2021 and 26 January 2022 employers cannot ask employees to go to their doctor for proof of sickness until the absence has lasted for 28 days or more (the requirement to self-certificate remains in place for that time). It has also been made clear that SSP cannot be withheld due to late medical evidence.

This is a significant change from the usual requirement that requires a medical certificate to be provided after 7 days of absence and will be difficult to manage for many employers. This change comes as a result of the exceptional pressure placed on GPs in managing the government booster rollout.

Employers should be careful to make it clear to staff that this is a temporary change only, and not a permanent change to the sickness absence notification procedure.

Whilst employers cannot ask for proof of sickness for non-Covid related absences, it remains possible to ask for proof of a positive test or isolation request for those absences that are Covid related. Employers may be concerned that employees will use this change to their advantage, and claim sickness for longer periods than necessary. If not already in place, it is highly recommended to have a thorough return to work process in which the sickness absence is discussed in detail and documented to assess for future patterns and possible evidence of inappropriate use of the sickness procedure.

We are able to provide paperwork to support you with these conversations and meetings if required

One off Grants

The Government has also confirmed that businesses in the hospitality and leisure sectors in England will be eligible for one-off grants of up to £6,000 per premises.  More than £100 million discretionary funding will be made available via the Additional Restrictions Grant (ARG) for local authorities to support other businesses, such as those who supply the hospitality and leisure sectors.  Further details can be found on your local authority site.

Fines for Welsh workers not working from home

Due to our location, we know that many of you have employees from Wales and that you will be aware that on the 20 December 2021, the Welsh Government introduced new measures under The Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) (No. 5) (Wales) (Amendment) (No. 22) Regulations 2021.

Previous government mandates instructed employees to work from home where reasonably practicable. However, from 20 December 2021, no person may leave the place where they are living, or remain away from that place, for the purposes of work or to provide voluntary or charitable services. Any employee found to be in breach of these work from home rules without a reasonable excuse, risk a personal fine of £60. This doubles for each repeat offence to a maximum of £1,920 for the 6th offence, after which further sanctions may be given.

Similarly, employers risk fines for business-related offences e.g. failure to enable an employee to work from home, where it is reasonably practicable for them to do so starting from a fixed penalty notice of £1000, which then increases to a maximum of £10,000 for the 4th offence.

Employers also risk being issued with improvement and/or closure notices for repeated breaches to regulations. Whilst both the employer and employee can receive fines for non-compliance, it is likely that an employee who is presented with a £60 fine for going to work, when required by their employer, is going to pass that fine on to their employer as an “expense”.

We understand that it will not be possible for everyone to work from home. Mainly when the  nature of the role does not allow for remote working (e.g. those providing personal care, shopworkers, construction teams etc.). We have created a temporary letter which these employees can pass on to regulatory bodies in the event they are stopped and/or questioned on why they are not working from home. The letter confirms the employee’s eligibility to continue working from the workplace and outlines the reasons why it is not reasonably practicable for them to work remotely.

Whilst there is no fixed guidance on who can “reasonably practicably” work from home in Wales, employers may wish to use previous ‘guidelines’ whereby the expectation is that anyone who was able to work from home in March 2020, should do so again, with exceptions for those who do not have the facilities to work from home (e.g. due to poor internet connection) or those whose physical and/or mental health would be negatively impacted.

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