Return to Plan A in England

Yesterday, Boris Johnson announced that England would return to Plan A and allow Plan B measures to expire next week.

The changes are detailed below.

From today:

  • The guidance to work from home has ended, so employers can request for their team to return to the office/normal place of work, should they wish.
  • Face masks are no longer compulsory in classrooms for secondary school pupils.

From 27th January 2022:

  • Face masks will no longer be compulsory in indoor public spaces (shops, theatres, cinemas, public transport etc).
  • COVID passes will no longer be mandatory for entry into nightclubs and other large venues (however, venues are free to include this within their own entry policies, should they wish).
  • Restrictions in care homes will be eased. Further details will be available in the next few days.

At the moment, the rules around self-isolation remain unchanged. Therefore, it is still a legal requirement to self-isolate if you test positive for COVID. The Prime Minister did suggest that when the self-isolation regulations expire on 24th March 2022, it is unlikely that they will be renewed. Leaving us to simply live with the virus, as we would with the flu.

Reminder of Current Self-isolation Rules

From last Monday (17th January), the regulations regarding self-isolation were reduced from 7 days to 5. Regardless of vaccination status.

This means that people who test positive will be able to leave self-isolation after 5 full days, subject to having two negative lateral flow tests results, 24 hours apart.

People can take their first test at any time on day five. If it is negative, they can take a further test 24 hours later, on day six. If this is also negative – and they do not have a temperature – they can immediately leave isolation. If it is positive, they must remain in isolation.

COVID SSP

The online service for COVID SSP is now available.

The Coronavirus Statutory Sick Pay Rebate Scheme allows you to reclaim SSP paid to current or former employees that were off work due to COVID on or after 21st December 2021. If your employee’s absence started before 21st December 2021, you can only claim from 21st December 2021.

In order to be eligible to reclaim up to 2 weeks SSP per employee, you must:

  • Have had less than 250 employees as at 30th November 2021 (across all PAYE payroll schemes).
  • Have had a PAYE payroll scheme that was created and started on, or before, 30th November 2021.
  • Be claiming for an eligible employee.
  • Have already paid your employee’s sick pay.

The maximum number of employees which you can claim for is the number you had across your PAYE schemes on 30 November 2021.

Reducing Company Sick Pay for the Unvaccinated – Is it Fair?

Supermarket chain Morrisons hit the headlines recently when it announced an adjustment of its sick pay rules. They announced that they will no longer pay company sick pay to voluntarily unvaccinated employees who have been ‘pinged’ and have to self-isolate because of close contact with someone with Covid-19.

Since August, those who are vaccinated no longer have to self-isolate if they come in contact with someone with Covid-19, unless they have been exposed to someone who has the Omicron variant. As a result, some employers have taken the opportunity not to pay company sick pay if an unvaccinated employee catches Covid-19 or has to self-isolate.

It Is worth pointing out here that in both situations, the employee is entitled to statutory sick pay (SSP), it is just the additional ‘top up’ element of company sick pay that we are talking about here.

But what are the legalities?

For company sick pay rules, much will depend upon the wording of the contract of employment. Where an employee is ill with Covid-19, it is unlikely that the contract of employment will distinguish between the reasons for the absence, and so an employee who is ill with Covid-19 is still ill and will be entitled to company sick pay.

Some contracts of employment say that company sick pay is discretionary, so does this mean I can choose whether to pay them or not?

Even though this sick pay is discretionary, it would be risky to withhold company sick pay for this reason.

Vaccinated employees can still catch Covid-19, so it is difficult to say that the employee is at fault for catching Covid-19 by not being vaccinated.

It also means that unvaccinated individuals are put at an immediate disadvantage and their vaccination status could be due to a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010. Employees may also be unvaccinated because of their religion/belief or due to a medical exemption (meaning they fall within a protected characteristic, for example race/religion/disability). If the reason they are unvaccinated is linked to a protected characteristic, then excluding them from the enhanced sick pay benefit could be discriminatory.

It is also worth considering if making such changes would encourage employees to hide their vaccination status and/or not take time off work sick if they know they won’t receive full sick pay?

What are your thoughts? Are you thinking about amending your sick pay policy and making it a ‘two-tier’ policy for the vaccinated and the unvaccinated?

There are lots of things to consider. So, if you are thinking of amending your Sick Pay Policy, please do get in touch.

How Hallidays HR can help

If you would like to discuss any of the above in more detail, then please do not hesitate to contact us on 0161 476 8276 or email hr@hallidays.co.uk