Don’t go to work if you catch Covid! Bosses say they will carry on making staff who test positive self-isolate and will pay for swabs after rules are scrapped on Freedom Day

  • ‘Living with Covid’ plan is set to be announced in the Commons this afternoon 
  • Business minister said it would be down to companies themselves to set policies
  • Firms polled revealed plans to continue with self-isolation and paying for tests 

Businesses today revealed their plans for ‘Freedom Day’, with most saying they will continue to make staff who test positive stay at home and many planning to pay for swabs.

The Prime Minister is expected to unveil the blueprint for his ‘living with Covid’ plan in the Commons this afternoon, which is likely to include the end of universal free tests and the axing of the legal requirement to self-isolate.

This morning, business minister Paul Scully said it would be down to companies themselves to decide which policies to adopt, although he promised to provide ‘really good guidance’ for employers. 

Business owners Louise Reed and Maddy Alexander-Groutwe both said they would continue with their current approach to self-isolation 

Meanwhile, Adam Bamford, CEO at gift company Colleague Box, said he would be open to employees who had tested positive coming into the office as long as they were not showing any symptoms and followed social distancing rules

Boris Johnson’s grand ‘Living With Covid’ set-piece was thrown into confusion today after a Cabinet meeting to sign off the plan was delayed with almost no notice.

Ministers were informed with almost no notice that the gathering to finalise the strategy for England – including axing self-isolation this week – was being pushed back.

Mr Johnson is expected to make a Commons statement later laying out the blueprint, and a timetable for scrapping ‘free’ tests which have been costing the taxpayer around £2billion a month. 

But Cabinet sources confirmed to MailOnline that the meeting has not started on time, with wrangling thought to be ongoing over testing provision. ‘There is a row brewing,’ one said. 

Others suggested that Mr Johnson is receiving fresh briefing about Ukraine, while Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Health Secretary Sajid Javid – neither of whom were seen arriving in Downing Street this morning – try to thrash out differences. 

Although Tories have welcomed the decision to tear up laws that have underpinned the government’s response to the pandemic, some have voiced fears that charging for lateral flows and PCRs could cause serious problems.

Maddy Alexander-Grout, CEO at My VIP Rewards, said she would continue requiring positive employees to self-isolate and would fund sick pay and tests for staff.

‘We will be making employees self-isolate if they have Covid, and we will be paying them as normal,’ she told MailOnline.

‘I have an autoimmune disease and I don’t want to get it for the second time. We will be paying for tests for our employees as well.

‘Companies need to think about those who are more vulnerable, and removing all precautions could result in absences with other staff members.’

Lee Marples, founder of digital marketing agency Think 3, said: ‘Sick pay will continue to be paid where required and if staff feel they would be best to self-isolate we will of course support them in doing so, including WFH if that is the best answer.

‘We have never mandated that staff should carry out COVID tests as ‘proof to work’ and see no need for this to be changed.

‘We must put trust in our employees to do the right thing, the same as they would have done before COVID if they felt unwell or unable to work.’

Ross Boyd, CEO at mortgage comparison site, said he would continue asking staff to self-isolate if they tested positive and would ‘definitely’ be happy to pay for tests.

‘I think we need to get back to normal but equally we need to continue to protect the vulnerable,’ he said.

Louise Reed, from toy producer Little Nutkins; Helen Skripek, of The Butlers Pantry in Derby; and Sarah Loates from Loates HR Consultancy all said they would continue with their current approach to self-isolation.

Meanwhile, Adam Bamford, CEO at gift company Colleague Box, said he would be open to employees who had tested positive coming into the office as long as they were not showing any symptoms and followed social distancing rules. 

Sarah Loates said: ‘If one of our team tested positive for COVID, I would expect them to take the same action as they would if they had a bad cold, namely stay at home, take the time they need to fully recover, and definitely not to bring it into the workplace!’

‘We have consulted with our colleagues who are all comfortable that if someone has tested positive but aren’t showing signs of being ill they will come to work with usual protocols of working with a 2 metre gap and our high quality cleaning controls in place,’ he said.

‘Otherwise, we intend to return to a common sense policy whereby if our colleagues are ill we will ask them not to come into work and they will be paid at full pay as is our policy.’ 

Barry Whitehouse, who runs The Artery – an art shop in Banbury, Oxfordshire – said he had ‘no intention’ of relaxing any Covid restrictions.

But Sandra Wilson Director, from HR consultancy Cottrell Moore Limited, said companies would be wise to treat Covid like other illnesses.

Business minister Paul Scully said it would be down to companies themselves to decide which policies to adopt, although he promised to provide ‘really good guidance’ for employers

‘As restrictions are lifted, companies need to stop thinking separately about Covid and treat it as part of their usual sickness absence procedure/policy,’ she said.

‘All absence is dealt with on a case by case basis so this should be no different.

‘Common sense please, surely we don’t need to keep being told how to manage things as a ”nanny state”.

‘Each business is individual as are its employees, and they should manage it the way that works best for them.’

What does Freedom Day mean for YOUR business? Bosses face setting their OWN Covid rules for staff who test positive after government axes self-isolation orders this week 

With the government set to abolish all Covid restrictions – including the legal requirement to self-isolate – employers face major decisions about which policies to adopt.

Today, small business minister Paul Scully confirmed it would be down to businesses themselves to decide the best way forward, including whether staff should stay at home if they test positive.

Companies also face a raft of other decisions, from whether to pay for tests when the government stops providing them for free, to questions over mask mandates and social distancing rules.

Then there’s the question of sick pay, with unions today warning that two million employees could be forced to continue working because they are not paid enough to be entitled to it.

Firms have a legal duty to protect their employees, leaving them vulnerable to legal action if they allow staff who have tested positive to come into work, or are seen as tolerating an unhealthy environment.

Here, MailOnline runs through some of the key questions about the world of work after ‘Freedom Day’. 

What is the government planning to announce today and how will it affect my business?

The Prime Minister is expected to unveil his ‘living with Covid’ plan today, with reports it will include the end of universal free tests, as well as the legal requirement to self-isolate.

This means companies will have to decide whether to pay for tests for staff, and set their own self-isolation policies.  

Business minister Paul Scully said it was the right move, and that the PM would be weighing up the balance between a return to normality and keeping people safe.

Mr Scully told Sky News: ‘Infections are coming down quite rapidly, the hospitalisations and deaths are following as well – they tend to lag behind, obviously, the case numbers – but nonetheless you can see the trend within that.’

He said Mr Johnson will be ‘looking at the best advice possible but getting the balance right’.

Case rates reported by the UK Health Security Agency on Sunday fell by 37 per cent on last week to 25,696 cases – the lowest figure since August last year

If a worker gets Covid will they have to self-isolate? 

Today, Paul Scully said it would be down to employers and employees to make decisions over self-isolating.

The business minister told Sky News: ‘I would say that it’s like any illness, frankly, any transmissible illness that you would say stay at home.’

He said if an employee had flu, they would be expected to stay at home, ‘but it’ll be down to themselves or down to their employer’.

Asked what action employees should take if their employers tried to force them in if they were ill with Covid, Mr Scully said: ‘This is why we need to make sure that we’ve got really good guidance for employers.

‘But as I say, there will come a time when the pandemic moves to more of an endemic approach to Covid, in the same way that flu and other viruses are treated, and that’s what we’ve got to get back to.

‘But it’s a fine balance, clearly, and that’s why Cabinet’s meeting this morning, to go through the science, to go through that balance and debate it and then, obviously, the Prime Minister (will) come before Parliament to make his announcement.’

Richard Fox, an employment partner at Kingsley Napley, said staff may need to produce proof that they are ill to avoid coming into the office.   

‘You should tell your boss that you cannot come into work because you have tested positive,’ he said. 

‘The employer cannot force you back in if you’re unwell. But if someone doesn’t come in they can require within a certain number of days that the person gets a certificate from a GP saying whether they are fit to come into work. 

‘And the employer can also require the staff member to be seen to judge whether they are fit to return to work.’  

Deaths however increased slightly compared to last Sunday, rising from 52 to 74. It comes as Boris Johnson urged people to be ‘more confident and get back to work’ as he heralded this coming Thursday as Covid Freedom Day

What if one of my employees has Covid? 

‘They should be allowed to stay at home until they are better – forcing them to come in could raise an issue under health and safety at work legislation,’ says Richard Fox. 

‘Employers are responsible for the health and safety of all their employees, and if they force someone to come and they or other staff suffer they could be liable.’ 

Speaking today, Mr Scully said businesses still had a statutory duty of care.

‘I would say that it’s like any illness, frankly, any transmissible illness that you would say stay at home,’ he said, but he admitted ‘it’ll be down to themselves or down to their employer’.

He said workers should contact Acas if they ‘really think that there is a detriment to them’. 

What can I do if they insist on coming in? Can I force them to go home? 

Stephen Morrall, of Hunters Law LLP, said ‘a number of different legal considerations’ would apply in this instance.  

‘If you have Covid and you are suffering from symptoms, a good employer would ask you not to come into the office,’ he said. 

‘They must have regard to the health and safety of the individual and their other staff. You can’t force somebody not to come in through the door, but if an employee insisted on doing so, the employer would need to decide whether it was reasonable in the circumstances to instruct the employee to return home. 

‘If the employee refused to comply with a reasonable instruction, this could become a disciplinary issue which could ultimately lead to dismissal. In reality, this sort of situation is self-regulating as most employees will not want to work if they are sick.’ 

What can I do if a colleague has it? 

‘If two secretaries came in and one was ill, the other one would not have the authority to ask her to go home, but she could ring up HR and then they would make a decision,’ said Mr Morrall. 

‘If the outcome was to ask the sick employee to go home that is likely to be considered a reasonable request.’

Do businesses still need to test people or ask them to wear masks?

‘The government’s policy is to remove the legal restrictions and persuade people to act sensibly – they want it to be self-regulating, which is a very English approach,’ said Mr Morrall. 

‘In England the law doesn’t prescribe things unless they are necessary, and things are done by consensus. 

‘So once all further restrictions are removed, I will recommend people at my firm take tests periodically during the week. But it will be down to each company, and their employees, to decide for themselves.’

Can a vulnerable colleague sue if they get Covid off an infected person?

‘It’s unlikely – first of all it would be virtually impossible to prove how you’ve caught Covid, because if you go out of your house and come within a metre of someone you could have caught it from anybody,’ said Mr Morrall. 

‘If they come into work they are taking a conscious risk. It’s not like falling off a ladder – which would be a workplace injury.’ 

What are unions saying?

Kate Bell, from the TUC trade union, today expressed concern about the millions of workers who are not entitled to statutory sick pay. 

She fears they could be forced to continue working even if they are positive, putting their colleagues at risk.  

‘Everyone wants to get back to normal as quickly as possible but we need to do it safely,’ she told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. ‘We know 2million people in low-paid jobs don’t qualify for sick pay because they don’t earn enough.

‘That’s a major issue for them and it’s going to be a major issue if you’re facing that difficult choice about whether you can afford to pay for Covid tests. We don’t know what Covid tests will be priced at if charges are introduced.

‘People want to be able to do Covid tests and stay at home if they are sick to keep their colleagues safe. That shouldn’t be a choice people are forced to make on their own.’   

What if my boss tries to force me in? 

‘Employers can give ”lawful and reasonable” instructions to their employees, but I would question whether this would be a lawful and reasonable reason,’ said Richard Fox. 

‘I suspect there will be some difficult situations to come. It’s a big jump to say that people can come in whether hitherto it has been unlawful to do this.’  

An Office for National Statistics survey found more than 60 per cent of Britons said they were now travelling into work only in the week to February 13. For comparison, those working from home only dropped to about one in six (17 per cent)

What are my options if I want to stay working from home? 

‘You have the right to request flexible working, but you don’t have the right to work flexibly – there’s a crucial difference there,’ Mr Fox said.  

‘So if you request to continue working from home, there’s a regimen the employer must go through with a corresponding timescale. But you’d expect there to be dialogue in most workplaces. 

‘The issue that employers need to be careful about is whether they are being discriminatory in how they apply the policy.  So if an employee is vulnerable and has been working successfully for the last few years, the employer would need to tread carefully.’    

Will employers have to rip up their existing sickness rules and start again? 

‘This is undoubtedly a big moment for employers,’ said Mr Fox. 

‘When the Government scraps COVID isolation rules, it means employers can no longer rely on Government regulation to provide the groundwork for a system of protection for their workers. Earlier than expected it seems employers are going to need to set the rules for themselves.

‘It may be prudent for these to cover new more potent strains of COVID-19 that may come along or even other infections besides COVID-19.

‘If they do not have appropriate policies already in place, employers may want to consider introducing ‘infection policies’ to set rules and standards for the entire organisation so everyone is clear. For a building contractor the rules may be different to a care home; office-based workplaces may have different rules and needs to a retailer. 

‘It may not be wise to leave it to individual managers to take a view on isolation and vaccine requirements for members of their own departments, as that could lead to legal risk for the employer.’ 

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