On 5th July 2021, the Government published its COVID-19 Response for Summer 2021. We have summarised the key points which arise from an employment law perspective and how this may impact employers during the next couple of months. This is up to date at the time of publication.
- England will move to step 4 of the Government’s roadmap on 19th July 2021. Different rules are in place in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Businesses will need to remain cautious about variants of concern, as well as existing variants such as the Delta variant, which is more transmissible than the Alpha variant.
- Approximately 86% of the UK’s adult population has received a first vaccination, with 64% having been double vaccinated. To accelerate the vaccine rollout, waiting times for second doses will be reduced to 8 weeks. All adults are encouraged to get vaccinated, and as such, employers should be as accommodating where possible.
- The JCVI anticipates COVID-19 booster vaccinations will be administered to the most vulnerable from September 2021. This may be offered alongside the annual flu vaccine. The position on vaccinating children will also be known by the autumn. Employers should keep an eye on these developments as they could cause some minor disruption later this year.
- All social contact limits will come to an end, meaning the existing 6 people/2 household rule for meeting indoors and 30 people outdoors will no longer apply. Similarly there will be no capacity restrictions for venues and events. This will be particularly welcomed for those in the hospitality, leisure and entertainment sectors.
- COVID-status certification will not be required in law as a condition of entry. However businesses may be able to insist on providing evidence of COVID status, for example evidence of vaccinations or a negative COVID test via the NHS App, provided the arrangements are lawful and non-discriminatory. In some circumstances, reasonable adjustments may be required.
- The requirement to wear a face covering in all settings will be removed. However the Government is advising individuals to wear a face covering when individuals come into contact with someone they do not normally meet in an enclosed and crowded environment. As a result, businesses should be open to members of staff and members of the public making a personal choice to wear a face covering in order to reduce the risk of themselves catching the virus.
- Social distancing rules will come to an end, meaning persons no longer have to be 2 metres or 1 metre plus socially distanced. However businesses are encouraged to consider the risks of close contact especially with those who are clinically extremely vulnerable and those who are not fully vaccinated, ensuring appropriate safeguards are put in place.
- In situations where there is a major outbreak in a local area, Directors of Public Health may insist on social distancing and other targeted time limited measures. Employers should therefore be prepared for this eventuality.
- The Government’s instruction for people to work from home has come to an end. However employers are still required to undertake an appropriate risk assessment to ensure members of staff can work safely. Similarly businesses should not require anyone to attend the workplace who is self-isolating or unwell.
- Organisations are still encouraged to maintain good hygiene, including the regular cleaning of hands with soap and water or hand sanitiser, as well as regularly cleaning surfaces and ensuring good fresh air ventilation, i.e. open windows or meeting outdoors where possible.
- Businesses are still encouraged to display QR codes for people to check in via the NHS COVID-19 App in order to assist NHS Test and Trace. The requirement to self-isolate when notified of a positive COVID-19 test or if required to do by the NHS App or by Test and Trace will remain in place. As such, employers should continue planning for potential disruption caused by staff absences. Exemptions to isolation for fully vaccinated individuals may come into effect later this summer.
- Existing testing arrangements will remain in place. Individuals are still encouraged to take up regular rapid tests, as well as persons being required to get a test if they have symptoms of COVID-19.
- The traffic light system for international travel will remain in place. No isolation is required for individuals returning from green listed countries. For those returning from amber listed countries, 10 days quarantine is required for all arrivals, except those who have been fully vaccinated, although specific details will be announced by the Government shortly. All travel from red listed countries continues to require 10 days of hotel quarantine. Businesses should note these restrictions only apply to arrivals into England. Different rules may apply in the devolved administrations. In addition, businesses should check the rules for arrivals into foreign countries, as different quarantine and testing rules may be in place.
- These existing arrangements will remain in place until the end of September 2021, prior to which the Government will produce an update on how to manage COVID-19 heading into the autumn and winter.
- In order to support the economy and jobs, the Government has already extended the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme until September 2021. There are no indications that this scheme will be extended, and therefore employers must start planning what to do with those who are furloughed within the next couple of months.
It is clear the restrictions and the impact of COVID-19 have caused huge disruption to businesses for many months. Whilst there is light at the end of the tunnel, we are crucially at a pivotal point, where case numbers are significantly increasing. Although hospitalisations and deaths are also increasing, they are thankfully not at the same extent as they were during previous waves. Nevertheless, it is imperative employers not only comply with their legal obligations, but also act in accordance with the Government’s guidance.
If you require any advice on any of the employment and HR issues referred to above, the Employment team is on hand to advise and assist. Please contact Sally Morris on 01905 610410 or at firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss this offer further and any frequently asked questions.