From Friday 10th December 2021 face coverings are mandatory for most indoor public venues including places of worship, theatres, and cinemas as well as on public transport and in places like shops and hairdressers.
From Monday 13th December 2021 people should work from home “if they can.”
Below are a few FAQs that will hopefully clear up a few of these hot topics:
Working from home – what’s new?
The guidance is “if people can” … this is only guidance and is not mandated, it might work for some employers, but not others.
We suggest employers consider both the positives and negatives of their employees working from home before deciding to implement working from home or hybrid working.
It may not be possible for employees to work from home for many reasons.
Re-introducing extra care to keep people safe within the workplace is paramount, maintaining a safe 1-metre distance, hand sanitiser placed strategically around the workspace and if possible, introduce screens and face masks.
Can we have a work’s Christmas party?
The Government recommends individuals carry out a lateral flow test before entering a crowded place so this may be a sensible Christmas do option.
There are no requirements for employers to cancel their festive plans and it is down to employees to decide if they wish to attend their workplace festivities.
Currently, there are no restrictions on individuals meeting and socialising.
The guidance is to be careful.
The requirement for wearing a mask does not extend to bars, pubs or restaurants.
From the 15th of December, NHS Covid passes will be mandatory for some venues and events and all over-18’s must prove that they are fully vaccinated or have a negative test in the last 48 hours before admittance.
Can we still claim SSP for self-isolation?
The repayment will cover up to 2 weeks of SSP starting from their first qualifying day of sickness if an employee is unable to work because they have covid symptoms or are self-isolating.
Can I ask if staff have had or will be having the vaccine?
You can ask these questions to your employees but you should have a good justification for this.
For example, for the protection of vulnerable clients and to carry out necessary risk assessments.
You should ensure that the rationale for this is covered in your GDPR Privacy Notice under legitimate interests.
How do I encourage the vaccine to my staff?
To encourage employees, especially those with vaccine hesitancy, employers can:
- Keep up to date with the statistics, medical advice, overall benefits of vaccination and government guidance to answer questions and help employees make informed decisions.
- Consider flexibility for staff attending their vaccination appointment. This could include paid time off for the appointment.
- Remind them of the bigger picture behind this vaccine – i.e. saving lives and trying to get back to ‘normal’ ways.
- Create a Covid vaccine policy to communicate and document all of the above and ensure all layers of management are aware and implementing the policy.
- Ask for volunteers to be a ‘vaccine voice’ within the company to be a point of contact to answer questions and have open discussions with colleagues around any vaccine concerns.
Do I have to pay for time off to have the vaccine?
There is no entitlement to paid time off to attend the vaccine appointment however this may be considered as one way to encourage employees to have the vaccine.
If paid time off isn’t an option for the Company, then the appointment should be treated as per any other policy or procedure you have in place for other medical appointments i.e. the dentist or GP.
Can I make employees have the vaccine?
As the government have not made the vaccine compulsory then no, you cannot force employees to have the vaccine (unless you are a care home or NHS service).
To enforce the vaccine across the workplace could open up multiple risks of discrimination especially as reasons behind not having the vaccine could be due to a disability, medical condition, religious or philosophical belief or pregnancy-related concerns.
There are also concerns around the infringement of human rights should the vaccines be made mandatory.
What about those employees that work with our vulnerable clients or colleagues?
The government have introduced new legislation which will mean anyone providing nursing or direct personal care in a CQC registered care home must be double vaccinated unless medically exempt.
This is now being rolled out to the NHS in early 2022.
Each employee’s refusal to have the vaccine should be heard on an individual basis.
If their reason for refusal does not have any reason covered by the Equality Act, their work cannot be reasonably adjusted to allow Covid preventive measures or their return to work without the vaccine causes a substantial health and safety risk, there is potential for this to result in dismissal.
Dismissal decisions should however not be made hastily and should be a last resort.
They do not come without risks.
What are these dismissal risks?
To dismiss you would need to show that a refusal to be vaccinated is an unreasonable failure to comply with a reasonable management request or failing in health and safety.
This will all depend on individual circumstances, for example, employers in a nursing home can now issue a reasonable instruction to employees to be vaccinated because refusal could put vulnerable people at risk.
Employers in a standard office environment would however be in a weak position as an instruction to be vaccinated may not be deemed reasonable.
A refusal to be vaccinated therefore could stand up as an SOSR dismissal (some other substantial reason) or the employee’s conduct in refusing to obey an instruction.
The risks are however unfair dismissal.
An employer can only defend an unfair dismissal claim if it can show that the employee unreasonably refused to be vaccinated and the reason why that vaccination was required was necessary and proportionate.
If an employee’s vaccine refusal is related to a disability or a religious or philosophical belief the employee may also have a direct or indirect discrimination claim.
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