After two plus years of coronavirus restrictions, it is good to see life returning to close to normal and measures moving away from legislative requirements to being recommended guidance. With these changes, many businesses have found it challenging to apply the updated guidance in practice and are unsure how it applies to managing Covid related absence as we move into a world where we are living with the virus.
Firstly, what is the current Covid guidance?
Testing is no longer required in Scotland. Instead you are asked to follow the ‘Stay At Home’ Guidance if you have symptoms of a respiratory infection such as coronavirus and have a high temperature, briefly summarised as follows:
- If your employee has symptoms but has not tested – They are advised to stay at home, and this would include working from home where possible until they no longer have a temperature or until they feel better. They should avoid contact with anyone who is higher risk, so should consider carefully when planning to return to work.
- If your employee has symptoms and has tested – They do not need to test, but if they do and have a positive result, they should stay at home for the 5 days following the day they took the test. If possible, they should work from home until day 6, but longer if they continue to feel unwell.
- If someone in their household is unwell with coronavirus or a respiratory infection, your employee does not need to stay at home but if they do begin to feel unwell then they should follow the above guidance.
- Masks are no longer mandatory, however if your employees wish to wear a mask they are free to do so in the workplace. If your employees are visiting customers or clients, they should have a mask in case they are required to wear one and ensure they follow any protocols asked of them.
- Other Practices to protect your employees: it is still recommended to practice and encourage good hand hygiene, keeping apart wherever possible and opening windows to increase ventilation.
What does this mean for my business?
The shift towards guidance only means measures will need to be specific to individual businesses depending on the nature of work and sector, and a common sense approach to Health & Safety is required. The positive side of this means that employers have more control on how they apply the guidance and what this means for them in terms of managing their employees. Sector specific guidance is also available depending on your industry and you may wish to seek H&S support in assessing risks relevant to your business. If you would like further support in this area, our Head of Health & Safety would be happy to discuss your individual circumstances in more detail.
How can I manage sickness absence in the time of Coronavirus?
Those businesses who can permit staff to work from home will find flexibility in the guidance to accommodate staff absence due to coronavirus, whereas those business who are not able to have staff working from home are left in a situation where the guidance is likely to be very challenging to follow. We recommend:
- Honest communication with staff is required to outline what your business is doing to keep them safe, to explain any expectations you have with working arrangements and that you will continue to keep everyone up to date of any further changes.
- Flexibility. It is a good idea to remain flexible at this stage as restrictions have only been recently lifted and are therefore subject to further change.
- Those who are too ill to work, for any reason and including coronavirus, will be required to follow your standard sickness procedures and report their absence from work accordingly. As testing is no longer required and is not freely available, employees are now less likely to produce a positive coronavirus test. And such absences can be managed through disciplinary procedures where excessive.
- Those who can work from home and are fit enough to do so, can continue doing this and should not be marked as sick.
- Provide tests. If you are willing to pay for tests, you can provide staff with a stock of these so they can check whether they do actually have Covid, whilst bearing in mind that it can take a few days to test positive after symptoms start.
- Signpost your employees to relevant sources of reliable information, for example, https://www.nhsinform.scot/covid19 and provide access to your up to date risk assessment for the business.
- Encourage all employees to continue to apply a common sense approach and remind them if they are unsure of anything to contact their manager or another relevant point of contact to discuss further.
Despite the lessening of restrictions, we cannot pretend the virus does not exist. It’s important your business reflects carefully on how it will respond to the prolonged situation and guidance currently in place. The impact of the virus and lockdown has been significant on individuals’ physical and mental health. Therefore, if you have particular concerns about your employees then please do reach out to our HR team for support on managing absence on a case by case basis.
Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 0141 221 2984 and we will be happy to help.