Avon LMC HR FAQs – HR issues and COVID-19 – updated
Q1. What are the current rules around Covid-19?
The Government has lifted all mandatory rules around Covid-19. This means:
- There is no legal requirement to self-isolate after a positive test. However, guidance still remains in place for individuals who test positive to stay at home and avoid contact with others for 5 days. Staff should still wait until they receive 2 negative tests on consecutive days or have been self-isolating for 10 days before returning back to work.
- Workers have no legal requirement to tell their employer that they need to self-isolate. However, it is recommended that the Practice still requests that staff do communicate this with them.
- NHS test and trace has now ended.
- People who are a close contact with someone with Covid-19 no longer need to self-isolate or test daily for 7 days unless they wish to do so.
- Covid SSP rules have now come to an end – people with Covid-19 will still be eligible for SSP subject to normal provisions, however this will no longer be a day one right and instead the normal 3 day waiting period will apply as with other sickness absences.
From 1st April 2022:
- Free Covid-19 testing will end for the general public. Tests will still be available to purchase if any individuals wish to do so.
- The existing Working Safely guidance will be replaced with new public health guidance
- Health and safety risk assessments will no longer be required to explicitly consider Covid-19, and instead it should be considered in the same way as other similar illnesses.
Q2. What should we do as a Practice as a result of the rule changes?
As the Governments Working Safely is still in place until 1st April 2022, existing process should be kept in place until this date. From 1st April 2022, new guidance will be issued, which we will advise on once this has been published.
Q3. What do we do if an employee tests positive for Covid-19?
Whilst they are no longer legally required to isolate, it is still recommended that they do. Therefore, wherever possible they should remain away from the Practice. If they are ill with Covid-19, then they should be off sick, and the Practice sickness process should apply. If they are well enough to work but are positive, then working from home could be considered if the role allows. If the role doesn’t allow for working from home, then it is recommended that they are off sick. However, when free testing comes to an end on 1st April, employees may be less likely to be testing, so may not know that they have Covid.
Q4. Can the Practice still require staff to test regularly?
The guidance is currently unclear as to whether General Practice will have access to free testing going forward. However, whilst Practices have supplies, they can continue to request that staff test regularly. In line with this, we would recommend developing a policy which outlines what the Practice’s expectations are if someone tests positive. The HR team at Avon LMC would be happy to help you develop such a policy for your Practice.
If free testing for Practices does come to an end, Practices have two options. You could purchase a supply of testing kits which you make readily available to your team, and you continue to ask your team to test regularly. In line with this you should ensure that you have a testing policy in place. The other option is that if Practices choose to not purchase tests for their staff, they will be unable to enforce staff to get themselves tested due to there being a cost implication.
Q5. What do we do from 1st April 2022 once the Working Safely guidance is no longer in effect?
The Government will issue new guidance closer to the date, which we will provide updates on once this has been published.
Q6. What other things do we need to consider?
The new rules focus on living with Covid-19 and treating it as any other illness. Therefore, going forward Covid-19 will be covered under the Practice’s standard sickness policy. However, both employers and employees still have a duty of care to keep themselves and others safe. This duty of care covers all illnesses including Covid-19. Therefore, Practices may wish to update risk assessments and sickness policies to try and keep everyone safe from all illnesses. Things to consider could include, encouraging employees to be off sick when they are unwell to prevent spreading illnesses to others; changing sickness trigger points to account for changing guidance around being off sick; where an employee is unwell but still well enough to work allow them to work from home if their role enables this; or for any employee that does come into work when unwell, requiring them to wear a mask. You should continue to ensure all staff are regularly washing their hands and sanitising their work station, especially if they share it with other employees.
Q7. Can a Practice impose any restrictions on patients that come into the Practice, particularly around patients wearing masks?
Whilst there is nothing explicit set out in any legislation which make it obligatory by law to make anyone wear a mask, Practices as an employer have a duty to carry out a health and safety risk assessment to protect their staff and patients. If as part of that assessment, a Practice deems it necessary for staff and patients to continue to wear a mask, in order to comply with Health and Safety law, they would have a duty to wear a mask.
If a patient comes to the surgery and is not wearing a mask, they may be asked to do so and if challenged, the Practice can mention the IPC guidance and the risk assessment and inform the patient that the Practice has a duty in law to keep staff and patients safe which requires then to wear a mask whilst on the premises.
If a patient still refuses to wear a mask, then the Practice needs to follow the guidance by offering them a visor, isolate them as far as possible from others etc, but they cannot refuse to treat them.