Employers beware: Covid-19 and self isolation – not trusting employees may result in more than you bargained forRosie MCARDLE
After nearly 12 months of dealing with covid-19 most of us are fully aware of the obligations so self isolate if we have been in contact with someone with covid-19, whether we are notified through track or trace or we are simply following the rules as set out in the NHS guidance. We are seeing that the new strain of covid-19 has resulted in more employees having to isolate at home following potential exposure to an infected individual. This has been presenting two issues for employers:
- Resentment between employees who can isolate and work at home and those that are obliged to stay at home and isolate on Statutory Sick Pay.
- Those that see the relative ease of the self isolation system as an opportunity to take time off work whilst still receiving either company or statuary sick pay.
Situation 1: There is little the employer can do in scenario one and the situation is reflective in many businesses across the UK at present. Whilst this situation may seem unfair at face value, it is simply reflective of the nature of the roles the employees undertake. As an employer, the key obligation is to allow the employee to follow the guidance on isolation, ensure the workplace is covid-19 secure and that any health and safety risks are adequately controlled to protect those that remain within the workplace. From a HR perspective, the employer should take steps to recognise the contributions being made by those whose roles necessitate a presence in the workplace and may utilise various formal and informal reward and recognition strategies to achieve this.
Situation 2: The nature of the symptom-reporting process and the ease of obtaining a self-download NHS isolation note rely on people telling the truth. The Government have also confirmed that an Isolation notice is sufficient evidence upon which to pay statutory sick pay related to Covid-19. With no checks and balances built into this system, it is relatively straightforward for individuals to manipulate the situation and take time off if they are not actually entitled to. Asking an employee to undertake a test may appear to be the simple answer, however, the government website currently states that only those withsymptoms are eligible to get a test. Crucially though, the website specifically states that individuals are not eligible for a test if their “employer or school has asked you to get a test but you have no symptoms”. This means that it is difficult to prove how genuine the situation is.
Employers are in a difficult position as the regulations require them not to force staff who have been instructed to self-isolate to leave their place of isolation (normally their home). As per the Government guidance, failure to follow this guidance can result in fines for the employer starting at £1000. Employers are therefore left with little option but to accept the information as presented by their employees, unless they have strong evidence to support the fact that the employee is not actually in isolation. In these circumstances an investigation and disciplinary process can be considered.
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