At Guardian Support, we receive lots of enquiries and questions from our clients. Here are some of the most frequently asked questions.
Please note that this information was correct at the time of release, the Government guidelines and rules are expected to change. Please look out for our debrief update.
Our team are here to support. Don’t forget you can book a free of charge one to one meeting with one of our advisors.
This information is designed to provide a general understanding of typical COVID related questions and typical responses. However, it is not a substitute for receiving bespoke legal advice about your specific circumstances, and please be aware that Guardian Support does not accept liability for the information contained within this document.
Can we make it compulsory for staff members to have a COVID test?
As part of your COVID risk assessment, you can make regular testing a mandatory control measure. In this instance it is compulsory for staff members to comply. Since 19th July 2021 the Government has removed a lot of their guidance on COVID safety and instead left it entirely down to employers to decide in their COVID risk assessment what is appropriate going forward. It would be best practice to consult with employees in case anyone has any objections.
If you are not sure whether you need regular testing or not, or how to manage the consultation process, give us a call.
What do we do if people refuse the COVID 19 vaccination or have not yet had their vaccination?
Staff members can refuse the vaccination and may do so for a host of reasons such as religious choice, health reasons, or personal choice. Factor this prospect into your COVID risk assessment and decide whether this group of people need to maintain additional control measures until they are vaccinated. It is also worth having a conversation with anyone refusing their vaccination to understand their reasons.
For those working in the care sector it will become mandatory for care workers to have their vaccination as a condition of their employment later this year. Read more about this change in our blog.
Can we ask for proof of vaccination?
You can ask for proof of vaccination, and in some industries, like care for example, where vaccinations will become mandatory later in 2021, you will need to obtain proof of vaccination. Please note that any information related to a person’s health is classed as special category data, so the staff member will need to provide express consent for you to process this information under GDPR rules.
How do we handle requests from employees who wish to remain working at home on a permanent basis?
Stay at home and shielding guidelines from the Government have now been lifted, and therefore there is no automatic right for people to continue to work from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
An employee may ask to work from home using the flexible working rules, which have historically typically been used to request a change of working hours.
For many employees the option of flexible working has been a positive thing and there is an opportunity for employers to consider how this could support their business and help them to retain employees.
It is recommended to deal with flexible working requests under the flexible working rules. If flexible and home working it is not suitable for your business, you are under no obligation to agree to this, but remember if it is done under flexible working rules, you will need to use at least one of the eight potentially fair reasons for turning down the request.
We have staff members who don’t want to return to work from furlough, what can we do?
There is no employee right to be furloughed and any employee whose furlough has ended is required to return to work. If an employee is absent without leave, follow your Absent Without Leave (AWOL) process.
Do we still need to do a COVID risk assessment?
Whilst most of the countries’ restrictions are now lifted, the onus is firmly now on the employer to manage the risk of COVID-19 and therefore it is important that you still maintain a COVID risk assessment in the workplace and adjust this periodically as the pandemic continues to unfold and Government guidelines change.
COVID-1919 should now be treated as any other risk within the workplace and requires a risk assessment which should be reviewed in line with government guidance.
Do employees still need to social distance and wear face coverings?
The answer to this question will come from your COVID-19 risk assessment. In some sectors, particularly health care for example, face masks are still required, and remember also for those completing work in Wales and Scotland, there may be different requirements.
What do we do at the end of furlough?
When Furlough ends on 30th September 2021, you either need to bring staff back to work, make them redundant, look at lay off or implement short time working (if you have a contractual right to do this). It is recommended to get advice on the best route for your business to ensure that you follow the appropriate process correctly.
What do I do with the annual leave someone has accrued during furlough?
Throughout furlough, employees will have continued to accrue annual leave, and therefore will need to take this on their return to work. Remember that if they haven’t been able to use their holiday because of COVID-19 then legislation passed last year gives workers the right to carry this holiday over for up to 2 years.
It is recommended to encourage employees to take as much holiday as possible before they return from furlough, as this prevents the build-up of annual leave, but it is also cheaper because you can top up furlough so that holiday will only cost you an additional 20% of pay.
Remember you can also enforce holiday with double the notice (i.e., to enforce 1 weeks’ holiday, you need to give 2 weeks’ notice).
Can you ask someone who has been advised to isolate for proof?
Yes, and this is recommended. Where the isolation is via the NHS Application, you can request proof of the notification.
Do staff have to isolate if they are pinged by the NHS Track and Trace phone application?
No, the NHS application is only advisory at present.
It is however recommended to still isolate if you are contacted by the app as good practice as these people will have been in contact with people who have COVID, but it is down to individuals and their employers to agree how they want to deal with this.
This shouldn’t be confused with being contacted by phone by Track and Trace. If you are advised by track and trace directly to isolate, you need to do so by law otherwise you can be fined £1,000. The rules may change on the 16th August 2021.
Can we tell staff members to delete the COVID-19 app?
No, it is a personal choice to use the NHS Track and Trace app or not.
Can I still reclaim SSP for anyone who is advised to isolate?
Yes, and this is likely to remain the case until the pandemic is completely over.
How are the rules changing on 16th August 2021 in regards to self isolation?
Under current plans, from the 16th August 2021, those who have had two COVID-19 vaccinations and those under 18 years old will no longer need to self-isolate if they have come into close contact with someone who tests positive, are contacted by track and trace or advised to self-isolate by the app, provided that they do not themselves test positive for COVID-19. However, if you haven’t had any vaccination or are still to have the 2nd dose, then the normal rules will apply, and you will still need to isolate.
Do I need to pay someone if they need to isolate after returning from a foreign country?
No, it is recommended that employers update their holiday request process so that individuals are clear when requesting leave if they are travelling to a destination that will require them to quarantine on their return. If they are, you can either refuse the request, as is your right to turn down a holiday request, or if you approve it, you can decide with the employee how you will handle that quarantine period. The options could include to extend the period of holiday, agree unpaid leave or work from home. It is recommended to agree this in writing.
I work in a care home, and some of my staff are refusing to be vaccinated, can I sack them?
Legislation has now been passed confirming that vaccinations are mandatory for care homes, and unless an exemption applies, after the grace period, anyone who refuses to be vaccinated can be dismissed. You can rely on one of the 5 fair reasons for dismissal, Illegality in the process. It is worth planning in advance for this eventuality as you may still need to pay notice of dismissal. Remember that before dismissing someone, you will need to consider if there are ways of redeploying them away from the front line.