With coronavirus cases rising and the rule of six coming into full force, there’s a possibility that employers will need to consider how to react if the threat of a second wave of Covid-19 brings restrictions and risks. Here is an update on what we know about how employers should respond, and answers to some questions they may be asking.

What are the rules for self-isolating employees?

The general rules are still the same in that if you have any symptoms, have tested positive for Coronavirus, been in contact with someone who has symptoms or tested positive you need to self-isolate for at least 10 days.

From Monday 28th September, anyone who gets a positive test or is contacted by the Test and Trace system and told they may have the virus must self-isolate. Refusing to do so, or breaching this will result in a fine which will start at £1,000 – but could rise to £10,000 for repeat offences.

If your staff, with school-aged children have been told to self-isolate because their child has shown symptoms, they must follow the stay at home guidance. We’ve produced a factsheet on coronavirus and back to school which answers questions employers and employees may have – you can download it here.

How should I manage post-holiday quarantine?

Post-travel quarantine rules are changing frequently and you may find that employees are suddenly told to self-isolate when returning from abroad. Staff who can work from home should be allowed to do so in these circumstances. Where this is not possible, you could also consider allowing employees to take additional holiday or unpaid leave – try to be as flexible as possible.

It’s important to remember that anyone who is self-isolating because they have returned to the UK from abroad and have to quarantine is not entitled to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP). Make this clear to staff before they go on holiday and ensure they are aware what the company can and can’t do should they find they need to isolate and that a breach of quarantine rules could lead to disciplinary action.

When can I expect my employee back at work after self-isolating?

Your employee can come back to the workplace after 10 days provided, they and anyone in their household has tested negative, they have not been told to isolate for 14 days by the NHS and they feel well.

Who is entitled to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP)?

If an employee is self-isolating they may work from home if they are able to, however, if they cannot work from home, then they must not work. You must ensure they receive Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) provided they meet the eligibility criteria, or you may give them the option to use their annual leave days.

Staff will qualify for SSP if they are at home because they tested positive for Covid-19, awaiting a test result, has shown symptoms, living with someone who has symptoms or been told to self-isolate by the NHS Test and Trace scheme.

How should I manage shielding employees?

Shielding has now come to an end in the UK, and employees may be anxious about being back at work after such a long period at home. Although the green light has been given for staff to go back to the workplace, an employer does have a duty to make reasonable adjustments. If an employer knows that an employee has a health condition and they have been shielding because of it, that employer should discuss with the employee and arrange a plan for the employee’s return to work or reach an alternative arrangement, such as working from home.

What happens if we are subject to a local lockdown?

Local lockdowns have been put in place across several areas of the UK this week but there are currently no restrictions on travelling to work or being in the workplace. Individual workplaces could be required to close in the event of an outbreak and in this case, employees would be entitled to full pay. Re-furloughing is still an option for now (until October 31st) but only applies to those who have been furloughed previously.

How can our staff get tested for Covid-19?

At the moment, testing via the government online test site is only available to people who have coronavirus symptoms. You can purchase testing kits, and some large companies are already doing this, but it does come at an expense. It has been reported that the UK government may begin to urge companies to launch regular workplace Covid-19 testing, but this is not confirmed.

How can I avoid job losses when the furlough scheme ends?

As it stands, the current furlough scheme ends on October 31st. Nothing has been announced to replace the scheme as of yet, but there may be a last minute change as we have seen previously. Cuts to pay and bonuses, as well as temporary layoffs and reducing working hours, are among the measures that you can take to avoid redundancies. You can also consider new or more flexible working arrangements, and we have produced a factsheet to help you manage Flexible Working Requests here.

More guidance on supporting your teams in this period of uncertainty can be found in our RESET guide – downloadable here along with a number of useful factsheets.