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Warning! Be prepared for workplace disruption with lifting of lockdown restrictions

Published 19 July 2021

Flexibility around working arrangements is now more important than ever before in the ever-changeable work climate. 

Increasing numbers of employees being ordered to self-isolate, soaring numbers of positive coronavirus (Covid-19) tests, and employees wishing to work from home are challenges all employers are having to deal with at present. 

Overcoming such issues is requiring a degree of flexibility employers have not had to demonstrate previously. 

We have recently seen the emergence of the word ‘pingdemic’ and warnings of the chaos it may cause (1) 

The word emerged on the back of news the NHS Test and Trace app has recently ‘pinged’ a record 520,194 people in a week (the week to 7 July 21) and instructed them to stay at home. This was said to be a 46 per cent rise on the previous seven days. 

The app alerts people when their phone registers it has been in close contact with the phone of someone who has tested positive for Covid-19 (2) 

Employees contacted by the app are ordered to stay at home for up to 10 days. Even those running the country are not exempt 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the chancellor Rishi Sunak were eventually forced to self-isolate after being ‘pinged’ by NHS Test and Trace as contacts of Covid-positive health secretary Sajid Javid (3) 

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) said, prior to the lifting of nearly all lockdown restrictions in England on 19 July, that as more businesses prepared to open, staff shortages are being acutely felt across all sectors in all areas of business, particularly in struggling sectors such as hospitality and leisure (4) 

If an employee or worker needs to self-isolate, the employer should: send them home straightaway if they are in work at the time,  provide support and consider their wellbeing and mental health and make necessary changes to the workplace to prevent further spread. 

If an employee or worker cannot work from home while self-isolating, they must get any sick pay they are  entitled to. 

A member of staff may have to self-isolate more than once, and if this is the case they should be supported in the same way each time. 

If an employee receives a positive Covid-19 test they must self-isolate for 10 days. They must also self-isolate if they have symptoms of the virus, live with someone who has or if they have been in contact with someone who has symptoms. (5) 

The usual sickness absence process applies for staff who have tested positive, have to stay at home and cannot work from home. 

Employers may need to be flexible in obtaining fit notes or other proof of illness, because if an employee is very il they may not be able to get a note straight away. 

Government advice to work from home has now been scrapped. Many employees have seen the benefits of working from home, enjoyed doing so and some may even feel safer doing so in future. 

Once offices fully reopen requests for employees to continue working from home and the reasons for such a request should be carefully and fairly considered. 

ACAS advise employers when making decisions about working from home, that it is important to discuss it with employees (6), For example: 

  • which roles can and cannot be done from home 
  • who may or may not want to work from home 
  • any concerns and how best to handle them 

This can also help to make sure decisions about working from home are fair and follow the law on discrimination. 

Working from home ('homeworking') is a type of flexible working where employees work from home some or all of the time.  

All employees have the legal right to request flexible working if they have worked for the same employer for 26 weeks or more. 

Such requests should be dealt with in a reasonable manner and only refused if there is a legitimate business reason for doing so. 

 

References:  

(1) We are in a ‘PINGDEMIC’ [Internet] metro.co.uk [Cited 19.7.21] https://metro.co.uk/2021/07/17/uk-facing-food-shortages-as-pingdemic-causes-staff-absences-14943703/ 

(2) How NHS Track and Trace app works? [Internet] covid19.nhs.uk [Cited 19.7.21] https://covid19.nhs.uk/what-the-app-does.html 

(3) Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak were eventually forced to self-isolate after being ‘pinged’ by NHS Test and Trace [Internet] www.itv.com [Cited 19.7.21] https://www.itv.com/news/2021-07-18/covid-boris-johnson-and-rishi-sunak-pinged-by-nhs-app-but-will-not-need-to-fully-self-isolate 

(4) Staff shortages upon restrictions lifting [Internet] www.cbi.org.uk [Cited 19.7.21] https://www.cbi.org.uk/media-centre/articles/cbi-responds-to-news-of-more-than-500-000-people-contacted-by-test-and-trace/ 

(5) When should you self-isolate? [Internet] www.nhs.uk [Cited 19.7.21] https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/self-isolation-and-treatment/when-to-self-isolate-and-what-to-do/ 

(6) ACAS advise employers when making decisions about working from home [Internet] www.acas.org.uk [Cited 19.7.21] https://www.acas.org.uk/working-from-home 

  

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For employment law advice or if you are affected or want information and support by any of the issues in this article please give us a call.  

Tel: 0333 772 0611 

A reputation built on success

For employment law advice or if you are affected or want information and support by any of the issues in this article please give us a call. 

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