HR is probably the one department globally that faces the brunt of rumours, biases and misunderstandings in the workplace.  We don’t always have a positive reputation. In fact, many employees hate them or avoid them at all costs and only view them as an occasional intermediary.

Of course, we have to take time to understand the business, its strategy and its objectives. For example, if they wanted to increase profit by ten per cent over the next five years, we would need to know how they will resource that; what kinds of skills do they need; have they already got the talent in-house; are their employees engaged?

The HR remit is huge. For every plan or project in the business strategy, there will be an element that HR has to support, whether it’s recruitment, talent management, appraisals, training … we touch so many different areas.

If you’re in leadership, you’re in HR.

HR Myth #1 – HR Is Out to Get You!

The scary stories around this teach us not to trust the HR boogeymen.  It has been told that any information shared with HR folks can (and will) be used against you.  Usually, this myth is formed when a few employees have had bad experiences with those dreadful HR people.  People think we are spies for the leaders. Not true. We provide feedback at all levelsmeaning we talk about talent and how people are performing to leaders. We often point out things that the leader might not see. We take the temperature of the organization and help leaders understand if there are issues in the culture that they may not see. Our job is to understand what is going on with peopleWe ask questions and make observations... That can look like the CIA to some, I guess! 

MYTH #2 —  HR Will Become Obsolete Soon

Some professionals think that HR departments will become obsolete because newer artificial intelligence platforms and self-service tools will be able to screen and interview job applicants, keep employees informed, keep track of employee information, and much more.

However, newer investments in HR technology will make these departments and professionals even more necessary, as they will still be needed to keep the “human intelligence” in HR while using newer and more advanced tech.

HR Myth #3 –  You can’t give a “bad” reference

Aside from exceptional limited sectors there is actually no obligation for an employer to provide a reference.  However, if a reference is provided then it should be fair, accurate and not misleading. When providing a reference, employers should stick to evidenced based facts, otherwise they could find themselves open to legal challenge from either the ex- employee or new employer for misleading them. For this reason, many employers choose only to provide what are known as “tomb-stone” references, which literally only sets out the basic confirmation of employment details.

HR Myth #4 – HR Merely Listens to Employee Complaints

This myth seems to be perpetuated by poor HR practitioners and those who have had a bad experience with them. Some employees can feel that HR merely pays them lip service when listening to complaints, but that’s not how the process should be functioning.

Even small complaints should be investigated where possible as they can compound into much larger issues. It’s important to note complaints too in case documentation is required at a later date.

HR Myth #5 – They Exist Solely to Protect the Company

While it’s true that HR practitioners work to document and provide policies that protect the employer, they can also benefit the employee too. Where an employee highlights workplace issues like discrimination, bullying or unfair treatment, they can work to solve this.

HR Myth #6 – They Can’t be Strategic

When companies bring HR into the boardroom and use their insights, it can harness the full power of understanding their people. They have the potential to act strategically and weigh in on important decisions using real evidence.

HR Myth #6 –  HR is ‘Fluffy – Why HR is no longer the pink and fluffy discipline but central to business strategy

How things have changed! When I first started in HR two decades ago, it was generally seen as rather pink and fluffy – a nice-to-have but a nonessential part of the business. Back then many in HR had been secretaries and it was seen largely as an administrative role.

But, then, progressive companies started to recognise the importance of having an HR strategy and putting their staff at the centre of the business. Now, the heads of HR departments work alongside the operational board to make sure that all initiatives are implemented – HR planning and strategy really drives the business.

HR Myth #7 – You can’t dismiss an employee for poor performance

You can dismiss any employee for poor performance (under the Employment Rights Act the term is “capability”). Ultimately use your capability or performance management process and work that through to the end.

When dismissing for poor performance, it is essential to consider the employee’s wider situation to ensure that discrimination is not an issue. This will involve making sure that the employee’s poor performance is not in some way linked to a protected characteristic.

HR Myth #8 – You can’t contact employees when they are off sick

Employers have a duty of care towards their employees and that duty doesn’t end when they leave the workplace at the end of the day. In fact, this duty extends to employers making sure that they “keep in touch” and maintain regular contact with their employees when they are signed off to see how they are doing.

Regular contact with a sick employee should be compassionate and focus on their wellbeing not just enquiring when they will return to work.

HR Myth #9 – Employees with under two years’ service have no rights

Employees with under two years’ service can’t bring ordinary unfair dismissal claims.  They can, however, bring claims for breach of contract, for holiday pay, discrimination, maternity rights, whistle-blowing, protective awards, and most other employment claims.  Some of these rights (such as discrimination) begin even before the employment relationship has started.

HR Myth #10 – Employers have to give time off for bank holidays

Employees have no right to bank holidays off, or to be paid more for working them. This entirely depends on the contract between the employee and employer. Full-time employees are legally entitled to 5.6 weeks holiday a year and bank holidays can be counted as part of those 5.6 weeks, but they don’t have to be.

The latest HSE statistics reveal some interesting points that highlight the state of health and safety in the UK, between 2020 and 2021

2020/21 has firmly rooted health and safety in our day-to-day lives and our cultural consciousness. However, the latest statistics from the HSE prove we still have a long way to go. Simon Walter, Co-Director at Rhino Safety, shares his thoughts on what the focus should be in 2022.

 

  • Work-related ill-health cases increased from 1.6 million to 1.7 million
  • New cases of work-related ill health rose from 638,000 to 850,000, a 33% increase
  • The number of workers suffering from a new case of work-related stress, anxiety and depression rose by 30%, from 347,000 to 451,000
  • The major cause of new and long-standing cases of work-related ill-health is stress, depression and anxiety, which accounts for an astonishing 50% of cases
  • Musculoskeletal issues are next at 28%, while other types of illnesses account for 22%, Workers suffering from a new case of work-related musculoskeletal disorder rose by 6.5% from 152,000 to 162,000
  • Workers who sustained non-fatal injuries (self-reported) decreased by 36%. Non-fatal injuries reported by employers also fell by 22%
  • The major cause of non-fatal injuries across all industries is slips, trips and falls. In 2019/20 it accounted for 29% of incidents. In 2020/21 it rose to 33%
  • Fatal injuries at work rose from 111 in 2019/20 to 142 in 2020/21. The major cause of fatal injuries is falling from height, which is consistent with previous years
  • Over half of fatal injuries to workers in 2020/21 were in agriculture, forestry and fishing (34%) and construction sectors (39%)

Looking at these statistics, there’s a lot to reflect on. Among them are things we can do in 2022 to ensure that health and safety remain at the forefront of policy and strategy across a wide range of industries and sectors.

So – what are the key things we should focus on to move the dial on health and safety in 2022?

1. Keep health and safety in focus

2. Prioritise and incorporate mental health and wellbeing into health and safety practice/policies etc

3. Reduce the threat of musculoskeletal disorders across multiple industries

Read what the latest Public Health guidance means for your business

The guidance appears therefore to be quite confusing. On the one hand COVID safety measures are no longer required for the majority of businesses, but on the other the guidance to self-isolate has been significantly widened. This leaves employers in a real bind as to what to do and leaves open the ongoing significant interruption to business that periods of self-isolation create. Employers will need to give thought to what, if any, other protective measures (such as screens and sanitiser) they wish to retain should they wish to insist on those suffering from a respiratory illness coming to work.

What to do if a member of staff has symptoms of a respiratory infection, including COVID-19

If a member of staff is unwell with symptoms of a respiratory infection, such as COVID-19, they should follow the guidance for people with symptoms of a respiratory infection such as COVID-19.

Employers, in accordance with their legal obligations, may wish to consider how best to support and enable their workforce to follow this guidance as far as possible.

Management of members of staff who are at risk of serious illness from COVID-19

Some workers are at a greater risk of serious illness from COVID-19, for example people who have a weakened immune system.

There is specific guidance for people whose immune system means that they are at higher risk, because they have a reduced ability to fight infections, such as COVID-19. Employers may wish to consider the needs of employees at greater risk from COVID-19, including those whose immune system means they are at higher risk of serious illness from COVID-19.

It is unclear whether there will be any specific updates to the Living with COVID plan but pulling together the various strands we now know:

 

The guidance is to be updated monthly and we will have to see what impact the loss of free mass testing and the updated self-isolation requirements will have.

After Friday 1st April, people who have a positive Covid-19 test are being advised to “try to” stay at home and avoid contact with other people for five days, which is when they are most infectious.

Children who are unwell and have a high temperature are being advised to stay home and avoid contact with other people where they can.

They can go back to school, college or childcare when they no longer have a high temperature and they are well enough to attend, the Government said.

Those who are positive, or have symptoms, and need to leave home will be urged to wear masks, avoid crowded places and stay away from people with weakened immune systems.

From 1 April 2022 onwards:

  • Tests:  Free PCR and lateral flow testing will be no longer available for most people. Free tests will be available for a small number of at-risk groups including the over-75s and over-12s with weakened immune systems. For everyone else COVID-19 tests will be charged for and sold through private market retailers and pharmacies. Free tests may be available for schools if they have COVID outbreaks.
  • Working Safely guidance: The existing guidance will be replaced with new public health guidance.
  • Health and safety risk assessments: employers will no longer have to explicitly consider COVID-19 in their health and safety risk assessments.
  • COVID passports or certification: These are no longer recommended for venues and events but remain necessary for international travel. The NHS COVID pass is no longer to be used as a vaccine passport within the UK.

Guidance for employers and the public is being changed, in particular, the requirement to consider COVID-19 in risk assessments and the existing ‘Working Safely’ guidance remains in place until 1 April when it will be replaced with new guidance.

The CIPD recommends considering three questions to help guide workplace safety:

  1. Is your workplace sufficiently safe and supportive?
  2. Are you being flexible in your approach?
  3. What is best for people’s wellbeing and performance?

With the removal of legal restrictions triggering a surge in Covid-19 infections, there is likely to be an increase in employees experiencing lingering symptoms. Organisations’ response should be two-fold, and they should consider how they support employees with long Covid.

Now self-isolation periods have ended we are likely to see employees continuing to work despite confirmed illness, which poses a risk of outbreaks.  For some people Covid-19 symptoms have been little more than a cold and many others have tested positive without any symptoms at all. However, thousands of others have experienced hospital admission, serious symptoms or even symptoms that have remained long after the infection has passed, sometimes known as ‘long Covid’.

So, what can employers do to lower the risk the virus poses to their staff as we move into this next phase of the pandemic?

Planning and management of Workplace Safety

Employers should take an individualised approach to consider the physical, emotional and mental wellbeing of the workforce, as well as following and monitoring ongoing government guidance.

Employers have a duty of care to ensure that the workplace is sufficiently safe to work in, following the latest government guidance. The key aspects that employers should be aware of are:

  • Testing – Encourage Testing
  • Positive Covid Test – People who have a positive Covid-19 test are being advised to “try to” stay at home and avoid contact with other people for five days, which is when they are most infectious
  • Work from home – Ask your people to work from home (if their job allows this)  if they have tested positive, but have no symptoms
  • Vulnerable staff – Where possible, risk assess and advise reduced close contact with others in the workplace ie; hybrid working agreement, but predominantly working from home (if possible)
  • Testing Kits – Some employers are buying lateral flow tests to hand out to their staff to support them
  • Enhanced Sick Pay – If you would rather your people were open and honest and they didn’t attend the workplace with Covid symptoms, and put others at risk,  then you may want to look at offering enhanced contractual sick pay
  • Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) – Implement an EAP to support your people
  • Risk AssessmentUntil 1 April 2022 employers must undertake COVID-specific risk assessments, from this date employers can choose whether to consider COVID 19 specifically,  or as part of their overall health and safety risk assessments
  • Priority Actions – Including protecting staff and customers, including steps and measures such as improved ventilation, reducing contact for workers, reducing risk for customers, visitors and contractors, cleaning the workplace, personal protective equipment (PPE) and face coverings, workforce management and tests and vaccinations
  • Ventilation – An ongoing emphasis on the importance of ventilation. Employers can refer to the advice on air conditioning and ventilation on the HSE website
  • Consultation – Consultation may help staff feel safer, taking into account their input on any health and safety measures put in place to reduce the risk of COVID-19. Many factors must be considered, including risk assessments, the size and nature of the workplace, the number of vulnerable staff or those who live with vulnerable people, caring responsibilities, public transport dependency, as well as any local and wider outbreaks
  • Engage – It is important that businesses engage with their people to understand how they feel. There should be consultation with staff at a company level but it’s also important that line managers understand the specific concerns of their individual team members so they can best support their mental wellbeing and future ways of working. Employers need to stay flexible as guidance and attitudes evolve.

Company Sick Pay Eligibility & Testing 

Consider whether to adjust your company’s sick pay eligibility to cover self-isolation or sickness absence in full. Employers will also have to decide their policy on providing and funding testing given that free testing will end for most people from 1 April 2022.

Challenges

Many employers will want those testing positive for COVID-19 to continue stay at home as this protects vulnerable staff or clients. Asking staff to self-isolate if testing positive but without symptoms, or after close contact with someone testing positive, will become more difficult if employees are concerned about not being paid for periods of absence.

Unvaccinated staff

Earlier in the pandemic unvaccinated staff were more likely to have to self-isolate than fully vaccinated ones. This  led  some employers to previously reconsider their policy on full company sick pay for self-isolation. For example, some employers previously amended their policies to provide SSP only to unvaccinated workers who must self-isolate, unless they had mitigating circumstances, and to pay company sick pay to vaccinated staff. There are many options which employers have adopted including:

  • Fully vaccinated staff receiving company sick pay
  • Unvaccinated staff receiving full company sick pay owing to mitigating circumstances (for example pregnancy or other medical grounds)
  • Vaccinated and unvaccinated workers who test positive being paid full company sick pay
  • Unvaccinated staff without mitigating circumstances identified as close contacts of a positive case being paid only SSP.

While you’re no longer legally required to self-isolate if you have COVID-19, you should try to stay at home and away from others to avoid passing on the virus. The consequences of changing sick pay terms are complex and given the potential legal problems employers may decide not to differentiate between employees. Retaining full company sick pay comes at a cost but does ensure employees comply with any obligation to self-isolate thereby avoiding the risk of infecting others in the workplace. Denying company sick pay may encourage staff to get vaccinated, but on the other hand staff may avoid testing or self-isolation because of anxiety about time off work on reduced pay.

Employers who decide to treat unvaccinated staff differently should consider both the general risks of discrimination claims and should accommodate case by case exemptions based on individual circumstances and medical conditions.

Workplace Culture 

As well as putting in place practical support and adjustments for employees with long Covid, it is important employers strive to create psychologically safe workplaces where people feel comfortable opening up about their physical and mental health.

COVID-19 Response: Living with COVID-19 – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)

Communicating with your people

Whatever policies you adopt for your business, you should make sure that they are effectively communicated to staff. Many disputes and issues that have arisen during the pandemic have been because businesses were unsure of how to react or had not told staff what their approach would be. It’s always worth stating your general approach in some form of written communication, as well as regular virtual or face-to-face briefings.

Health & Safety 

It’s crucial to work in close collaboration with your health and safety and occupational health service providers/teams wherever possible. Regularly communicate to staff the practical measures you are taking to help reassure them that their health, wellbeing and safety is your top priority. Make sure staff and visitors are clear about the rules and procedures they should follow both in the workplace and at home, especially if they begin to feel unwell.

Protection & Hygiene 

To maintain protection and hygiene measures and minimise the spread of infection, remind staff about regular and effective handwashing, and provide hand sanitisers. You should review your cleaning arrangements, for example, ensuring all phones/keyboards and so on are wiped daily with anti-viral cleaner. You can refer to the government guidance for more information.

PPE 

Depending on your working environment, you may need to consider providing additional PPE, including masks or anti-viral hand gel. If you want people to wear gloves or face coverings, then you will also need to think about reminding staff on their correct usage – since these can be ineffective if used inappropriately.

Protected Characteristics 

Employers should take extra care of those with protected characteristics. For example, discuss with disabled workers any reasonable adjustments that can be made to the workplace or working arrangements so they can work safely.

Company Policies 

Employers need to think about their own organisational policies around whether some or all staff are required to be vaccinated and/or tested as part of their job. Employers should continue to monitor the latest government guidance and be prepared to act upon any changes. From 1 April onwards free lateral flow testing will be charged for and sold through private market retailers and pharmacies. Free tests will be available for a small number of at-risk groups likely to include those aged over 80 and social care staff.

Sector Specific Guidance 

Sector-specific workplace guidance for various sectors of the economy (as referred to above) must be followed. The Health and Safety Executive has also published advice and guidance relating to COVID-19 which may be useful when considering health and safety measures.

Long Covid & Disability ?

It is very common for individuals with long covid symptoms to suffer  both mentally and physically.  Involve an Occuapational Health Advisor where required, who can recommend reasonable adjustments to support your people. Staff with long covid should be treated as having a disability.  The Equality and Human Rights Commission’s head of employment policy, Rebecca Thomas, said all organisations should presume that an individual’s long Covid symptoms meet the threshold required to be classified as a disability in order to avoid falling foul of equality law.  Although some campaign groups and bodies including the TUC are pressing the government to recognise long Covid as a disability worthy of protection under the Equality Act 2010, Thomas indicated that the condition has not been around for long enough to fully determine whether it can be classified as a long-term impairment.  She added that there was a reluctance from government to specify long Covid as a disability because it is a “fluctuating” condition, where symptoms can come and go.

What can an employer do to support individuals with long covid ?

  • Occupational Health Assessment – Seek professional, medical advice from occupational health
  • GP – Or write to the employee’s GP for further information about their condition
  • Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) – Implement an EAP to support your people.

Symptoms of long COVID

There are lots of symptoms you can have after a COVID-19 infection.

Common long COVID symptoms include:

  • extreme tiredness (fatigue)
  • shortness of breath
  • chest pain or tightness
  • problems with memory and concentration (“brain fog”)
  • difficulty sleeping (insomnia)
  • heart palpitations
  • dizziness
  • pins and needles
  • joint pain
  • depression and anxiety
  • tinnitus, earaches
  • feeling sick, diarrhoea, stomach aches, loss of appetite
  • a high temperature, cough, headaches, sore throat, changes to sense of smell or taste
  • rashes

Non-urgent advice:

Long-term effects of coronavirus (long COVID) – NHS (www.nhs.uk)

Latest content

From 24 March the special COVID-19 sick pay provisions are removed and rules revert to pre-pandemic rules. People with COVID-19 will still be eligible for SSP subject to the normal provisions, but the day-one eligibility for sick pay for those who test positive will no longer apply. This means that those who are unwell with COVID-19 will only be paid SSP from the fourth day of their absence. More information is available in the self-isolation FAQs.

24 March is also the last day employers will be able to make claims through the Statutory Sick Pay Rebate Scheme.

Please do get in touch for further advice and guidance and/or discuss your Company policies and procedures. 

 

The Home Office updated its Coronavirus (COVID-19): right to work check guidance on 22 February 2022 – extending the end date for the temporary adjusted right to work checks from 5 April 2022 to 30 September 2022 (inclusive).

What are the adjusted measures?

The adjusted measures that were originally published on 30 March 2020 and will now be in place until 30 September 2022 (inclusive) include:

Job applicants and existing workers can send scanned documents or a photo of documents for checks using email or a mobile app, rather than sending originals

Checks can be carried out over video calls with the employee holding up the original document to the camera, which is then checked against the digital copy. The digital copy should then be annotated ‘adjusted check undertaken on [insert date] due to COVID-19’

Employers should use the Home Office employer checking service if a prospective or existing employee cannot provide any of the accepted right to work documents

Employers should be aware it remains an offence to knowingly employ someone who does not have the right to work in the UK.

Discrimination

You should not discriminate when conducting right to work checks. You should conduct  right to work checks on all potential employees, including British citizens.

Do not simply check the status of those who appear to be migrants, otherwise you could be breaking the law

Why have the adjusted measures been extended?

At the end of 2021, the government announced its intention to enable employers and landlords to use certified Identification Document Validation Technology (IDVT) service providers to carry out checks on their behalf, including for British and Irish citizens, from 6 April 2022.

Positive feedback has been received since this announcement and it is hoped deferring the adjusted measures end date will ensure employers have sufficient time to develop commercial relationships with identity providers.

What will be the benefit of the IDVT scheme?

Employers are encouraged to embrace the future digitalisation of right to work checks and plan the necessary changes to their current pre-employment on-boarding processes to ensure a smooth transition from existing practices.

IDVT service providers will need to be certified against robust rules and it is expected further information on the IDVT scheme and the list of certified providers will be published very soon.

What steps should I take now?

The Home Office believes the introduction of the IDVT scheme will mean employers can guarantee prospective employee’s identities, using consistent and more secure methods, which will, in turn, reduce the risk of them employing illegal workers and allowing recruitment to continue in a safer way.

Businesses and other organisations

Businesses and other organisations – Covid Update

Employers and businesses have taken significant steps over the pandemic to mitigate the risks of COVID-19 within their settings. The Government has lifted the majority of legal requirements on businesses, and continues to provide ‘Working Safely’ guidance setting out the steps that employers can take to reduce risk in their workplaces.

From 24 February, workers will not be legally obliged to tell their employers when they are required to self-isolate. Employers and workers should follow Government guidance for those with COVID-19 which will be to still stay at home if you are unwell and to take a test

From 1 April, the Government will remove the health and safety requirement for every employer to explicitly consider COVID-19 in their risk assessments. The intention is to empower businesses to take responsibility for implementing mitigations that are appropriate for their circumstances. Employers that specifically work with COVID-19, such as laboratories, must continue to undertake a risk assessment that considers COVID-19.

From 1 April, the Government will replace the existing set of ‘Working Safely’ guidance with new public health guidance. Employers should continue to consider the needs of employees at greater risk from COVID-19, including those whose immune system means they are at higher risk of serious illness from COVID-19. The Government will consult with employers and businesses to ensure guidance continues to support them to manage the risk of COVID-19 in workplaces.

Employers should ensure that areas of the workplace that are poorly ventilated have airflow improved – research done shows good ventilation can reduce transmission of viruses by up to 70%.

FROM 1ST APRIL 2022

  • The Government will announce guidance that sets out the ongoing steps anyone with Covid-19 should take to minimise contact with others
  • The Government will no longer provide free LFT for the public in England
  • Tests will still be available to anyone who wishes to buy them privately through local chemists
  • Some free testing will still be applicable to social care employees and certain at-risk people, more details will follow closer to the time
  • The current requirement for some venues to require the Covid NHS pass will end
  • The H&S requirement for employers to have Covid-19 in their risk assessment will be removed
  • The existing ‘Working Safely Guidance’ will be replaced with new public health guidance

More guidance will be published in April for employers, on how to deal with employees who are at high risk of serious illness from Covid-19, even if they are vaccinated

Coronavirus: how to stay safe and help prevent the spread – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)Working safely during coronavirus (COVID-19) – Guidance – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)

 

Points of frustration for HR during COVID-19

XpertHR Survey Results 2021

The response of the HR community to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has been to put people first, while also supporting business continuity during exceptional circumstances. It is unsurprising then, that wellbeing tops the priority poll for the profession for the coming year, coupled with employee engagement.

HR professionals told us that they had to deal with many frustrations when trying to drive their response to the pandemic. These have centred on four areas:

  • Lack of clarity on the complex guidance issued by the Government, sometimes at short notice. HR had to interpret, implement and be the point of information for this within the organisation.
  • Increased workload as a result of having to juggle existing tasks on top of responding to COVID-19, with no appreciation of the extra work created and covered.
  • Concerns around the consequences of a lack of day-to-day interaction with colleagues and employees as a result of remote working or social distancing while in the workplace.
  • Tensions between HR and senior management teams around priorities. HR told us that leaders were, at times, lacking in concern around the impact of the pandemic on employees, which has led to more issues around engagement, wellbeing and productivity.

Looking forward for 2021 and beyond, the participants anticipated their focus being on:

– a continuing emphasis on employee wellbeing and dealing with Covid;

– addressing the future balance of flexible and hybrid home/office working, as more people returned to the office through the Autumn and early Winter; and

– with rapidly emerging and widespread, intensifying labour shortages, a greater emphasis on and investment in learning and development, so as to ‘grow more of our own’.

They also foresee a stronger future emphasis on diversity and inclusion policies, so as to better meet their staffing needs for growth and to address the growing emphasis on fairness emerging from the highly unequal health and economic experiences of the pandemic.

HR roles survey: Response to the coronavirus pandemic and priorities for 2021 | Survey analysis | Tools | XpertHR.co.uk

#hrforsme #covid19 #coronavirus #pandemic #healthandsafety #employeewellbeing #leadership #xperthr #employeeengagement

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Isolation Period Cut from 10 Days to 7 Days 

Fully vaccinated Covid sufferers can now cut their 10-day isolation period to seven days, it has been announced.

Under new rules, people in England can take two lateral flow tests 24 hours apart on day six and seven of their quarantine.

Self-isolation for COVID-19 cases reduced from 10 to 7 days following negative LFD tests – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)

Temporary change to Fit-notes

For Statutory Sick Pay (SSP), where employees go off sick on or after 10 December 2021, employers can only ask employees for proof of sickness (such as a fit note) after 28 days of sickness (including non-working days). Proof of sickness cannot be requested earlier than 28 days.
Fit notes do not have to be provided for DWP benefit claims until 27 January. This will not affect claims to benefit.
These changes are to give GP’s more time to work on the Coronavirus (Covid-19) booster programme.

Claim back Statutory Sick Pay paid to your employees due to coronavirus (COVID-19)

This scheme will be reintroduced from mid-January 2022. Further guidance will be available as soon as possible.

Claim back Statutory Sick Pay paid to your employees due to coronavirus (COVID-19) – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)

The Prime Minister has announced that England will move to ‘Plan B’ in response to the rapid rise of cases of the Omicron variant.

Do office workers now need to work from home?

Anyone who can work from home is being advised to do so from Monday 13 December. The Cabinet Office guidance says that anyone who cannot work from home should continue to go into work .  This is guidance rather than law so nobody will be committing an offence by continuing to work from the office if they could have worked from home.

Note that the new guidance applies to England only – the position is different in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland. In Wales, for example, working from home is already encouraged.

Does this mean the office Christmas party must be cancelled?

In answer to a question at the press conference, the Prime Minister said that Christmas parties can go ahead. This is legally correct – there are no restrictions on social events.

Ireland recently brought in restrictions in a similar way – with working from home being introduced without restrictions on social events (although social events in Ireland are now also restricted).

Are there new rules for offices if they stay open?

The Working Safely guidance on how employers can reduce the risks in their workplace has not yet been updated and there is currently no new guidance from the Health and Safety Executive.

Which settings must use NHS Covid passes?

From Wednesday 15 December, subject to parliamentary approval, the NHS App will become mandatory for entry into nightclubs and large venues – including unseated indoor events with 500 or more attendees, unseated outdoor events with 4,000 or more attendees and any event with 10,000 or more attendees. In a concession to the affected industries, alternative proof (such as an email or text) of a negative lateral flow test will also be accepted. The requirements are likely to be apply only to customers, rather than staff.

What are the planned new self-isolation requirements?

Under the current law, a close contact of someone with a suspected or confirmed case of the Omicron variant is required to self-isolate regardless of vaccination status.