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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.

1. 2022 Employment Law Changes: Rate Changes

The 2022 employment law changes will include the usual set of rate changes and these will take effect in April 2022. They include the following:-

The National Minimum Wage and National Living Wage

Statutory Maternity Pay, Statutory Paternity Pay, Shared Parental Pay, Adoption Pay, Maternity Allowance, and Statutory Parental Bereavement Pay

NI contributions 1.25% increase from April 2022. (Coming soon in 2023 it will be separate tax on earned income and should be detailed on a payslip as Health & Social Care Levy).

Statutory Sick Pay

The statutory cap on a week’s pay for the purposes of calculating the basic award and statutory redundancy pay

2. Gender Pay Gap Reporting

Since 2017 employers who have a headcount of 250 or more must comply with regulations on gender pay gap reporting. The deadline for gender pay gap reporting by public sector employers, private sector employers, and voluntary organisations in 2021 was put back until midnight on the 4th October 2021. However, in terms of 2022, the deadlines are anticipated to revert back to the normal timescales. Accordingly, the deadline for public sector employers to report their data is likely to be the 30th March 2022. And for private sector employers and voluntary organisations, the deadline is likely to be the 4th April 2022.

3. Employment Bill

A much anticipated part of the 2022 employment law changes is the Employment Bill, although there is no guarantee that one will appear. If it does, then it is likely to include the following measures:-

  • The establishment of a new single enforcement body for employment rights.
  • The extension of protection against redundancy re pregnancy, maternity, adoption, and shared parental leave, including extending redundancy protection to six months post return to work after the end of maternity leave, with similar protection afforded to those returning to work from adoption leave and shared parental leave
  • Neonatal leave and pay
  • A new right to 1 week’s unpaid leave per year for carers
  • (already reviewed) New legislation to ensure that tips left by customers in restaurants are retained by staff in full, and are not either partially or wholly taken off them by their employers.
  • A new right for workers to request a more stable contract after 26 weeks service
  • (already reviewed) New legislation to enhance flexible working rights
  • An extension of time required to break a period of continuous service from one week to four weeks
  • New legislation making it compulsory for organisations to publish their modern slavery statements on a new government-run registry

Other possible measures which may appear in any Employment Bill as part of the 2022 employment law changes include:-

  • New legislation relating to post-termination non-compete clauses, over which the Government is currently consulting on
  • An extension of the ban on exclusivity clauses beyond zero hours contracts, to contracts where the workers’ guaranteed weekly income is less than the Lower Earnings Limit of £120 a week, which the Government is also currently consulting on
  • Compensation for those whose shifts are cancelled at short notice, an entitlement to reasonable notice of allocated shifts, and protections for those who refuse last minute shifts
  • New legislation to protect against “firing and rehiring”

4. Other 2022 employment law changes include the following:-

April 2022 – regulatory reforms for trade unions and employers’ associations will be introduced under which “new enforcement powers and levy mechanism will bring the Certification Officer into line with other regulators like the Pensions Regulator.“

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.

This month we have a guest article by Chris McGrath providing an overview of the Draft Building Safety Bill that will aim to improve building and fire safety, so that people will be, and will feel, safer in their homes.

Why this Bill?

On 14th June 2017 a fire broke out at the Grenfell Tower, a 24 storey residential tower. Failures in the building’s design and maintenance caused the fire to spread at high speed. As a result there were 72 fatalities and 151 homes were lost. A major reform was needed.

The Scope of the Bill

It will cover all higher risk buildings.  This will include all multi-occupied residential buildings, (new or existing) of 18 metres or more in height, or more than six storeys (whichever is reached first).

Expectations to improve safety and performance

The expectation is to reduce the risk of fires spreading across multiple dwellings. Also to reduce the risk of major fires.  However, the proposals are not expected to have a material impact on the number of fires.

The Bill includes key new roles, functions and responsibilities

 

The Building Safety Regulator
  • The Building Safety Regulator will introduce a better safety system.  In addition they will be able to impose sanctions and regulations to ensure this happens.
  • They will provide a more stringent regulatory framework to implement a stronger focus around building safety for developers and landlords.
  • They will also instruct an industry-led competence committee, publish non-statutory advice and guidance for various sectors.
  • The Regulator will also take enforcement action.  They will be able to impose sanctions on the corporate bodies or building control companies that do not meet regulatory standards.
Duty holders
  • Duty holders will implement a system in every building to ensure that the person, or entity, that creates a building safety risk is responsible for managing that risk.
  • The building cycle will be split into gateways – phases of the building’s life – with different duty holders for different gateways. For example, the duty holder for the design phase of the build will be the principle designer. For the construction phase, it will be the principal contractor.
  • The regulator will assess the gateway at each handover.  A ‘golden thread of information’ will connect these different phases. This will include details about the original design and construction, as well as details on the changes and upgrades to the building during its life cycle.
  • Once the building is occupied, the duty holder will become the accountable person. The accountable person is usually the building owner.
Accountable Person’s Responsibilities
  • The Accountable Person will submit a Residents Engagement Strategy (which will include a complaints procedure) to the Building Safety Regulator.  They will also listen and respond to concerns and ensure residents are heard.
  • Their responsibilities will also include developing a Safety Case Report.  This will be submitted to the Building Safety Regulator as part of application for a Building Assurance Certificate.
  • In addition they will conduct and maintain a Safety Case Risk Assessment (on new and existing buildings).  They will also appoint a Building Safety Manager to oversee it day to day.
Safety Case

This is a full building description that explains how the fire and structural risks in a building are being managed by the Building Safety Manager.  It will include –

  • An explanation and justification of the approach being taken to manage risks.
  • A hazard and risk assessment.
  • A summary of mitigation measures.
  • The approach to risk management.
Building Safety Manager
  • The Building Safety Manager will support the accountable person in the day-to-day management of the building.  Above all they will ensure that safety standards are adhered to.
  • They will also communicate the work that has taken place on the building to stakeholders.  This will ensure that the building is meeting the regulator’s requirements.  Also that it is on top of any advice or non-statutory guidance put in place by the regulator.
Cost to Leaseholder

Under the new plan, a new “building safety charge” will be set up for leaseholders. Fire Safety works are currently paid for through the service charge. This new charge will be separate to the service charge. The money will need to be held by the Freeholders in a separate account (held by a financial institution). This money will only be available for Fire Safety works.

If the freeholder has not provided a clear breakdown of costs, leaseholders will also be allowed to refuse payment if the charge is deemed “unreasonable”. However, under the new rules, leaseholders will be required to pay the fire safety charge within 28 days of when the bill was issued.  They will be required to cover some of the new measures brought in under the bill.  This will include items such as paying for a Building Safety Manager and the day-to-day management of the building.

New committees
  • A Building Regulations Advisory Committee, to provide evidence-based guidance on new issues that emerge in the built environment sector.
  • Also a new committee for industry competence.  This will overcome the fragmented and inconsistent competence of workers and managers that currently exists in the building safety sector.
  • In addition, a new residents panel will be put in place to ensure residents have a voice in the changes being made to building safety guidance. This will include residents of high-rise blocks and representative tenants groups.
New Homes Ombudsman

A New Homes Ombudsman will allow a better mechanism for new home owners to make complaints against developers about the quality of the construction. (There is currently no mechanism for new home owners to make these complaints.) The Ombudsman will work with developers to come up with a code of practice that could be used in relation to sales, marketing and standard and quality of workmanship.

 

The full details of the Bill can be found on the Government website.

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/draft-building-safety-bill

Whether your business has continued with home working or been on hold, as you consider returning to the office, there are some things you need to think about. Health and Safety being one of them.

The latest government advice can be found here https://www.gov.uk/coronavirus

The latest HSE advice can be found here https://www.hse.gov.uk/news/coronavirus.htm

Read more

Legislation is being introduced next year to protect “Good Samaritans” who are acting for “the common good”.

The Social Action, Responsibility and Heroism Bill has been developed to reassure first aiders and voluntary workers that they cannot be sued for accidents that happen when they are attending to those who need help or are in distress. There was concern that people were being deterred from taking part in voluntary activities, helping others or intervening in emergencies due to worries about risk and liability.   Read more

Eight years on from the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 coming into force, fire statistics show a significant reduction in fires, but an increase in enforcement actions against businesses for breaches of fire safety.

Risk assessment is the cornerstone of fire safety and the 13 fire advisory guides produced by the Government are now viewed as the definitive documents that set out the minimum requirements for fire safety.  They can be found here.