Covid employer guidance updates | September 2021

End of the shielding programme in England

The government has confirmed the shielding programme has now ended in England. This means that people who were previously considered clinically extremely vulnerable (CEV) will not be advised to shield in the future or follow specific national guidance. They will be expected to follow the same guidance issued to the rest of the population. Those previously identified as needing to shield will receive a letter about the changes.

New travel system

On 14 September 2021, the government published COVID-19 Response: Autumn and Winter Plan. It includes a Plan A, described as a comprehensive plan to see the nation through autumn and winter, and a Plan B, an outline plan to be enacted if the data suggests further measures are necessary to protect the NHS.

Under Plan A the government will:

  • Continue with Test, Trace and Isolate.
  • Maintain existing requirements and support for self-isolation. The government intends to review these by the end of March 2022.
  • Keep updating guidance on how employers can reduce risks in their workplaces.

Under Plan B the government will:

  • Mandate vaccine-only COVID-status certification in certain settings.
  • Mandate face coverings in certain settings (to be determined at the time).
  • Instruct those who can to work from home.

The government has warned that beyond Plan B, more harmful economic and social restrictions could be considered as a last resort.

End of Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme on 30 September 2021

The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS, or colloquially 'furlough') ends on 30 September 2021. There are no indications it will be extended.

On 9 September the TUC called for "a permanent short-time working scheme to protect workers at times of economic change" to replace the furlough scheme. At present, there is no apparent replacement scheme or similar support envisaged once the CJRS ends.

End of Statutory Sick Pay Rebate Scheme on 30 September 2021

The SSP Rebate Scheme will be closed from 30 September 2021. Under the rebate scheme, an employer could recover up to two weeks' Statutory Sick Pay (SSP)per eligible employee incapacitated with COVID-19 on or after 13 March 2020.

Employers will have until 31 December 2021 to make any claims for eligible SSP costs incurred up to and including 30 September 2021. Funding of SSP will revert to being met entirely by the employer and any absence related to COVID-19 occurring after 30 September 2021 will not be eligible for a rebate.

The government is seeking views on plans for staff in health and care settings in England to be required to have COVID-19 and flu vaccines to protect vulnerable people.

A consultation was launched on 9 September 2021, running for a period of 6 weeks, looking at whether requirements should apply for health and wider social care workers: those in contact with patients and people receiving care. It would mean only those who are fully vaccinated, unless medically exempt, could be deployed to deliver health and care services. The consultation will also seek views on whether flu vaccines should be a requirement for health and care workers.

New Acas guidance on care home vaccination

Acas has published guidance on new vaccination rules for employees and employers at CQC-registered care homes in England. From 11 November 2021, all care home workers and anyone entering a care home must be fully vaccinated, unless an exception applies.

The Acas guidance covers areas including consultation with staff and recognised trade unions or employee representatives, record keeping and dispute resolution if an employee refuses to be vaccinated.

As of 25 May 2021, the proportions who had received both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine in social care settings were:

  • 88.0% of residents and 65.7% of staff of older adult care homes.
  • 79.4% of residents of younger adult care homes.
  • 61.1% of staff of younger adult care homes, 48.0% of domiciliary care staff and 22.7% of staff employed in other social care settings.

Big 4 grocer to cut sick pay for unvaccinated self-isolating staff

It has been reported that from 1 October 2021 (the date by which the government expects all adults will have had the opportunity to be double vaccinated), Morrisons, the UK's fourth biggest supermarket, will no longer pay full sick pay for 'pinged colleagues' who have chosen not to be vaccinated. The pay cut will not apply to those who have not been given the chance to get two vaccine doses or those who have Covid-19 symptoms however, the big 4 grocer is now at risk of dealing with legal action by lawyers and union chiefs due to the 'potential issues around equalities, human rights and ethical breaches' including the risk that staff will avoid isolating when they should do so.

The news comes as the supermarket readies itself to be auctioned off next month and after it reported a slide in interim profit before tax, of 43.4%.

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