Could no isolation result in stronger restrictions by employers?

All Covid measures in England are due to end at the end of February, including the legal requirement on people with coronavirus to self-isolate.

While the initial reaction from employees could be that this will mean a much simpler understanding of restrictions in the workplace, it is highly likely that the opposite will happen.

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There may be a removal of restrictions, but there is an onus on employers to create a safe working space for employees and others entering a workplace.

This means that if an employee sees someone with Covid in the office they may consider that the workplace is unsafe, as and the Health and Safety Executive classifies Covid as reportable.

This causes a major issue for employers. Not least because with the legal requirement removed, much will turn on the advice and guidance the government says it will introduce.

Will this give employers any help or will it be left to each employer to decide how it will discharge its health and safety obligations?

While in many ways this is not new, the difference here is that for 18 months there has been a clear instruction from the government that those with symptoms of/or have tested positive for Covid must not attend the workplace.

With that going does it mean employers cannot stop someone with Covid attending the workplace? If they can, in what circumstances? If there are other measures to take what will they be and will this vary according to the employer?

This removal of the legal requirement means there is a good chance we shall see more instances of employers keeping the same restrictions in the workplace, or looking at alternative restrictions, to lean towards greater caution and greater protection.

Understandably, employers will want to be able to say they have done all they can to create a safe working environment for both employees and new recruits in the office as well as to protect themselves if there is an outbreak of Covid.

It also seems inevitable that different employers will react in different ways. Some staff will appreciate it if their employer is one taking a more relaxed view – others won’t.

After all, HSE data finds that in 2020/21 an estimated 93,000 workers suffered from Covid, which they believe may have been from exposure to Covid in the workplace.

This high number highlights a known risk and suggests why employers may go for stricter restrictions and adjust policy and contracts for employees to agree what is a safe space for work in order to make sure any instances of covid do not turn into tribunals or criminal/regulatory investigations.

There are other factors that will help reduce this number, such as flexible working, better prepared workplaces and more people being vaccinated. But employers will want to make sure that they prove their workplaces are safe and that employees will feel safe.

As the world looks to live with Covid, these headline removals of restrictions will transfer the responsibility to employers giving them the chance to create a consistent, clear structure that works for their business and employees.

Measures will have already been put into place and policy changes made across the business throughout the pandemic. But when self-isolation is removed it takes an agreement between employer and employee to the next level, potentially requiring a clear definition of an accepted level of risk. 

Contract and policy updates and the bringing in of measures and restrictions by corporate jurisdictions are quite possible because with no self-isolation and HSE categorising Covid infections in the workplace as reportable, employers will want to protect from risks of tribunals or investigations, risks to employee health and risks of large scale absences.


Tim Hill is partner EHS (environment, health and safety) at Eversheds Sutherland