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The Prime Minister is under mounting pressure from Conservative MPs and leaders in the health and social care realm to delay or scrap the implementation of the covid vaccine mandate which at the time of writing (24th Jan 2022) is due to come in in April 2022.

The main reason that this mandate is coming under fire is the undeniably huge staff shortages in the health and social care sector. There is an argument that it would be detrimental to the NHS waiting times if the mandate is imposed.

Plan B restrictions are due to lift now Omicron cases are declining. However, it is now in question whether the government’s mandatory coronavirus vaccine policy is a proportionate response to the pandemic, now that it’s becoming more of an endemic.

The new regulations that are due to come into place on 1st April 2022 are the Health and Social Care Act 2008 (Regulated Activities) (Amendment) (Coronavirus) (No. 2) Regulations 2022.

These regulations would see Covid vaccinations being a condition of deployment for everyone in a health and social care setting in England, who are engaged or employed in a CQC–regulated activity, this includes those who are employed to undertake personal care or direct treatment as part of a CQC–regulated activity, who have face-to-face, direct contact with service users or patients.

Non-clinical ancillary workers who enter CQC-regulated areas in their work will also fall under these regulations. This includes receptionists, porters cleaners etc. There’s a 12 week grace period in which affected workers can provide evidence that they are either exempt or fully vaccinated, from 6 January 2022–31 March 2022. Workers face being dismissed from their roles if they cannot be redeployed.

Therefore, workers must have had their first dose of the vaccine by 3rd February 2022 to accommodate the eight weeks between doses.

Because of the looming deadline, MPs and leaders of health and social care who oppose the mandates are now putting pressure on the PM to do a U-turn on the policy.

The Guardian reports that the PM told backbench Tory MPs on Friday he was “looking again” at the mandate. This could end in the regulations being cancelled or delayed, however, at the time of writing we are simply unsure.

In conclusion, employers who fall under the new proposed legal requirements should continue in the preparation to comply with the regulations coming in in April, but keep an ear to the ground on developments. We will update as the situation develops.

If you’re affected by this topic, Supportis specialise in HR, employment law and health and safety advice for UK employers. Give our friendly team a no obligation, free call today on 0161 603 2156.

It’s been in the headlines recently that companies such as IKEA and Next have cut sick pay for unvaccinated staff.

The changes that have been implemented include unvaccinated staff only receiving statutory sick pay in cases of self-isolation, if they’ve been named as a close contact of a positive case.

IKEA has announced exceptions will be made for employees who are unvaccinated for “good reason” which will be considered based on individual circumstances.

Similarly, with positive cases of unvaccinated staff, full contractual sick pay will be received for the period of self isolation.

Current rules as dictated by the UK government require covid positive people to self isolate for a period of at least five days.

However, anyone who has had both doses of their coronavirus vaccination, or is medically exempt from being vaccinated, isn’t required to self isolate if they’ve been in close contact with a positive case. Unvaccinated people who don’t have a medical exemption have to isolate for a full 10 days.

Here we discuss some points to consider if you’re thinking about amending your sick pay policy for unvaccinated staff….

What sick pay scheme do you currently have in place?

Any previous contractual sick pay scheme over and above statutory sick pay should be stipulated in contractual clauses in your employment documentation, namely, your employment contracts and of course stringently followed to mitigate risks of discrimination and or unpaid wages claims.

If you don’t have a contractual sick pay scheme (over and above statutory sick pay), you need to continue paying staff who have to self isolate either because they are a positive case or unnamed close contact with a positive case, including instances where the staff member isn’t actually feeling ill but self-isolating to protect others from catching the virus.

If you do have a contractual sick pay policy (you pay over and above statutory sick pay for periods of sickness), it may be possible to treat vaccinated stuff ‘more favourably’ than those who haven’t in terms of sick pay. However, you’ll need to amend your policy first, which isn’t as straightforward as simply amending and issuing.

Such policy changes amount to a change in an employee’s fundamental terms and conditions of employment; You must therefore follow proper process and procedure which may be timely, and face opposition.

You will most likely need to collectively consult your employees on the change, either with a trade union representative or employee representatives if your employees aren’t part of a trade union.

You need to scrutinise your current  and proposed contractual wording, as even if your documentation states “we reserve the right to amend this clause from time to time”, you’re still under an obligation to consult and seek agreement from employees before implementing change.

It’s important to note that if you do make changes without seeking agreement or without following a proper procedure, this poses a risk of staff resignation and subsequent claims of constructive unfair dismissal. Although this can only be brought by employees with two years’ service, they could also decide to work under protest and claim for unpaid wages if you dock sick pay.

My sick pay policy is discretionary. Does this mean I can cut pay for unvaccinated staff?

If your sick pay policy in place is discretionary, this will work to your advantage as you have more scope to amend the policy. However, you must be able to evidence that you have exercised your discretion to change the policy in a non-discriminatory, reasonable way to mitigate risk of potential tribunal claims.

You also need to consider carefully the types of amendments you want to make. Although the fact that fully vaccinated and boosted people are less likely to contract or transmit coronavirus is evidenced, they can of course still become infected.

It’s also debatable whether it’s reasonable (or would be in the eyes of a tribunal) to distinguish between unvaccinated and vaccinated covid positive staff.

Of course, people don’t catch covid deliberately And it would be reasonable for someone to expect to be paid the same as anybody else in their organisation if they’re unable to work.

In terms of withholding sick pay for those who have to isolate for longer because they’re unvaccinated (for the full 10 days in comparison to 5 days for a vaccinated person) it can be argued that you would have more grounds to withhold sick pay in this case.

What are the risks I need to consider in terms of potential claims against my business?

If you were to introduce a policy that clearly distinguishes between the vaccination status of your workforce, this could be considered indirect discrimination against specific protected groups.

For example, evidence shows that black and South Asian people are less likely to be vaccinated than white people, particularly within the older demographic.

Another example is women hesitant that the vaccine could potentially affect fertility or cause harm to unborn babies if they are pregnant, despite these beliefs being at odds with medical advice.

It’s also been argued by those who are considered “anti-vaxx” that their concerns about vaccination are protected beliefs under the Equality Act 2010.

A tribunal did recently conclude that fear of COVID-19 was not a protected characteristic, however this doesn’t mean fear of vaccination or needles would not be. At the time of writing, Supportis aren’t aware of reported tribunal cases on this particular point.

Even if it was proven that your employees’ belief is recognised under the EA, this doesn’t automatically mean they would be successful in claiming against you if you were to withhold sick pay.

The Equality Act says discrimination can be justified if the person who’s discriminating against you can show it’s a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim. If necessary, it’s the courts which will decide if discrimination can be justified.

What are the GDPR implications of asking staff about the vaccination status?

This is a contentious point, someone’s vaccination status is classed as special category data, it is not disputed that this is their private health information and therefore warrants added protection.

Under GDPR, your use of special category data must be lawful, fair and transparent.

You must also be able to evidence that you have limited your knowledge of this data only to that which is relevant and necessary for a specific purpose.

Moreover, having a lawful reason for processing information about staff vaccination status is the first element that you will need to evidence.

Employment conditions would likely be considered necessary for the purpose of carrying out obligations and exercising specific rights in the field of employment law.

The ICO has previously published guidance on Covid pass checks and vaccination, but not explicitly expressed which condition may apply where an employer processes information about staff vaccination status in order to make a decision surrounding pay.

This raises a problematic point, as employers could rely on employment condition as a reason to process vaccination status for the purposes of paying statutory sick pay, but it remains unclear whether this would also cover a contractual sick pay scheme.

Additionally, even if you are are able to establish that you have a lawful basis to process vaccination data, there are then a myriad of other obligations under GDPR.

You must evidence that your reasons are clear, necessary, and transparent and you must understand that this information is not to be used for a reason that your staff wouldn’t reasonably expect, or in ways that may result in unjustified or unfair treatment.

To conclude this point, your workforce must understand that you’re using this information to determine whether they’re eligible to receive contractual sick pay over and above statutory sick pay.

So, what is reasonable to ask staff in regard to vaccination?

You must minimise data you do collect, and only record data that you actually need. It’s not admissible to collect special category data including somebody’s personal health data “just in case“.

In the context of a staff member’s vaccination status, you would only need to record whether they’ve been fully vaccinated (either a yes or no) and also whether the second dose took place at least two weeks before you recorded this information. It’s arguable that it would be unreasonable to collect data such as what type of vaccine was received, if the booster jab has been received, or reasons why staff chose not to be vaccinated.

You also must consider allegations may be raised that you have collected unnecessary data by hesitant staff, therefore we would advise not collecting peoples’ data before you need to. For example, ask yourself: is it necessary to collate vaccination status info if the staff member is self isolating and you intend to reduce that sick pay? The answer would clearly be yes in this case, however, going around the office and asking everybody’s vaccination status regardless of whether they are self isolating would likely not to be seen as reasonable.

Of course, as with all personal data obtained, it’s important to ensure accurate recording of information, and that the data isn’t capped for longer than necessary.

If I make sick pay decisions based on whether someone is self isolating or not rather than on vaccination status, does this still have GDPR implications?

At the time of writing, the current legal requirement for anyone who is unvaccinated who is a close contact of somebody with coronavirus is a self isolation period of 10 days. People with medical exemptions are treated in the same way as a fully vaccinated person and therefore don’t have to self isolate even if they are named as a contact of a positive case.

Therefore, if an employee phones in sick because they have to self isolate for a full 10 days as they have been named as a close contact of a covid positive person, it is safe to assume that they haven’t been vaccinated. It wouldn’t be necessary to record this information, and you can simply notify your payroll that this staff member would only be entitled to SSP.

However, if this turns into a discussion about the vaccination status of this employee and you make a note of that conversation (which is likely), you do need to comply with GDPR. Similarly, if you do intend to exercise discretion (such as the likes of IKEA and Next), you will need to find out why somebody hasn’t been vaccinated, therefore rendering you obligated to comply with GDPR.

What other risks need to be mitigated?

Reducing the pay of unvaccinated employees who are isolating because they are a close contact of a positive case poses the risk that they may attend work anyway if they know that they aren’t going to receive anything above SSP for their isolation period, of course this is a criminal offence, or they could pretend that they are ill and unable to come into work.

Clear communication in policy/letter format (which Supportis can assist with!) is paramount, setting out your expectations of how staff should behave and what steps to take when they’ve been identified as a close contact of a positive case. Breaches of any such policy would likely amount to a disciplinary offence. We can also guide you through any HR process, even chairing meetings at all stages of the procedure.

If you’re unsure where you stand legally with any of the topics discussed above, or you need any HR and employment law assistance, don’t hesitate to contact our friendly team for a free, no-obligation chat today on 0161 603 2156 about your people management concerns.

The government have now announced more changes to the rules on self-isolation (because it wasn’t confusing enough!)

As of today 22nd December 2021:

People infected with Covid in England can stop self-isolating up to three days early if they test negative twice, this will allow you to end quarantine after seven days instead of 10 by providing a negative lateral flow result on both day six and day seven of your self-isolation.

This change has been introduced in the hope to minimise disruption caused by the rapid spread of the Omicron variant and the recent spike in cases, which have created staff shortages for a number of businesses.

The new guidance can be used by people who are isolating after testing positive for Covid, regardless of their vaccination status.

However it is advised (not imperative) that those who are not double-jabbed will still have to isolate for the full 10 days if they are a close contact of a positive case.

You should not end isolation early if still experiencing symptoms, and people that are ending their isolation on day seven are strongly advised to limit contact with vulnerable people, not visit crowded or poorly ventilated spaces, and work from home where possible.

These rules mean someone who tests positive on either day six or seven will still be able to end isolation after two negative tests 24 hours apart on the following days. With two such tests, someone can end their isolation after the second negative test taken on day eight, nine or 10 of the isolation period.

It is encouraged that you report any lateral flow results to the government, but it is understood this will not be required to leave isolation.

Fully-vaccinated people who come into contact with someone who tests positive for coronavirus have already been advised to take a lateral flow test every day for seven days.

If you need any help with the confusing subject of managing self-isolation, or anything else HR-related, don’t hesitate to give our friendly team a call on 0161 603 2156 or drop us an email at hello@supportis.com to see how we can help!

Every year, in line with inflation, the UK government publishes the proposed statutory rates for maternity pay, paternity pay, shared parental pay, adoption pay, parental bereavement pay and sick pay for the following April. Rates have just been released for April 2022, to give employers ample time to update their HR documentation.

The current weekly rate of statutory maternity pay is £151.97, or 90% of the employee’s average weekly earnings if this figure is less than the statutory rate.

The rate of statutory maternity pay is expected to rise to £156.66 from April 2022. The increase normally occurs on the first Sunday in April, which in 2022 is 3 April.

Also on 3 April 2022, the rates of statutory paternity pay and statutory shared parental pay are expected to go up from £151.97 to £156.66 (or 90% of the employee’s average weekly earnings if this figure is less than the statutory rate).

The rate of statutory adoption pay goes up from £151.97 to £156.66.

This would mean that, from 3 April 2022, statutory adoption pay is payable at 90% of the employee’s average weekly earnings for the first six weeks, with the remainder of the adoption pay period at the rate of £156.66, or 90% of average weekly earnings if this is less than £156.66.

The weekly rate of statutory parental bereavement pay, which is available to employees on parental bereavement leave, is also topped up from £151.97 to £156.66.

The rates normally increase each April in line with the consumer price index (CPI).

Supportis can assist with not only queries on statutory rates, we also offer timely advice to iron out any employee issues you may face – from disciplinary to annual leave – we cover it all! We are also soon launching a brand new, specially developed management system, to save your admin time and help your business flourish. Contact us today on 0161 603 2156 or email us at hello@supportis.com to see how our friendly team can assist you.

Supporting your team post-pandemic: What HR professionals should prioritise

The coronavirus pandemic has affected both professionals and businesses in a lot of different ways. Arguably, SMEs have been hit especially hard, although the government implemented an array of support tools such as the furlough scheme and delaying tax payments for SMEs.

Now that we’re coming out of the other side of the worst of the pandemic, recovery and business development need to be the focus of SMEs with stretched resources. HR professionals have to be equipped to deal with and actively prevent mental health concerns and increased stress, also known as ‘burnout’.

 

Over the past 18 months, it’s become clear that culture is the most important aspect of working life. HR are also up against the ‘Great Resignation’, in which the number of open UK jobs surpassed 1,000,000 for the first time ever in August.

We look at what HR’s role is in supporting teams in the best way possible…

Over 25% of SMEs haven’t invested in extra training to deal with pandemic-related wellbeing concerns. It’s possible that as a result of this, HR employees have felt ill-equipped to cope with these concerns, making it more difficult to bounce back.

Employees face an array of issues, including presenteeism, burnout and workplace culture issues, much of which have been made worse throughout the pandemic.

What do we define as ‘work culture’?

A workplace culture is the environment that is created by the organisation for its employees, including:

  • Leadership
  • Values
  • Traditions
  • Beliefs
  • Interactions
  • Behaviours; and
  • Attitudes

That contribute to the relational and emotional feel of the workplace. 27% of UK leavers in 2020 cited their main reason for leaving as the toxic workplace culture, in fact, it’s estimated that workplace toxicity costs the UK £20.2bn annually! Which leads us to ask…

How can we combat workplace cultural unrest?

The most important aspect of combatting workplace unhappiness sounds obvious, however in practice it can be difficult to accommodate – making time to listen to and support employees. It’s all well and good offering ping pong tables, beanbag corner and a juice machine, however, a strong, positive company culture is imperative, and even more paramount is ensuring that this culminates in instilling genuine, true values across the company.

UK SMEs spend, on average, an extra hour each week on administrative tasks, meaning productivity is lost (a whopping 7 working days per year!) and that lost time has a negative impact on wellbeing and company culture.

Supportis can assist with not only strategies to boost employee wellbeing, we also offer timely advice to iron out any employee issues you may face – from disciplinary to annual leave – we cover it all! We are also soon launching a brand new, specially developed management system, to save your admin time and help your business flourish. Contact us today on 0161 603 2156 or email us at hello@supportis.com to see how our friendly team can assist you.

 

 

Although earlier in the year, media coverage suggested mass redundancies were to follow the end of the furlough scheme (which closed at the end of September this year), fortunately this doesn’t seem to have materialised.

In the penultimate month of the scheme, August of this year, almost 1,300,000 workers were still on the scheme. Although this number seems high, the scheme was it an 85% reduction of it’s peak amount.

According to recent government statistics, collective redundancies were actually at a seven-year low this August. Whilst this figure is comforting, it is silent on individual redundancies, which involve 19 or less employees.

For employees who had furloughed large numbers of workers, it’s reported that many employees who were furloughed are now continuing in their employment; resulting in fewer people out of work than was first anticipated, young people in particular show decreased unemployment statistics. However, with the impact of Brexit hindering worker supply, between July and September this year vacancies are at a 20 year high with 3.7 job vacancies for every 100 jobs.

We’ve already seen the impact of this with unusually high wages being offered for work such as lorry driving and warehouse work. Moreover, employers must now balance offering a higher wage against the needs of business, and perhaps offer alternative such as parental leave, buy and sell holiday, as More sustainable, affordable alternatives.

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If you'd like to find out more about how Supportis can help your business flourish then give us a call on 0161 603 2156 or send us an email.

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