Article by Ruth Cornish, Amelore
Self-isolation rules have been in place throughout the pandemic in order to limit the spread of coronavirus and to protect those who are vulnerable to the disease.
As the UK opens up and cautiously tries to return to some kind of normality, these rules have to be updated to reflect the progress and success of the vaccination programme and deal with the disruption that the self-isolation of workers has caused businesses.
This post will update you on the new rules regarding self-isolation that came into effect from Monday 16th August 2021. In practice, the rules should prevent far more workers from having to self-isolate if they come into contact with a positive COVID-19 case, providing they are fully vaccinated.
The new rules
From the 16th of August 2021, the government has changed key parts of the rules over self-isolation. These changes are:
*They will have to have had their final jab at least 14 days prior to being in close contact with a positive case.
These changes will help to reduce the number of people having to self isolate and ensure there is minimal disruption to businesses if one of their employees does test positive with COVID-19.
Employer’s and Employee’s Responsibilities
As a result of these changes, employers may need to know who in their workforce are fully vaccinated from COVID-19. However, any data gathered must be in line with existing data protection regulations. The reason for checking an employee’s covid status must be clear and if you cannot specify a reasonable use for collecting the information, its collection will not be justified. In addition to this, the responsibility to self-isolate still falls upon the employee, so the employer’s main responsibility should be to ensure their workers are aware of the recent changes to the rules.
Open communication to staff regarding self-isolation rules will be beneficial in preparation if a worker has to self-isolate. Staff should be reminded that it is their legal obligation to self-isolate if they are not exempt from the new rules or if they receive a positive COVID-19 test. Once made aware of the employees need to self-isolate, employers should ensure that they do not allow the employee to attend the workplace until their self-isolation period ends.
Potential Future Problems
In the future there might be problems with unvaccinated workers continuing to need to self-isolate on a regular basis and being absent from work. Whilst there isn’t currently very much guidance to deal with this potential problem, for now employers are advised to keep open communication with their employees, and make sure that they know there are also medical exemptions (those who can evidence they cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons) to the need to self-isolate, other than those who are fully vaccinated. Employers should also focus on maintaining their current health and safety guidelines, to ensure they are continuing to provide a safe, COVID secure workplace environment for their workers.
The ICO (Information Commissioners Office) has released guidance* on covid status checks and this should be reviewed before making any decision to collect vaccination data from your employees. Employers should also consider industry guidance as well as the latest health advice.