Self-isolation rule changes in England and Scotland: what do they mean for employers?

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It is a legal obligation for individuals to self-isolate if they are positive or if the NHS Test and Trace tells them to do so, regardless of their vaccination status. However, the government intends to exempt those who are fully vaccinated (or under 18) from the requirement to self-isolate if they come into contact with a positive case. The changes are expected to take effect August 16 in England and August 9 in Scotland.

What are the current rules?

Currently, most individuals are required by law to self-isolate if they or someone they live with has symptoms or tests positive for COVID, if they have returned from a “red list” country. or if they have been contacted by NHS Test and Trace. Failure to do so, or an employer insisting that an employee come to work in these circumstances, can result in fines starting at £ 1,000 for the first offense and up to £ 10,000 for the fourth offense and penalties. following.

For individuals “pinged” by the NHS app, self-isolation is advisory only and not a legal requirement.

Recently the government introduced exceptions for frontline health workers and other essential workers to allow them to continue working, where it would have a “major negative impact on essential services” for them to isolate themselves. . The exception applies to workers who are double vaccinated (and 14 days have passed since their second dose) and who have been identified as close contacts. The current list of exempt essential workers includes railway flaggers and air traffic controllers. Employers wishing to make use of the exemption should contact the relevant government department in their sector and requests will be accepted on a case-by-case basis. In case of eligibility, this will be confirmed in a letter to the employer setting out the relevant measures that must be followed.

How are the rules changing?

From August 9 in Scotland and August 16 in England, all fully vaccinated people will be exempt from mandatory self-isolation. If a person is in close contact with someone with COVID, they will no longer be required to self-isolate for 10 days. Instead, if the person has been doubly vaccinated (for at least two weeks) or is under 18 and has no symptoms, their self-isolation may end. There is no legal obligation to take a PCR test, but individuals are encouraged to do so. If their test comes back positive, they will have to isolate themselves.

What does this mean for employers?

In light of the rule change, it can be argued that employers will need to know which members of their staff have been doubly vaccinated, in order to ensure that they are complying with the law. The Office of the Information Commissioner recently issued an advisory confirming that in order to be processed legally, the collection of immunization data must be necessary and relevant for a specific purpose. Each company will therefore have to determine its objective in collecting this data. Additionally, since employee health information is ‘special category data’, the collection of such data should be done with care and in accordance with UK Data Privacy Act.

There could also be an increase in discussions about whether employers can impose compulsory vaccination in the workplace, not only as a means of ensuring the health and safety of staff, but also to maintain business continuity. Immunization is a difficult and sensitive area with strong arguments on both sides, so all decisions and rationale should be carefully documented and be part of a detailed risk assessment taking into account other measures to ensure staff safety. and maintain business continuity.

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