How the ‘Living with Covid Strategy’ is Impacting the Workplace

What employers must consider on the long road ahead

The Covid-19 Pandemic has to some extent abated in the UK. The nation’s predicament at the outset of a national and global health crisis, as opening up and ease to restrictions have been underway, feel like the difficulties from the pandemic are moving behind us.

Undoubtedly, the combination of efforts made by the wider public, leaders in business, government, healthcare and education have contributed to the steps forward taken that resulted in the return to life as it was previously known at the close of 2019.

Furthermore the enormous take up of the national vaccination programme roll out, coupled with the booster programme, have added significant levels of immunity that have driven down hospitalisations and increased for many the ability to mix safely in social and work settings.

It’s the very combination of these factors that have contributed to the UK’s Prime minister, Boris Johson, accounting plans to change the rules relating to Covid. Rules that have been gently abating over the course of the last six months.

What were previously strict and legally enforceable rules outlining how close an individual could stand or sit next to a person from a different household. Through the wearing of face coverings, further to how long an individual should isolate themselves in the event they became infected with Covid-19. Are continuing their relaxation to the extent that they are in the most part being rolled back all together.

The Living With Covid Strategy

The premise of the changes being introduced relate to the notion that unlike the period leading up to the shift in response to Covid-19. It is no longer considered necessary by the Government to have the same level of strict rules that were previously in place.

This could, in many ways, be considered a balanced and proportional response to the way in which transmission and case numbers have reduced in the population resulting from previous measures. Indeed for many organisations and their leaders, this change will be a welcome reprieve from a challenging period of responding to numerous demands made of them as the pandemic unfolded.

Is it possible to instruct employees to be vaccinated?

The February announcement made in Parliament outlined the details of the living with covid strategy which will come into action from March and April of 2022. The primary change that the strategy ushers in relates to the rules around isolation in the event of individuals receiving a positive COVID test result.

It’s the very transition from legally enforceable, compulsory Covid testing that will have an impact on the workplace in two specific ways.

The first, is that for employees who receive a positive test that confirms they have Covid-19, will no longer have to isolate themselves from the workplace whilst they await a negative test result. The second, is that resulting from the end to compulsory isolation periods, Statutory Sick Pay, (SSP) will no longer be made available to employees from day one of their having received a positive Covid test.

The official date for the change relating to SSP comes into effect from March 24th. With employees being unable to claim sick pay from the first day of their illness. This change will result in the first three days of illness becoming qualifying ‘waiting days’ and therefore not eligible for pay.

It’s sufficient to say that given outside forces, ranging from a cost of living crisis, where prices are rising for food, fuel and energy. That a change to sick pay eligibility will hit those affected hard, at a time when they can least contend with it.

Further Changes For Business

From April 1st testing for Covid-19 will no longer be freely accessible for the majority of people. Until now lateral flow testing packs have been made available to anyone who suspected they may have contracted Covid-19. Whilst also being used as a precautionary measure for those choosing to test prior to social gatherings, or mixing with those in the higher risk categories such as elderly people. 

The transition from compulsory to advisory self-isolation marks a key shift in the Government’s COVID-19 response. However, it is not the only important change employers should note.

However from April, a selective number of tests will be available for those who are within the higher risk groups and social care employees. Although this free testing capacity will be for symptomatic testing, as opposed to asymptomatic testing.

This change adds to the considerations for business leaders and their employees if they are not operating within the care sector. How can employers be reassured that employees are not carrying the Covid-19 infection into the workplace and how to respond in the event of a breakout?

Furthermore, the commencement of April also ushers in a change around workplace risk assessments. The majority of employers will no longer be required to include COVD-19 in their workplace risk assessments. This being a stipulation that has been in place since the commencement of workplace rules being implemented to ensure workplaces were COVID-19 secure.

Impact on Business Leaders

The question the Sage HR editorial team have been evaluating in response to these upcoming changes are what wll the impact on business leaders be? On the backdrop of what has been a challenging two years for employers and the wider workforce, the labour market globally currently finds itself in a state of enormous flux.

For example the Great Resignation of 2021, where companies across the globe have experienced enormous numbers of people resigning from their jobs, has shown no real sign of slowing down in 2022. How will this latest change have the potential to impact employees at higher risk of Covid-19 complications for themselves or for those they care about. In addition to impacting their pay, land with employees already disillusioned by the challenges of the workplace landscape?

Since the pandemic, employees are leaving the workforce or switching jobs in droves. For many, employers have played a big part in why they’re walking away.

Business leaders are already having to contemplate how they can retain the talent and employees that they have. Whilst also meaningfully engaging the employees that have recently been recruited in a hugely competitive market.

These changes on the face of it may be welcomed by employers and employees alike who are keen to return to a pre-covid workplace reality. Yet in the context of this additional challenge presented to employees who may be exposed to health risks and rewarded with a deduction in pay in the event they’re unwell. It’s safe to say that the road ahead to a Covid-19 free workplace is one pathed with seen and unseen challenges yet to present themselves.

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Written By

Jade Taryn Graham

Jade is the founder & CEO of Inspired a people & talent consultancy working with the most innovative early stage companies worldwide. Founder & CCO of Inspired Talent Media Ltd and contributing writer for Sage HR where Jade writes about people, leadership, work/life balance and change.