Health and Safety: The Lasting Impacts of COVID-19 on UK Employment Law
In 2023, the COVID-19 pandemic might seem like a topic resigned to the past for a lot of people but there are still issues surrounding the fallout of the pandemic and in this article, Sarah Begley considers the ongoing challenges posed by COVID-19 and its impact on UK employment law.
Furlough Scheme Adjustments
One of the most significant initiatives introduced by the UK government in response to the pandemic was the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, widely known as the furlough scheme. Designed to support businesses and protect jobs during times of economic uncertainty, the furlough scheme has undergone adjustments to meet the changing needs of employers and employees.
In 2023, the furlough scheme has been gradually phased out as the economy recovers from the impact of the pandemic. The government has implemented a targeted approach, focusing on industries and sectors that still face significant challenges. This adjusted scheme allows for a more tailored support system, assisting businesses that are still struggling to regain stability.
Vaccination has played a crucial role in the fight against COVID-19, and the UK government has encouraged widespread vaccination as a means to control the spread of the virus. However, in line with individual rights, vaccination remains voluntary, and individuals have the freedom to decide whether or not to receive the vaccine.
Employers have an ongoing responsibility to prioritise the health and safety of their workforce, including taking reasonable steps to protect employees from COVID-19 in the workplace. Some employers have introduced policies aimed at encouraging vaccination among their employees.
These policies may include providing paid time off for employees to receive the vaccine, offering vaccination information and resources, or even organising internal vaccination campaigns. Sarah comments,
“While such measures can be effective in increasing vaccination rates, it is crucial that employers do not overstep the mark and seek to enforce vaccination. They must ensure that they comply with anti-discrimination and data protection laws, respecting the rights and privacy of their employees”.
Additionally, it is important to note that individuals may be exempt from vaccination due to medical conditions or other protected characteristics. Employers must handle such situations with sensitivity and strike a balance between protecting individual rights and public health.
Adapting Employment Law to New Realities
2023 brings new challenges and opportunities for UK employment law in the face of COVID-19. As the situation continues to evolve, the government may introduce further measures to support businesses and employees, ensuring a safe and productive work environment.
Employers, too, must remain vigilant in implementing best practices to protect their workforce. Sarah adds,
“One of the key messages that came out of the pandemic from an employment law perspective was the importance of health and safety in the workplace. Going forward this means adhering to, and maintaining, updated guidelines on health and safety and fostering an inclusive and supportive workplace culture.”
In conclusion, although a distant memory for some, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to shape UK employment law in 2023. Adjustments to the furlough scheme and the ongoing consideration of vaccination policies reflect the government’s commitment to balancing the needs of businesses, individual rights, and public health. As the country moves forward, it is crucial for employers, employees, and policymakers to adapt and collaborate in order to navigate the evolving landscape of employment law during these unprecedented times.
If your contracts of employment or employee handbooks, including any specific policy on health and safety, are due a review, please contact Sarah Begley, Solicitor at The Wilkes Partnership on 0121 733 8000 or via email at [email protected]. You can also contact any other member of the Employment Team on 0121 233 4333 or email us at [email protected].