From 16 August 2021, the next step on the Government’s national “Road Map” to recovery from COVID-19 pandemic is expected to take place. From that date, we expect to see some national changes to the requirement for self-isolation after close contact with a positive COVID-19 case.
We still await confirmation of these new rules and guidance, but – like all employers in the country – Knowsley Council is thinking about how it might need to adapt to take on board the national changes when they occur. We think that we should continue to keep our staff updated regularly as these conversations continue. Importantly, we want to share our thinking with our workforce before reaching any decisions on any possible changes to the Council’s approach.
In recent days, there has been some suggestion by uninformed people on social media that the Council has already agreed a new policy around self-isolation requirements – this is NOT the case.
What we expect after 16 August 2021
A key element of the expected national changes will be a different approach to the self-isolation requirements for those individuals who are fully vaccinated from COVID-19. Recent media coverage suggests that around 75% of the country’s eligible population are now “double jabbed”. We anticipate that the Government will confirm that such people who are “double-jabbed” will no longer need to self-isolate automatically for 10 days after being in close contact with a confirmed COVID-19 case (subject to having a negative PCR test result and not displaying any symptoms). This is because a double vaccinated person has a level of protection from the virus which makes it less likely that they will catch COVID-19 and/or develop serious complications, even if the vaccination does not mean 100% protection.
Instead of the automatic self-isolation period, we expect the Government to advise that a fully vaccinated person who has been in close contact with a confirmed COVID-19 case should conduct daily COVID-19 tests and, provided that the results are negative, continue to go about their lives as normal – socialising, going to work, going to school etc.
These changes are being proposed in recognition of the fact that a large percentage of the adult population is now fully vaccinated, giving a level of protection which should allow the country to begin to learn to live with the virus and return to a greater degree of normality. The changes also take into account the fact that high levels of self-isolation have been creating well publicised problems in service delivery and supply chains.
What does this change mean for Council staff?
Right now, and until any decisions are taken, the expected changes don’t mean anything in a practical sense. But we need to think about how we might mover forward under these likely new arrangements.
Since the start of the pandemic, the Council’s policy has been to ensure that no member of staff has lost pay or been in any way disadvantaged for following the rules and taking time off work because of illness related to COVID-19 or having to self-isolate.
As we move forward, the Council’s expectation is that the vast majority of its workforce will be fully vaccinated (just like the rest of the population). We hope that our workforce will therefore be less likely to fall seriously ill due to COVID-19. Similarly, being double vaccinated will also mean that Council staff will not need to have frequent time off work due to self-isolation, something which has been placing a huge pressure on staff and Council services during the pandemic.
However, this change in the rules does not apply to the unvaccinated, who will still be required to automatically self-isolate for 10 days, regardless of whether or not they test negative themselves. So, we face a situation whereby some staff will be able to continue to come to work, and some may not. And, of course, those who are in work will need to cover for their absent colleagues.
These changes and different rules for the vaccinated and unvaccinated could lead to a “two tier” system as far as the Council’s workforce is concerned. Those staff who have not been vaccinated may be required to take multiple periods of fully paid additional leave in order to self-isolate (if they are unable to work from home), whilst their fully vaccinated colleagues will be expected to work, and may even have to help to cover the work of their absent colleagues.
Like the rest of the population, most Council staff will make the choice to protect themselves and others by having their vaccinations, but there may be others who choose not to do so. That is their personal choice – vaccination is not mandatory. However, if this choice leads to a person being unable to report for work as they would otherwise have been able to do and somebody else has to cover that work, we need to consider whether this is fair.
For that reason, the Council is currently considering some changes which may, in the future, bring our self-isolation policy into line with our broader sickness absence policy. If that happens, it may mean that self-isolation is effectively treated as an episode of sickness absence.
No decisions have yet been made, and we are giving very careful consideration to the changing circumstances in which we all find ourselves.
The Council will continue to support staff who are following the national guidance, have been vaccinated, and still find themselves having to take time off work because of a positive COVID-19 test or because they develop symptoms after being in close contact with a positive case. In these circumstances, colleagues will continue to receive full pay and will not be subject to sickness absence management procedures. The same will apply to colleagues who are medically unable to receive the vaccine.
Any changes to the Council’s policies will be made in consultation with staff and unions, and the Council has already invited local trade union officials to make comments on the possible ways forward.