The New COVID variant Omicron – what’s an Employer to do?

In recent weeks a new variant of COVID has begun to emerge. The race is on to get everyone jabbed and issued with a booster in order to try and stop the spread of the new COVID variant, Omicron, as well as previous versions of COVID. A few days ago WHO gave an update on Omicron

The New COVID Variant Omicron

From Tuesday 30 November 2021 face coverings are once again mandatory in shops and on public transport. This is to try and halt the spread of the virus. It seems however that certain shops are not going to enforce the rule – namely the Coop –, Tesco and Lidl as they do not see it is their role as a law enforcer. Face coverings must also be worn by students in year 7 and above along with staff in communal areas unless they are exempt.

Countries are once again being put on the red list. Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and Angola were added to the red travel list, which now already includes South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, Zimbabwe and Namibia.

Anyone travelling internationally will need to take a PCR test on or before day two after their return to the UK, including those who are fully vaccinated. They must self-isolate until they have a negative test result. Lateral flow tests will not be accepted as an alternative.

Anyone who is a contact of a person who has tested positive with a suspected case of the Omicron is required to self-isolate for ten days. This includes those who are fully vaccinated.

More information can be found here :

The government is throwing everything at the situation to ensure everyone can have a third jab and all adults will have been offered one by the end of January 2022.

Actions for Employers With the New COVID Variant

Employers need to consider health and safety as under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, employers are required to take all reasonably practicable steps to reduce workplace risks and employees have a legal duty to co-operate. A review of health and safety obligations should be undertaken by carrying out risk assessments to try and reduce the spread of the virus. Staff and visitors should be reminded to be vigilant and their obligations too.

Employees may need to be encouraged to work from home where possible building on emerging hybrid working practices. For those employees who can not work at home face coverings should be required and PPE provided where necessary. At the moment working from home is not being enforced by the government however it might be prudent for employers to issue guidance on the matter to the their employees. Support for staff both psychologically and physically should be also offered.

International travel for business purposes may have to be curtailed especially where a country is on the red list.

Sadly it seems that the new variant may affect 2021 Christmas parties. Usually a time to have fun for some employees now it may be causing anxiety. Many pubs and restaurants are suffering from cancellations in the wake of the emerging news. Once again the hospitality industry could be be hit hard and will impact on staff. It seems the big company party is off and employers are choosing to hold much smaller events –

The cases of Omicron are gradually increasing it seems. It is not known how quickly the virus will spread or how serious its impact will be. Even if someone who has been double vaccinated can get the Omnicron virus and transmit it. Testing and self isolation should be firmly encouraged.

The message should continue to be “stay safe”.