Q&A: Christmas Parties and COVID

What do employers need to know following the latest Government advice around Omicron?

Answered by: Kate Palmer, HR Advice and Consultancy Director at Peninsula.

 

The extended roll out of the Covid booster vaccination programme to include all individuals aged 18 and over will have an impact on employers. In particular, organisations will have to consider how they will manage employees’ requests for time off work to get the vaccine and what pay they will get during this time. There is no legal obligation to pay staff, but employers should check any contractual arrangements relating to time off for medical appointments.

For many employers, offering full pay for vaccine appointments has resulted in a greater number of employees voluntarily getting jabbed. This in turn benefits the organisation through reduced sickness and self-isolation absences, as well as increased comfort and confidence for vulnerable employees when coming into the workplace.

Make sure that any vaccine policies are updated to include boosters and remember, care home workers now have just 23 more days to turn their self-certification into a GP certification when claiming medical exemption.

What about Christmas parties?

Understandably, people will be concerned over the new Omicron variant and hesitant to attend social festivities as a result. However, cancelling everything may be a bit premature. There are ways for parties and social gatherings to go ahead in a safe manner, but it’s important employers don’t pressurise employees to participate in any celebrations or events which they are not comfortable with. Instead, they should strive to reassure their staff members of the Covid-secure measures which have been implemented to protect them, their families and others.

The Christmas party is an extension of the workplace, which means that employers have a duty of care to protect employees’ health and safety. This might involve requiring everyone to take lateral flow tests before attending the Christmas party and providing access to face masks and hand sanitiser throughout the venue.

Similarly, employers may want to communicate in advance of any event that not all employees will be comfortable with physical contact, so to be mindful and respectful of hand shaking, dancing and social distancing whilst in attendance. This improves the trust and confidence within the employment relationship, since employees know that their employer is taking the situation seriously and prioritise their wellbeing. Ultimately, organisations should ensure employees know they are able to have fun and stay safe at the same time.

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