Since Monday’s move to Step 4, the CBI has been engaging with members to provide live insight for policymakers. Following that process the CBI has identified three areas that urgently require further clarification from the government, as well the questions firms have been raising, to support a successful reopening of the economy.
Firms from across the economy are being severely impacted by the current policy on self-isolation with the trajectory of workers being required to self-isolate threatening to escalate an already damaging issue even further. At the same time firms have reported a high degree of confusion following conflicting reports on the ‘advisory’ vs ‘mandatory’ requirement to self-isolate.
Key questions for the government to answer:
- What is the consequence of being notified by track and trace – do staff have to isolate or is this only advisory? Can a government minister make a formal statement to Parliament to provide urgent clarity?
- What is a business’ responsibility when an employee gets notified on the NHS Test & Trace app?
- What is the process for approving exempt ‘critical workers’? Can this be clearly signposted on the gov.uk website, and effectively communicated to business? Will the exemption list account for businesses operating in the supply chains of critical sectors?
With government funding for workplace testing due to run out at the end of July, firms are highly anxious about how they will be able to access testing with high levels of concern for their employees and customers as the infection rate continues to rise. . Businesses are aware of the end of funding for workplace testing but need clarity on access to community testing.
Key questions to answer:
- What are the current routes available and mechanisms for firms to access community testing?
- With the greater flexibility that step 4 brings, how critical to the government’s efforts to mitigate and monitor the spread of the virus is testing within the workplace? What lessons has the government learnt from community testing in Scotland that can be shared with businesses in England to maximise uptake?
- Can the government give assurances that the testing system will have capacity to deal with rising case numbers as more people return to workplace?
Firms are utilising the government’s ‘how to work safely’ guidance with the majority adopting a ‘caution first’ approach to the removal of mitigations. However, as cases rise, firms are growing increasingly concerned about the potential routes for litigation if a customer or employee contracts COVID-19 in the workplace. Businesses would welcome clarity on what level of protection is adequate, even if no longer legally required, to ensure their operations protect staff and customers. Firms are also seeking advice about how to ask for their employee’s vaccine status, and the potential legal ramifications of this. This issue will be particularly pertinent re. eligibility for ’exempted’ staff, and when the self-isolation rules change from 16 August.
Key questions to answer:
- What is a firm’s liability for litigation if staff or customers contract COVID-19 in the workplace? Can the government or HSE issue a statement of confirmation to provide reassurance and clarity?
- Can I ask my staff for proof of vaccination? Can I ask them to get vaccinated if they are not?
The CBI have shared these questions with key officials across Whitehall and will be actively seeking clarity for firms in the coming days.