By Darren Isaacs - 5 October 2021
Our intrepid Covid-19 blogger, Darren Isaacs, picks up his blog where he left off as he sets off for 14 days of forced quarantine to visit his family in Australia. In this limited run of Covid Diaries, Travel Edition, he will share some of his travel and quarantine experiences alongside his musings on topical HR issues our clients are facing.
I have been thinking about all the Covid travel requirements again. It is hard not to when they have become so central to my life at this point in time.
At the airports and on the flights over (all 24 hours of them), it was compulsory to wear a mask. I was worried about how it would feel for such an extended period of time, but I got used to it. I even saw a group of people going the full Naomi Campbell at Changi airport, though I think that was a personal decision rather than a legal requirement.
I have also now had three PCR tests in the space of 10 days, and I am due another one today or tomorrow. After I am released for good behaviour, I will need another test two days later. Then another one 48 hours before I fly back to London via Singapore, two weeks later.
So, six tests in about a month. I feel like my life now revolves around tonsil swabs.
These travel rules can be a bit annoying but at least, I keep reminding myself, they are relatively simple and I know what to do. I love a rule and I especially love a simple one.
It got me to thinking about all the businesses (and employees) back in Blighty who are struggling with what to do as they re-open the world of office work. Naturally, many seek out governmental advice in the hope that there will be some clear guidance on various HR legal issues. Sadly, such clarity is proving elusive.
As well as the health & safety angle, there is also the multitude of genuinely challenging scenarios that employers face around implementing policies that protect their staff whilst balancing the interests of employees in minority groups and working within data privacy guidelines (both of which are very important, even in a time of pandemic). Can we force people back into the office? Can we ask our staff if they are vaccinated? Can we keep a note of their responses? What if someone won’t get vaccinated? What if someone won’t come back into the office but they can’t work from home? What if someone is a high-risk individual? Etc etc.
Ultimately, the answers to these questions – like many employment law questions – tend to come down to the employer acting “reasonably” (whatever that may mean in a pandemic) and making “reasonable” adjustments (see last comment).
The challenge, as always, is that what is “reasonable” to me may differ from what is “reasonable” to you; what is “reasonable” to an employee and, most importantly, what is “reasonable” to some employment judge who has previously had nothing to do with your business but has the benefit of hindsight two years down the line.
You get the point.
It cries out for some temporary regulations to be made which state, quite simply, what employers can do and what they can’t. With specificity. They don’t have to be prescriptive, but some regulatory clarity could help to answer a lot of these questions.
We may not always like rules, but they can at least take the guess work out and let you get on with things. Like the travel rules, even if they are doing wonders for the staycation market.
If you would like to read more Covid diary entires please click here.