Employers Adjust as COVID-19 Restrictions and Regulations Are Rolled Back Globally

On February 21, Britain’s Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, announced that all of England’s COVID-19 regulations and restrictions would be revoked in coming weeks. Shortly thereafter, countries across the globe began to follow suit.

  • In the United Kingdom, mandatory vaccination regulations for employees in England’s health and social care settings that were due to be implemented April 1, 2022, will be revoked by March 15, 2022.
  • In Austria, the country’s universal COVID-19 vaccination mandate will be suspended. The measure was signed into law on February 4, but compliance checks were not scheduled to start until March 15.
  • In France, as of March 14, 2022, individuals will no longer be required to show a COVID-19 vaccine passport to enter most indoor venues. Further, masks will no longer be required in indoor settings, except for public transport and healthcare settings.
  • In Germany, bars, restaurants and hotels have been reopened to the unvaccinated population. Most of the vaccination restrictions still in place are expected to end on March 20, 2022. Regulations requiring employers to implement mandatory 3G screenings (i.e., screenings for vaccination, status or medical exemption) to enter the workplace are expected to be rolled back later this month. Similarly, employers will not be required to permit remote work arrangements.
  • In Luxembourg, 3G screenings that were mandatory for employers permitting employees to enter the workplace have become voluntary.
  • In Italy, outdoor masking requirements have been lifted, and the government has announced that it plans to further roll back COVID-19 restrictions this spring. For the time being, however, Italy still requires proof of full vaccination to enter most indoor venues or to use public transportation, and indoor masking requirements remain in effect.
  • Closer to home, some Canadian provinces have lifted mask and vaccine requirements. On March 1, 2022, Alberta removed its capacity and gathering limits and its indoor masking requirements. The government of Quebec has begun removing most of its mask mandates, including those applicable in academic settings. Ontario has removed its capacity limits and its mandatory vaccine certificate system. Mask mandates in Ontario will be lifted on March 21, 2022, with the aim of lifting all COVID-19 restrictions by the end of April. British Columbia will remove its mask requirement for low-risk, indoor public spaces beginning March 11, 2022, and its vaccine requirement for post-secondary residences later this month. On April 8, 2022, the vaccine card required to enter restaurants, gyms, and similar indoor spaces in British Columbia will be dropped, and businesses can shift from their COVID-19 safety plans to communicable disease plans.

Limits on international travel likewise are lifting, which indicates that business travel may soon resume more fully. For example, on March 27, 2022, India will lift its two-year ban on international flights. Italy, France and England have eliminated pre-departure testing for fully vaccinated people entering the country. Other countries, including Ireland, Iceland and Norway, have lifted all regulations relating to testing and vaccination for travelers.

Employers across the globe are feeling some whiplash, as hefty regulations that were recently implemented in response to the rise of the Omicron variant are hastily suspended or stripped down. With the drastically shifting status of public health guidance, those employers who have implemented their own policies, including policies that require the disclosure of health-related data, may want to reassess whether the public health risk still warrants such measures. Even so, employers should be cognizant and sensitive to those protections that extend to employees whose health remains at risk as a result of the coronavirus, including those who are immunocompromised. Further, employers should be cognizant that employees may have varying comfort levels with regard to returning to on-site work with rolled back restrictions. In assessing new protocols, policies and practices pertaining to COVID-19, employers should consider the tools that were so necessary over the past two years — masking, remote work arrangements and meetings via video conference, for example — as helpful methods to accommodate and integrate protected and hesitant employees back into the workplace.