Returning to work: Who? How? When?

On Sunday 10 May 2020, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced significant changes to the Government’s coronavirus guidance. These changes cover many fundamental aspects of everyday life, including social interactions and exercise. However, perhaps of most significant for those in business, is the change in guidance on who can return to work.

So what has changed?

The Prime Minister’s announcement confirmed that all workers who cannot work from home are, from Wednesday 13 May 2020, “actively encouraged” to return to their physical place of work and that sectors of the economy that are allowed to be open should be open.

The Government’s recovery plan, entitled “Our Plan to Rebuild: The UK Government’s COVID-19 recovery strategy”, specifically states that this this includes food production, construction, manufacturing, logistics, distribution and scientific research in laboratories, with the only exceptions being workplaces such as hospitality and non-essential retail, which for the time being must remain closed.

How can my employees return to work?

If you have employees who are unable to work from home, and your business is permitted to be open, you can implement a return to work from Wednesday 13 May 2020. In doing so, you must follow the new “COVID-19 Secure” guidelines, which set out sector by sector guidance on health and safety measures to be implemented by employers when bringing employees back to work.

The guidelines are lengthy and should be read in detail by any employer intending to bring their employees back to work. The guidelines supplement existing health and safety and employment law obligations.

In summary, amongst other things the guidelines state that employers should:

  • consult with employee representatives about the return to work;
  • conduct risk assessments, share these with employees and in some cases publish these online;
  • implement strict and enhanced hygiene and social distancing measures, which will vary from workplace to workplace and industry to industry;
  • minimise interactions between employees, customers and third parties, including by staggering working patterns, using floor markings and implementing other physical distancing measures;
  • encourage employees to avoid public transport when travelling to work.

Interestingly, on the subject of personal protective equipment (“PPE”) the guidelines indicate that this is of minimal benefit in comparison with the hygiene and distancing measures outlined above and that, should it not be possible to implement these measures, an employer should give careful consideration to whether the proposed activity should really be carried out at all.

What hasn’t changed?

If you are a hospitality business or “non-essential” retail outlet, for the time being the situation remains unchanged for you. Under the Government’s recovery strategy (see link above), it is envisaged that your business will be able to reopen as normal on 4 July 2020 at the earliest, subject to the Government being satisfied that the coronavirus pandemic is under control.

The situation also remains unchanged for employees who are able to work from home, who must continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

Similarly, the Government’s guidance on individuals who show symptoms of the coronavirus is unchanged, meaning a 14 day isolation period will still be required for the individual and their household.

How can MLP Law help?

The Employment Team at MLP Law can also help you with any of issues raised in this update. Just contact us on 0161 926 9969, employment@mlplaw.co.uk or on our employment law-specific Twitter account @HRHeroUK.

MLP Law is also are hosting a free live Post-Lockdown Q&Q webinar on Thursday 14 May 2020 at 9.30am – 10.30am, where we will be expanding on some this week’s developments. You can register your place by emailing tanyam@mlplaw.co.uk or employment@mlplaw.co.uk.