The Prime Minister has announced the fourth and final stage of the government’s roadmap to end lockdown restrictions that will likely proceed as planned on Monday 19 July, subject only to a further government announcement confirming that on 12 July. So, what do we know so far?
Will we be able to have our staff back in their physical place of work?
Yes, the government has said that it will no longer be necessary for it to instruct people to work from home and so employers will be able to start planning a safe return to the workplace. This means that you can ask all employees to return to work from 19 July and can do away with the social distancing measures you may have had in place.
So, will be it back to as it was before March 2020?
All restrictions measures are expected to end on 19 July on all venues, including theatres and nightclubs. However, you will still have health and safety obligations towards all staff and should consider whether there are any individual vulnerabilities that you need to be aware of e.g., pregnant women who may have decided not to have the vaccination during their pregnancy, or those with severe allergic reactions who have not been vaccinated. You should also consider what can be done to reduce transmission of Covid-19 at work, such as continuing to provide hand sanitiser and other hygiene/cleaning measures.
Can employees wear masks at work if they wish to?
Yes: the wearing of face masks will become voluntary, and some employees may prefer to continue this practice for the time being. They should be permitted to do so.
What if an employee has to self-isolate?
It will remain a legal requirement for anyone contacted by the NHS Test and Trace service to self-isolate even after 19 July, or anyone that tests positive. Therefore, if an employee is required to self-isolate, they must not travel to work. They could either work from home if possible, or take annual leave, unpaid leave, or sick leave. You can ask them to obtain an isolation note from the online isolation service at www.111.nhs.uk/isolation-note/as proof that they have been told to self-isolate.
If an employee is reluctant to return to work, what can we do?
Even though restrictions are lifting and the work from home guidance will come to an end, it would be sensible to discuss your business’ plans for the return to work with employees, in good time before 19 July. Ultimately, employees must obey your reasonable instructions and will have to return to the workplace when you ask them to: if an employee refuses to return, you could instigate disciplinary proceedings. However, from an employee relations perspective, it may be sensible to discuss any anxieties employees may have about being in crowded offices or commuting at rush hour, depending on vaccination status, and taking into consideration any underlying health conditions.
Please get in touch with your usual 3CS contact if you require further information about how to plan a safe return to the workplace.