Hassle Free HR –  Lockdown Advice

March 2020 National Lockdown

At 8:30pm on Monday 23 March 2020 the Prime Minister announced strict measures to prevent the Coronavirus infecting more people within the UK. Throughout the lockdown we were required to stay at home as much as possible, gatherings were banned (the size of gatherings of people deemed acceptable varied throughout lockdown), family members from different households were only permitted to visit one another in certain circumstances, if strict social distancing was adhered to, and people were only permitted to travel to work if it was absolutely essential and the work couldn’t be performed at home. There was initially some confusion over whether this meant all workplaces that did not contain “key workers” were required to close, but this was not the case and the Government also confirmed, on 24 March 2020, that people were still able to travel to their workplace if they couldn’t work from home.

The nationwide lockdown was subject to review and certain changes. For example, on 13 May 2020 many people were told they could return to work if the appropriate safety measures were taken. Changes were then announced on 23 June 2020, which came into force on 4 July 2020, again increasing the list of businesses that were permitted to be open, but also decreasing the level of social distance required, in certain circumstances. Whilst the focus remained on caution and working from home where possible, more people were being encouraged to return to the workplace as long as clear measures were in place to protect employees and prevent the virus from spreading further. From 1 August 2020 onwards, employers were given “more discretion” to decide if employees could cease working from home and return to the workplace. Employers were still required to comply with Covid-19 Secure Guidelines, and it was recommended that employees were consulted with, before they returned. Consideration to the legal duty of care an employer has to all employees was stressed as being a priority throughout the Coronavirus pandemic.

Previously, employees were strongly encouraged to avoid public transport by driving, walking or cycling, if they were required to work. Where the avoidance of public transport was not possible for all employees, employers were asked to be considerate towards any employees with travel limitations. However, this guidance changed on 17 July 2020. From this date onwards, the public was told that anyone can use public transport as long as they use a suitable mask / face covering.

On 17 July 2020 the Government confirmed that they were hoping to avoid having to implement a second national lockdown. Instead, from 18 July 2020 onwards local authorities were given the ability to implement local lockdowns if it became necessary in response to rising Coronavirus numbers. Employers must therefore be prepared for how they will respond to a possible local lockdown, with special consideration to how this may affect employees who commute from a different area.

However, since the beginning of September 2020 the number of Coronavirus cases and hospital admissions have risen. On 14 September 2020 “the rule of 6” was brought into place, banning any social gathering of 7 or more people, in individual homes or in public, unless specific exemptions applied. On 22 September 2020 it was then announced that “the rule of 6” will be in place for a minimum period of 6 months, and people were once again being encouraged to work from home. The Government stated that workplaces could remain open where it is essential for employees to be in the workplace, or where employees are not capable of working from home, but all other employees who can work from home, should continue working from home for the foreseeable future.

The Three Tier System

On 12 October 2020, the Government introduced the “Three Tier System” to hopefully prevent a further escalation of Coronavirus cases whilst also helping to prevent the confusion seemingly caused by the local lockdowns.

  • Tier One: individuals and employers are subject to the current national guidance, with no additional measures required, i.e. the rule of 6 and the 10pm curfew.
  • Tier Two: the rule of 6 can continue outdoors, but multiple households are not permitted to meet indoors, whether at home or in a public setting. The 10pm curfew remains in operation.
  • Tier Three: the rule of 6 does not apply as multiple households cannot mix in any setting. Gyms, leisure centres, betting shops and casinos must close until further notice. Pubs and restaurants can remain open, but only if they serve “substantial meals”, and the 10pm curfew still applies. (Please note, certain areas may negotiate specific “deals” when placed in Tier Three, which could differ from what is stated in this bullet point).

Employers who were suffering from a reduced work flow, or who had been required to close due to the Three Tier System above, were told that they could request help via the Job Support Scheme (JSS), more information can be found here.

For workplaces that are legally permitted to be open but which cannot accommodate home working, we have created some guidance about preparing to return to the workplace, that can be found here.

5 November 2020 Lockdown Restrictions applicable to England only

On Saturday 31 October 2020, the Government announced further restrictions for England, effective from 5 November 2020.  Further information on the restrictions for England can be found here.

Specifically, advice relating to the workplace is as follows;

  • Going to Work; to help contain the virus, everyone who can work effectively from home are advised to continue doing so. Where employees cannot do so – including, but not limited to, employees who work in critical national infrastructure, construction, or manufacturing – they should continue to travel to their workplace. This is essential to keeping the country operating and supporting sectors and employers. Public sector employees working in essential services, including childcare or education, should continue to go into work.   Where it is necessary for employees who work in other people’s homes – for example, for nannies, cleaners or tradespeople – they are advised to continue,  otherwise, people should avoid meeting for work in a private home or garden, where Covid-19 Secure measures may not be in place.  In the workplace the risk of transmission can be substantially reduced if COVID-19 secure guidelines are followed closely. Extra consideration should be given to those people at higher risk.

5 January 2021 Third Lockdown applicable to England only

On 3 January 2021, due to a rapid rise in infections, hospital admissions and case rates across the country, and the new variant of COVID-19, which scientists have now confirmed is between 50 and 70 per cent more transmissible, the Government announced a third lockdown for England, effective from 5 January 2021.

Specific  advice which relates to and impacts upon the workplace is as follows;

  • Employees should only go to work, or provide voluntary or charitable services, only if they cannot reasonably do so from home.
  • Employees with school age children may be impacted as all primary schools, secondary schools and colleges will move to remote learning, except for the children of key workers and vulnerable children.
  • Employees who are classed as clinically extremely vulnerable are being advised to begin shielding again, and letters will be sent to individuals with advice on what this means for them.

The restrictions are expected to last until the middle of February if the situation in hospitals improve. By this point, the NHS hopes to have vaccinated everyone in the top four priority groups identified by the JCVI – including older care home residents and staff, everyone over 70, all frontline NHS and care staff and all those who are clinically extremely vulnerable.

The Government have updated its guidance to state that employers can (not must) furlough employees whose health has been affected by coronavirus (COVID-19) or any other conditions, including if they are unable to work from home, or working reduced hours, because they:

  • are clinically extremely vulnerable, or at the highest risk of severe illness from coronavirus and following public health guidance
  • have caring responsibilities resulting from coronavirus (COVID-19), such as caring for children who are at home as a result of school and childcare facilities closing, or caring for a vulnerable individual in their household

For further clarification review the Government’s updated guidance here

Reviewed on 13 January 2021