Hassle Free HR – “Lockdown” Advice
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 of 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 becomes necessary in response to rising Coronavirus numbers. Employers must 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, from 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 apply. 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 are once again being encouraged to work from home. The Government has stated that workplaces can 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.
On 12 October 2020, the Government introduced the “Three Tier System” which will hopefully prevent a further escalation of Coronavirus cases whilst also helping to prevent the confusion seemingly caused by the local lockdowns. The Three Tier System will come into force on 14 October 2020 and will be as follows:
- 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 are set to continue.
- Tier Two: the rule of 6 can continue outdoors, but multiple households will not be 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.
Employers who have been required to close due to the Three Tier System can 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.
However, not all workplaces are legally permitted to be open and are still under an enforced lockdown. More information can be found here.
Last reviewed on 13 October 2020