Coauthored by Emma O'Connor and Catrina Flanagan
The Prime Minister announced on Sunday 10 May 2020 that there is to be some partial lifting of the restrictions to the current lockdown with some sectors of the economy reopening today (Wednesday 13 May). Whilst we still await information for employers in the form of “Covid-19 Secure” guidelines - although some are published - and updated guidance on how the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (JRS) will continue to operate until the end of October 2020, Emma O’Connor and Catrina Flanagan discuss what we know so far and what issues this could bring for employers and HR.
In the accompanying Roadmap document issued by the government on Monday 11 May 2020 we are told that this is:
- Not a short term crisis
- The Country cannot afford drastic change and
- There are no easy or quick solutions
The Roadmap document needs some meat to it and further separate guidelines for employers are expected. We are also expecting further amendments and guidance to the JRS at the end of the month. However, what do we know so far:
From Wed 13 May
The Prime Minister announced, and the Roadmap further reinforces, that certain businesses will be able to start to encouraging workers back to work. However, in broad terms:
- For the foreseeable future, workers should continue to work from home to minimise contact risk
- Where this is not possible, workers should travel to their workplace if it is open and safe to do so. It is expected that those in the food production, construction, manufacturing, logistics, distribution and scientific research (laboratory) sectors will be encouraged to return to work from 13 May 2020
- The government is to introduce a new “Covid-19 Secure” set of guidelines for employers setting out how it should impose social distancing as well as other health and safety measures although not covering all sectors, there is guidance which can be found here.
Anyone who has Covid-19 symptoms or is in a household with someone who has, must continue to isolate and abide by Public Health England rules.
Other reports from government ministers and departments have said that before opening their workplaces, employers should carry out risk assessments and work with health and safety reps to ensure safe working practices are adhered to. Employers will also need to undertake a Covid-19 Assessment. The government also expects employers with over 50 employees to publish the results of their risk assessments.
As well as this, employers are being told they should continue to implement social distancing practices at work – this would include using tape or markers, limiting the numbers of workers in certain areas and encouraging smaller teams working together. This is going to be a huge logistical and practical change for employers to achieve and implement.
Other measures include:
- Workers who sit at desks to work back to back or side to side 2m apart – workers should not sit face to face across desks from each other
- no sharing of equipment or hot desking
- regular cleaning, especially communal areas and door handles, surfaces etc.
- avoiding bottle necks e.g. entrance turnstiles
- be cautious around the numbers of people in lifts
- no in person meetings
- use “one-way” systems in corridors or entrances/exits
- change shift patterns or rotas
- staggered working hours
Workers are to avoid public transport – employers are encouraged to provide more bike racks, car parking spaces as well as showers/facilities if people walk/run to work, although expect guidance on this from the government as inevitably as the economy gets moving, the need for public transport use will also increase. There will also be guidance as to how people can use public transport safely and also how transport workers can work safely in this environment.
Where workers are still at home, steps should be taken to check-in with them and ensure their welfare. Also remember that health and safety obligations around risk assessments also apply to home workers.
Wearing face masks or coverings has been the subject of much scientific debate over whether these are effective in stopping the spread of the virus. However, the Roadmap document suggests that face coverings (not PPE style masks - unless role specific) should be used if someone is inside and cannot socially distance (suggesting homemade face coverings such as scarves are acceptable) e.g. at work or on public transport.
As now, those shielding or vulnerable should continue to stay at home.
From 1 June 2020
Subject to all the government’s targets being met and other social distancing and safety measures, there is a plan that from 1 June 2020 there will be a:
- Phased return of some primary (reception, yr. 1 and 6) and secondary school children (yr. 10 and 12)
- Non-essential retail to open (e.g. clothes shops)
- Child minders and nurseries to be able to open but again subject to strict H&S rules (guidance to follow on this)
From 4 July 2020
The aim, subject to all other tests being met as above, is to reopen all businesses who have not yet opened – subject to social distancing measures being adhered to etc. This would include:
- Hairdressers and salons
- Hospitality sector
- Leisure facilities (e.g. cinema)
- Public places such as place of worship
Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (JRS)
The Chancellor confirmed on Tuesday 12 May that the JRS will be extended until the end of October 2020. The JRS will continue to be accessible by businesses across all sectors and industries until the end of October.
He has confirmed that there will be no change to the scheme at all until the end of July.
Between August and October, there will be some changes to the scheme, with full detail on this expected to be published by the end of May. The Chancellor’s announcement made reference to more flexibility being permitted within the scheme from August and this is likely to include allowing employees to return to work part time, while still having access to government funds to cover parts of their wages.
During the period between August and October, the Chancellor suggested that employees would continue to receive the same level of income but that the responsibility for paying this may be split between the government and employers. At this stage, we do not have any further information as to what this split will look like or how it will operate and we expect that this will be explained further in the forthcoming guidance.
For more information on the JRS click here.
Getting the workplace covid-19 ready for those businesses that are opening this week and over the coming weeks will be a logistical as well as a practical challenge. Whilst limiting numbers of people in communal areas, stopping in person meetings as well implementing one-way systems may be workable, ensuring workers are 2 meters away – particularly in production lines or on construction sites – will take greater work and employee awareness too.
Remember, this is a two-way process: whilst employers must take reasonable steps to protect the health and welfare of their workers, workers too have to follow the rules put in place to protect them. What we do know, is that the workplaces people left, will not look like the workplaces they will return to.
For those who can return to work and reopen, communication is going to be key. What are your business plans to reopen, what measures will you be putting in place to protect health and safety? Take your time – if your business is not ready by Wednesday, remember this is just a guide. You will know your business, what steps are achievable and workforce best. Your people will be worried and anxious about returning; talk to them. As well as speaking to your health and safety reps, listen to your people – they may have ideas about how businesses can operate inside the strict social distancing and safety rules.
For some, they may not be in a position to return as schools and childcare is not available so a contingency plan should be put in place. Can employers assist with transport – is there scope to increase car park capacity? This may be achievable if employees are on different shifts or start/finish times staggered. Perhaps ask how they are going to get to work?
For those who remain on furlough think about how you are going to communicate with them. The aim of extending the JRS further will be to keep as many employees in work as possible, and will allow businesses to continue to receive support while employees are transitioned back into work, as and when this is possible. By extending the scheme, this will allow businesses more time to transition employees back into work and will, in a large number of cases, avoid the need to commence collective consultation for a while longer with the hope that some of these redundancies will not be necessary at the end of the extended period. While this is all subject to further guidance, this extension should provide comfort to businesses that there will not be a rush to make decisions in the near future, and will allow time for consideration once more of the economy starts to reopen.
As we continue to navigate these unchartered seas, Boyes Turner’s Employment Team are here to help. For advice please contact [email protected]
Consistent with our policy when giving comment and advice on a non-specific basis, we cannot assume legal responsibility for the accuracy of any particular statement. In the case of specific problems we recommend that professional advice be sought.