EMPLOYMENT BRIEFING – 15 MAY 2020 ADJUSTING CURRENT SOCIAL DISTANCING MEASURES AND THE UPDATES TO THE CORONAVIRUS JOB RETENTION SCHEME (“CJRS”) FOR FURLOUGHED EMPLOYEES
Following Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s speech on 10 May 2020, substantial Government guidance has been released: the Roadmap announcement for easing lockdown restrictions, the Government Guidance FAQs and the Guidance on Working Safely During Covid-19.
The Roadmap set out a phased set of steps to move away from lockdown. We are currently in the first step, which includes some restrictions on use of outdoor space (subject to social distancing) and some relatively small modifications in the government’s current guidance on work. The second step, which is anticipated to be no earlier than 1 June 2020 (depending on progress in reducing the spread of the virus) would see some schools and non-essential retail re-opening. The third step, which is to be no earlier than 1 July 2020, would see some personal care (e.g. hairdressers), hospitality businesses (e.g. pubs) and leisure venues’ (e.g. cinemas) re-opening.
We summarise the key provisions in respect to office-based work in this Briefing, which will be relevant to the majority of our clients.
Should staff return to the office?
In the section relating to return to work, there are no significant changes to the government’s current guidance It says that “for the foreseeable future, workers should continue to work from home rather than their normal physical workplace, wherever possible”. Only those who cannot work from home should travel to work if their workplace is open, and sectors of the economy that are not forbidden from opening have been told they should do so (please see below).
The guidance is clear – employees should work from home unless they cannot do so. The guidance in connection with this states that employers should continue to make every effort to support working from home, including providing appropriate IT/equipment to workers etc.
Staff should therefore only come into the office if their work cannot be done remotely. In our view, the expectation is that office-based workers will continue to work from home.
Who can now return to work?
The Government has clarified that workers who cannot work from home should travel to their workplace – if it is open. Those returning to work should be limited to the following sectors: food production, construction, manufacturing, logistics, distribution and scientific research in laboratories.
What should employers do now?
The most important preparatory step will be a health and safety risk assessment, following which employers must act to minimise Covid-19 transmission risks.
All employers must undertake a risk assessment, if they have not already done so. This must be tailored to the organisation, and continually reviewed and updated. We can assist in providing a bespoke assessment for your organisation. This also applies if, as we expect will be the case for most employers, staff will remain working from home for the foreseeable future.
The risk assessment must be shared with all members of staff and, if your organisation employs over 50 people, the Government recommends publication on your website.
Organisations with fewer than five employees are exempt from a written risk assessment.
To identify the measures required, an organisation should discuss the outcomes of the risk assessment with staff (and allow staff to appoint a health and safety representative(s) for this purpose) in order to identify practical solutions to managing risks. Staff must not work in an unsafe work environment, whether at home or in the office. In the assessment, the employer should have particular regard to whether any of its workers are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19.
Updating the risk assessment for a partial reopening
Employers should also start to plan for a partial reopening of their offices in due course, and undertake the relevant risk assessments for this purpose. Such risk assessments will be tailored to your organisation, and expect that required measures will include the following:
- There should be sufficient cleaning, handwashing and hygiene procedures in place in the office;
- Employers should take steps to maintain social distancing in the workplace. We can advise on how to implement this practically;
- Time in the office should be reduced, with staggered start times and breaks;
- Staff should avoid rush hour travel and public transport (and face coverings are now recommended for public transport). Cycling and walking are recommended forms of travel, wherever possible.
Extension of furlough scheme until 31 October 2020
The Chancellor also announced on 12 May that the furlough scheme will be extended until 31 October 2020. The scheme will remain in its current form until 31 July 2020, whereupon a new version will be implemented. Rules are expected by the end of May 2020. It has been suggested that employers will be asked to partially fund furlough leave with effect from 1 August 2020, and that part-time working will be permitted.