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COVID-19: Lifting of working from home guidance in England

  • Market Insight 06 July 2021 06 July 2021
  • UK & Europe

  • Coronavirus

On 5 July the Prime Minister announced that as part of the move to step 4 of the roadmap out of lockdown, the government’s working from home guidance will end, along with the mandatory wearing of face masks and the one meter-plus social distancing rule.

COVID-19: Lifting of working from home guidance in England

On 5 July the Government published the COVID-19 Response: Summer 2021 setting out the details of the final roadmap step 4 as England transits out of lockdown. The Prime Minister announced that as part of the move to step 4 the government’s working from home guidance will end, along with the mandatory wearing of face masks and the one meter-plus social distancing rule.   A final decision on whether to move to step 4 on 19 July will be taken on 12 July.  Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will be setting out their plans for the lifting of restrictions separately. 

The current advice is for everyone to work from home where possible: “Employers and employees should discuss their working arrangements, and employers should take every possible step to facilitate their employees working from home, including providing suitable IT and equipment to enable remote working,” the official guidance states. The scrapping of the work from home guidance doesn’t necessarily mean that employers will be requiring everyone to return to the office. Instead, the Prime Minister has said it will be up to employers to determine their own working patterns.  

Of particular interest to employers are the following points in the announcement:

  • All remaining limits on social contact (currently 6 people or 2 households indoors, or 30 people outdoors) will be removed and there will be no more restrictions on how many people can meet in any setting, indoors or outdoors.
  • COVID-status certification will not be required in law as a condition of entry for visitors to any setting.
  • The legal requirements to wear a face covering will be lifted in all settings.
  • Social distancing rules (2 metres or 1 metre with additional mitigations) will be lifted.
  • It is no longer necessary for the Government to instruct people to work from home. Employers can start to plan a return to workplaces.
  • Businesses must not require a self-isolating worker to come to work and should make sure that workers and customers who feel unwell do not attend the setting.
  • Businesses will be encouraged to ask staff and customers to clean their hands regularly and clean surfaces that people touch regularly. The Government will provide guidance on how businesses can reduce unnecessary contact in the workplace, where it is practical. Operators will still be encouraged to use outside space where practical, and to consider the supply of fresh air to indoor spaces. Carbon dioxide (CO2) monitors could be used to help identify where a space is poorly ventilated with businesses encouraged to take steps to improve ventilation if CO2 readings are consistently high.
  • It will remain a legal requirement for people to self-isolate if they test positive or are told to do so by NHS Test and Trace.

Although employers have been given the green light to start to plan a return to the workplace, it will be important that you take care how you deal with certain categories of worker so as to avoid employee relations problems and litigation risks.  Some employees may be reluctant to return to work perhaps because they still regard themselves (or people they live with) as vulnerable to infection, either from their work colleagues or by travelling on public transport.  Other employees may be suffering the effects of long Covid or struggling with mental health issues because of the pandemic and the prolonged isolation.  Some employees may have got used to working from home and prefer it to continue - such as those with childcare responsibilities or those who have been working abroad.  These issues if not handled correctly could present risks of claims such as for discrimination, unfair dismissal including automatically unfair dismissal for health and safety reasons.  

Employers will now be considering their options, whether that is getting their workforces back to the workplace or to continue with some remote working where that way of working has proved successful.  Working from home has after all become part of the new normal for many office-based workers. Whereas previously some employers were reluctant to allow regular or widespread homeworking, the pandemic has challenged these attitudes and has arguably paved the way for less traditional working models to thrive.  For more information on hybrid working and flexible working requests, read our recent article COVID-19: Post-pandemic flexible working.

For more information on how we can support your workforce return to work safely and lawfully or to put in place more agile working arrangements, click here.

Key steps employers should be taking

  • Update COVID health & safety risk assessments 
  • Plan your communications with staff
  • Consider any vulnerable workers 
  • Consider alternative options and what adjustments you may be prepared to make to address any concerns about returning to the workplace
  • Update policies on self-isolation and in relation to people travelling abroad
  • Review flexible working, home/agile working and grievance policies

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