What has changed?
The government has updated its guidance and the UK has celebrated what has been branded as FREEDOM DAY. But what has actually changed?…
- You do not need to stay 2 metres apart from people you do not live with. There are also no limits on the number of people you can meet.
- The Government is no longer instructing people to work from home if they can. However, the Government expects and recommends a gradual return over the summer.
- The requirement to wear face coverings in law has been lifted. However, the Government expects and recommends that people wear face coverings in crowded areas such as public transport.
- There are no longer limits on the number of people who can attend weddings, civil partnerships, funerals and other life events (including receptions and celebrations). There is no requirement for table service at life events, or restrictions on singing or dancing. However, the government has said that you should follow guidance for weddings and funerals to reduce risk.
- There are no longer restrictions on group sizes for attending communal worship. However, the government has stated that it’s important to remember the actions you can take to keep yourself and others safe and that everybody needs to continue to act carefully and remain cautious.
It seems that whilst restrictions have been lifted, a lot of ‘buts’ remain in place.
There are a lot of differing opinions out there and these will undoubtedly creep into the workplace. Many businesses are unsure and anxious about how to deal with a wide range of issues as they move forward and there is concern over the lack of clarity. Unions are also calling for mandatory mask wearing in specific indoor venues and on public transport.
Businesses can now set their own rules and adopt their own policies to manage the risks they believe Covid brings to them. For example, Transport for London will make wearing a face covering a condition for travel on its services, like the Underground and buses whilst Tesco, Waterstones, Sainsburys, Aldi and Waitrose have all said they will be encouraging, but not enforcing, customers to wear masks.
So, what does this mean for you?
You will need to assess health and safety obligations going forward and as you plan for employees to return to the workplace. The government has published guidance which should be taken into account and used as an aid.
The law, and rights, such as the right not to suffer a detriment or be dismissed for reporting a health and safety concern, has not changed and employers should consider health and safety risks, such as the size of their workplace, nature of business and working patterns before making any decisions. Employers should ensure they seek legal advice in order to protect themselves and to ensure they are following the correct processes.
Lots of employers, where possible, have required employees to work from home in line with government guidance. This has changed the way businesses work. Having worked from home for almost 18 months, most businesses continue to work from home at least some of the time and have in fact embraced a hybrid working model.
For businesses who do not wish to advocate a hybrid working model or home working, and who seek to return to the workplace, they will now be able to justify that approach with greater ease.
It is important to remember that employees do not have an automatic right to work from home or remotely, so for those employers who are embracing a hybrid working model, it is strongly advised that you have a home/ hybrid working policy in place. If you plan on permanently changing a working practise, you may also need to make contractual changes.
What about the Jab?
Whilst the government has set privileges for the double vaccinated in society, it is not advisable to do the same within the workplace without taking advice as there are risks attached to this approach such as seating arrangements or office access. Our ‘no jab, no job’ blog goes into more detail on this point and can be found here: https://www.peachlaw.co.uk/can-no-jab-no-job-really-be-enforced/
Furlough remains available until 30 September 2021.
Currently, the government will pay 70% of wages up to a maximum cap of £2,187.50 for the hours the employee is on furlough.
From 1 August 2021, the government will pay 60% of wages up to a maximum cap of £1,875 for the hours the employee is on furlough.
For furlough claims from 1 July 2021, employers must top up employees’ wages to make sure they receive 80% of their wages (up to £2,500) for the hours they are on furlough.
Businesses may consider using the furlough scheme for some employees, for example employees who are clinically extremely vulnerable and worried about returning to the workplace given that they are no longer required to shield. This is subject to the following:
For periods starting on or after 1 May 2021, you can claim for employees who were employed on 2 March 2021, as long as you have made a PAYE Real Time Information (RTI) submission to HMRC between 20 March 2020 and 2 March 2021, notifying a payment of earnings for that employee. You do not need to have previously claimed for an employee before the 2 March 2021 to claim for periods from starting on or after 1 May 2021.
You can claim for employees who are taxed as employees and reported by PAYE, on any type of employment contract. This includes contracts that are:
- with an agency
Whilst the title ‘Freedom Day’ suggests an immediate return to life pre-Covid, the reality is very different.
It seems much of the onus has been placed on individuals and each business to decide what is best for them. Therefore, waters appear muddied, and employers are having to assess and judge for themselves based on individual circumstances.
Once employers have decided on their plan/policy, the position should be clearly communicated to all staff and properly documented. It is highly recommended that you seek legal advice on your company strategy and position, including a review of policies and procedures.
If you need help on returning to the office, managing differences in opinion or would like some general employment law advice, get in touch with us and one of our experts can help!