As of 19 July 2021, informally know as ‘Freedom Day', England* has moved to step 4 of the Coronavirus Roadmap, meaning that remaining restrictions have been lifted. This allows businesses within England to operate freely, however with that freedom, employers are now burdened with creating their own rules to protect employees and customers from the ongoing pandemic.
What restrictions have been lifted?
As of 19 July 2021, the following restrictions have been lifted:
- No longer being required to ‘work from home' (with the Government recommending a gradual return over the summer)
- No limitations on the number of people who can meet (inside or outside)
- Social distancing is no longer required (except for some minor exceptions e.g. hospitals)
- Masks and face coverings are no longer a legal requirement
- Restaurants and pubs are no longer required to only offer table service
- Night clubs can re-open (although the Prime Minister has announced that vaccine certifications are likely to become compulsory)
- No limits on visitors to concerts, theatres or indoor events
- Fully vaccinated adults will not have to quarantine on returning from amber list nations.
As of 16 August 2021, persons who are fully vaccinated will no longer need to self-isolate for 10 days if they have had close contact with someone who has Covid-19. The person will be required to have a negative PCR test and self-isolation will be necessary if they receive a positive result.
Employers continued duty to protect workers from coronavirus
Under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, all employers have a duty to ensure the “health, safety and welfare of employees while at work” which includes protecting employees and anyone else coming onto their site from the transmission of Covid-19. This is because, as recognised by the Government, the lifting of restrictions does not mean that the risk of Covid-19 has gone away.
In determining how to proceed with the ongoing pandemic and a return to the office, employers should consider:
- What restrictions, if any, they will continue to enforce. For example, Transport for London is requiring employees and customers to continue to wear facemasks while on public transport.
- Conducting a new risk assessment and taking reasonable steps to manage risks in their workplace or setting. This will typically involve taking into consideration:
- Any continued restrictions the employer will enforce, which
will inevitably mean going above and beyond the strict legal
- the potential transmission amongst its workforce outside of the work environment e.g. work commutes;
- business type;
- office space, for example, if it is shared with other employers a collective approach for communal areas may be required;
- who employees may have contact with e.g. visitors/customers; and,
- feasibility of continued home working.
- Communicating with employees to provide details of any continued restrictions when entering the office.
- Conducting a survey with employees to consider their opinion.
- If any employees are classed as clinically vulnerable, and whether any additional adjustments may be necessary to allow them to work effectively.
- The government guidance for the relevant industry1
- Monitoring current infection rates and any further Government advice.
During this difficult transitionary period, employers should consider how they will navigate the return to the office, or, whether they fully intend to do so.
1 Working safely during coronavirus (COVID-19): guidance from Step 4 – Guidance – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.