I think I've listened to more government briefings in the last year than I had in my entire life pre-March 2020. There have been a lot of them.
Monday's briefing (22 February 2021) set out the latest 'COVID-19 Roadmap'. Some of you will have listened and some of you won't – and even those who did may not be clear as to what this plan means for employers and working practices over the next few months (and beyond).
Don't worry though, we've got you. See below for the seven key points you need to know:
1: What we learnt on Monday
If you're unclear as to what's going on – it's
not just you. Monday's announcement didn't provide
(m)any specifics regarding work matters.
However, and much more helpfully, the government has published its ' COVID-19 Response – Spring 2021' roadmap ("the Roadmap"). I'll do you a favour (the document is 68 pages): for employment matters see paragraphs 97, 106, 114 – 115, 125, 145, 147, 158, 191 and 197.
In short, expect changes to take place on a gradual basis until at least 21 June 2021.
2: Business closures
The Roadmap sets out tentative dates to reopen businesses which
must currently remain closed.
There are four steps in the Roadmap. It's intended that (1) different sectors will reopen at different stages and (2) the latest date for businesses to reopen will be as part of Step 4 – i.e. no earlier than 21 June 2021 (and certain businesses may remain subject to some limitations).
3: Working from home (or elsewhere)
The Roadmap confirms the following:
- There is no immediate change to the work from home guidance.
- Current guidance remains in place: (1) everyone who can work from home should do so (2) where your workplace is open and you cannot work from home (specifically, where it is unreasonable for you to work from home) you should go to work / travel to your workplace and (3) workplaces must be COVID-Secure.
- Any changes to work from home guidance will take effect no earlier than 21 June 2021.
- Changes to work from home guidance are linked to step 4 of the Roadmap (to commence no earlier than 21 June 2021). Step 4 preparation includes a review of social distancing measures: this will inform work from home guidance and everyone should continue in line with current guidance until the review is complete and any changes announced.
Remember to give extra consideration to staff who are at higher risk: such as those who are shielding, vulnerable, have a disability or are pregnant. Currently, shielding individuals (those who are clinically extremely vulnerable) are advised not to attend work during lockdown. Where relevant, you will need to consider alternative arrangements.
4: Making workplaces COVID-Secure
It remains the case that, where an individual works anywhere
other than their own home, that workplace must be made
The government has published ' Working Safely During Coronavirus' guidance for 14 different types of work. These set out what must be done to help ensure that workplace is COVID-Secure.
5: Sick leave and pay
This is a topic in itself. However, in brief, current
entitlements regarding sickness absence and Statutory Sick Pay
remain in place. Check
here for further details regarding (1) where an employee is off
work due to COVID-19 and (2) whether you as an employer are
eligible to reclaim SSP.
All existing self isolation guidance for individuals also remains in place (anyone required to self isolate must stay at home and not attend the workplace).
6: Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme
This is a quick one: Monday's briefing did not introduce any
changes to the
Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme ("CJRS"). The
CJRS continues as normal and currently ends on 30 April 2021.
However, announcements regarding the government's Plan for Jobs (which includes the CJRS) is expected as part of the budget on 3 March 2021. Watch this space.
7: Workplace testing
Firstly, a reminder: all the above continues to apply
irrespective of whether or not employees have had a recent negative
test result or the COVID-19 vaccine.
Employers can register to order rapid lateral flow tests for staff if: (1) your business is registered in England (2) you employ 50 people or more and (3) your employees cannot work from home.
Note: the Roadmap indicates that free test kits will now be available until the end of June 2021. However, businesses must register before 31 March 2021.
Test availability may be further extended, including to a wider group of employers, in the future.
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.