Employers will be considering the impact of today's Government announcement about removing Plan B restrictions in England. Immediate issues for employers include:
The end of 'work from home if you can'
With immediate effect, the Government has dropped its guidance that workers in England should work from home "if they can". This means employers can now ask staff to return into the office. Employers may wish to consider how rapidly they want staff to return, taking into account any need to review workplace COVID-secure measures (see below) and hybrid working arrangements. In particular, employers should listen to any concerns raised by workers when proposing a compulsory return to work.
Maintaining a COVID-secure workplace
Even though Plan B requirements are being removed, today's Government announcement still emphasised the importance of managing the risks of COVID-19 transmission and infection. Employers should review their health and safety risk assessments to ensure that they include the steps necessary to keep workplaces COVID-secure, and remind staff of the need to continue to follow COVID-secure office requirements. In addition to the headline control measures - adequate ventilation, cleaning and good hand hygiene - employers may decide that other measures may still be appropriate. This could include mask wearing when arriving, leaving or otherwise moving around the office and encouraging social distancing in the office to limit contact.
At the time of writing, Government guidance on managing coronavirus in the workplace has not yet been updated to take account of today's announcement, but employers may wish to check this and HSE guidance for any updates.
Some workers may still have concerns about the COVID-19 risks associated with commuting on public transport. While the legal requirement to wear face coverings on public transport finishes on 26 January 2022, today's Government announcement recommends that people should still wear them in crowded places. Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has confirmed that face masks will continue to be compulsory on Transport for London services.
The employment law issues in this area are complex, as is the employee relations aspect. Employers should listen to and see how best to address staff concerns about commuting.
Self-isolation rules remain in place for now but the Government has indicated that these are likely to expire on 24 March 2022. However, even after that date, employers may wish to continue to require employees to stay at home if they have symptoms or test positive for COVID-19.
If you would like more information on how best to manage COVID-19 workplace issues, please get in touch with your usual Mishcon de Reya contact or with a member of our Employment team.