The government announced yesterday that from Monday 14 September 2020 it will be illegal to meet socially in groups of more than 6. This will apply in any setting, indoors or outdoors and replaces the existing ban on gatherings of more than 30.

The government’s press release confirms that ‘work settings’ are unaffected by the new rules, so as long as the workplace is ‘COVID secure’, employees can continue to go to work in numbers higher than 6.

But what about socialising with colleagues? The government’s FAQs tell us that ‘work gatherings are exempt from the gatherings limit of 6’, so it seems that employers can hold a social event at their workplace, for more than 6 employees, without any problems, provided always that their workplace is COVID secure and social distancing is adhered to.

The position is less clear when we look at work events taking place outside of the workplace, for example at a bar or hotel. The press release confirms that ‘COVID Secure venues like places of worship, gyms, restaurants and hospitality venues can still hold more than 6 people in total’ but it also states that ‘within those venues however, there must not be individual groups larger than 6, and groups must not mix socially or form larger groups.’

With that in mind, there appear to be two main issues preventing employers from holding a social for more than 6 people outside of the workplace. The first is around the wording contained in the press release and FAQs. Although the government has said that ‘work gatherings are exempt’ it isn’t clear whether such gatherings must take place within the ‘work setting’. Even if the employer was to argue that the event was work-related, and therefore a ‘work setting’, the second issue is more practical, as venues will be under strict instructions not to accept groups lager than 6, and to prevent multiple groups of 6 from forming larger groups.

Another area needing clarity is whether third parties, like clients or suppliers, could be invited to a ‘work gathering’ of more than 6 people within the workplace. However, for the time being, employers would be well advised to avoid these kinds of grey areas.

In short, for the moment, it looks like workplace socials exceeding 6 attendees should take place within the workplace, be restricted to employees only, and be subject to a risk assessment.

So in England, from Monday, we are introducing the rule of 6. You must not meet socially in groups of more than 6 – and if you do, you will be breaking the law.