Today sees England take the next step forward out of the national lockdown which was imposed on 5 January 2021. The country is now at Step 3 of the Government’s “Roadmap out of Lockdown” which was announced on 22 February 2021. Step 1 took place in March, Step 2 on 12 April and Step 4 is anticipated for 21 June 2021.
For employers, keeping pace with developments can be a challenge. Here, we round up the latest information and guidance available.
Business which can reopen
From 17 May businesses which can reopen include –
- indoor hospitality venues such as restaurants, bars, pubs and cafes;
- indoor entertainment including cinemas, theatres, museums, bowling alleys and casinos;
- holiday accommodation including hotels;
- indoor organised adult sport;
- indoor and outdoor events are also permitted with attendance capped according to venue type.
It continues to be the case that there are restrictions on numbers of individuals who can meet with indoor gatherings limited to 6 people or 2 households and outdoor gatherings limited to 30 people. In addition, businesses are required to ensure that they are COVID-secure.
Going to work
The Government guidance continues to be that individuals should continue to work from home if they can. This guidance will remain in place until at least Step 4 of the roadmap (currently pencilled in for 21 June 2021), when the working-from-home guidance will be considered as part of the wider review on social distancing.
Employees whose roles cannot reasonably be done at home are allowed to attend their place of work. This means that many employees whose jobs clearly cannot be performed at home can still attend work as normal. For employees whose jobs can, on the face of it, reasonably be done at home, employers should continue to assess carefully if they should be required, or allowed, to work at a workplace. Note that, in this regard, the COVID-19 secure guidance does state that employers should consider whether homeworking is appropriate for workers facing mental or physical health difficulties or those with a particularly challenging working environment at home.
For businesses with employees attending their workplace, it is essential to review and understand the Working Safely Guidance which is to assist employers to understand and implement COVID-Secure workplaces and which is regularly updated.
Travel within the United Kingdom is now permitted, although the “Working safely” guidance continues to be that unnecessary work travel should be avoided. In addition, the general guidance is that when travelling within the United Kingdom, people should plan their journeys in advance and aim to travel safely.
From 17 May, there is no longer a legal restriction on or permitted reason required for international travel. However, a traffic light system has been implemented and individuals must follow the rules (summarised in the table below) which apply when returning to England which vary depending on whether someone is returning from a red, amber or green list country. In many cases, the rules, and in particular the quarantine requirements, will render business travel impractical.
|Green country||Amber country||Red country|
|Passenger locator form||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Managed hotel quarantine||No||No||10 days|
|Self-isolation||No||10 days||Not applicable|
|Test to release||Not applicable||On day 5||No|
|PCR testing||On or before day 2||On or before day 2||On or before day 2|
|Further PCR testing||No||Day 8||Day 8|
Shielding officially ended on 29 March 2021. This means that clinically extremely vulnerable people are no longer entitled to SSP if they are unable to work from home. However, employers can furlough employees who are clinically extremely vulnerable, at the highest risk of severe illness from coronavirus or off on long-term sick leave. Where staff who are clinically extremely vulnerable are returning to their workplace, employers are recommended to re-consider and updated their health and safety risk assessments.
Employees who are required to self-isolate must not attend work and it is an offence for an employer to knowingly allow this to happen, with fines starting at £1,000 and rising to £10,000 for repeat offences. Employees are also required to tell their employer if they have tested positive for coronavirus; been contacted by NHS Test & Trace or their local authority; or are required to quarantine after return from travel abroad. A failure to do so risks a £50 fine. However, employees who can work from home can continue to do so.
Where home working is not possible, in some circumstances employees may be eligible for SSP during the self-isolation period. Allowing employees to take unpaid leave or paid annual leave, or to be furloughed, where eligible, are also potential options. The government has published guidance to help employers and employees understand their obligations, including the considerations which should be taken into account before terminating an employee’s employment where they are unable to attend work because of coronavirus.
Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS)
There is no change to the CJRS coming into effect on 17 May. The latest extension of the scheme in March 2021 (which extended the Scheme to 30 September 2021) is largely subject to the same rules which have applied since 1 November 2020 but with important differences in relation to employers’ contributions. The next change to the CRJS will come into effect on 1 July 2021 when the financial liability on employers using the scheme will increase, with a requirement for them to contribute 10% towards their furloughed employees’ salary costs. From 1 August 2021 until 30 September 2021, the employer contribution will increase to 20%.