On Sunday 10 May 2020, Boris Johnson announced the next phase of the government’s COVID-19 strategy. The government has now also published a document which sets out this recovery strategy and a gradual easing of restrictions (OUR PLAN TO REBUILD: The UK Government’s COVID-19 recovery strategy).
The proposals for work begin on page 25 of the document (chapter 4) and we have summarised the key aspects below:
- The changes to existing policy take place from 13 May 2010 in England only. The guidance should be considered alongside local public health and safety requirements for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland who are taking their own approach in relation to the return to work.
- The guidance reiterates that for the foreseeable future, workers should continue to work from home rather than their normal physical workplace wherever possible. People who are able to work at home make it possible for people who have to attend workplaces in person to do so while minimising the risk of overcrowding on public transport and in public places.
- All workers who cannot work from home should travel to work if their workplace is open. The government identified the following sectors of the economy which are allowed to be open: food production, construction, manufacturing, logistics, distribution and scientific research in laboratories. The only exceptions to this are those workplaces such hospitality and non-essential retail which must remain closed at this time.
- The government has stated that workplaces which are allowed to open should follow the new ‘COVID-19 Secure’ guidelines which have been developed in consultation with around 250 businesses, trade unions, the devolved administrations, Public Health England and the HSE. The aim of these guidelines is to provide practical steps for employers to identify risks that COVID-19 creates and to take pragmatic measures to mitigate them, allowing as many as people as possible to resume their livelihoods. Sector-specific guidance is being published and can be accessed here.
As noted above, the plans contained in the government’s COVID-19 strategy to re-open certain sectors of the economy apply to England only.
On Friday 8 May, First Minister Mark Drakeford confirmed that lockdown in Wales would be extended for a further 3 weeks with only minor adjustments proposed. The minor adjustments include allowing people to exercise locally more than once a day, enabling local authorities to begin the process of planning have to safely reopen libraries and municipal recycling centres and allowing garden centres to open provided they comply with the physical distancing duty.
In Wales, it is important for employers to remember that in early April the Welsh Government introduced a law requiring “all businesses and persons responsible for work which is being carried out on premises to take all reasonable measures to ensure that 2 metres distance is kept between all people on those premises” (see our previous blog on this topic).
Importantly, there has been no substantive change in Wales in relation to a general return to work as people have been asked to continue working from home if they are able to do so. This will continue until the next review period in three weeks’ time following the announcement by the First Minister on 8 May 2020.