On Saturday, October 31, Boris Johnson announced the second set of national lockdown restrictions due to come into force the following Thursday, November 4. Introduced to combat rapidly rising cases of COVID-19 up and down the country, the restrictions place us back into a situation largely similar to that in March, with the exception that some places like schools, universities, and takeaways can remain open.
Now that the government has published the full set of new lockdown regulations, it’s important for employers to take a look at them and understand just what restrictions are coming into force and how these may impact them and their businesses.
The core premise of the new restrictions under the Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) (England) (No. 4) Regulations 2020 is that “no persons may leave or be outside the place they are living without reasonable excuse.” Following this is a long list of exceptions which constitute this “reasonable excuse”, one of which relates to work and permits people to leave their homes for the purpose of work.
However, there is a caveat: People may only leave their homes for work if it is “not reasonably possible” for them to work from home.
It’s important to note that this wording related to working from home is similar to the March regulations, thus removing some of the work-related flexibility of the last few months. Indeed, it sets the threshold higher than simply whether someone is able to “work effectively” from their home.
Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on which way you look at it!) the onus is on the employer to decide whether their employees—or rather, which employees—are able to work effectively from home and which aren’t; there’s no official list or definition here.
For some employers, such as those operating factories where manual labour is required to operate heavy machinery, making this decision is much easier. For others, such as office managers, it’s something that requires careful thought.
Given the similarities in restrictions for employers to the first lockdown, what you did during this time is therefore a good starting point.
If during the first lockdown your offices were closed and your employees were able to work from home—even if they weren’t able to work from home as effectively as you would have liked—that is still likely to be the safest and most appropriate route to take right now.
Certainly, employers could find themselves in trouble (and potentially be liable for a criminal offence) if they try to force or require employees to physically attend the office or other workplace for the period of the second national lockdown if they are able to work from home.
It may well be that exceptions can be made for some of your employees that carry out specific tasks or roles. For instance, if someone has a job role that can only be done in the office—maybe it requires access to sensitive systems on your own secure network, for example—then that’s something that would most likely fall within the exceptions.
Gatherings that are necessary for work purposes are also permitted, such as client meetings which can only be carried out face-to-face for whatever reason. There’s also an exception that allows people to leave their homes “to avoid injury or illness” and although the regulations don’t expressly state this, some may argue that this could apply to employees who are suffering from mental health problems as a result of working from home and who would benefit from being in the office (this is by no means the official situation, though—it’s just an interpretation*.)
*Please note that any information in this blog post is intended only as a rough guide and is in no way legal advice. HandStations.co.uk makes no guarantee that information presented here is 100 per cent legally accurate.
Some of the guidance issued relates to those that are shielding, and this is something that has a big impact on employees. Guidance related to shielding will apply to any person who has been identified as clinically extremely vulnerable in the past, mostly including people who have underlying medical conditions that make them particularly vulnerable to the virus.
From a work perspective, shielding guidance strongly advises people in this group to work from home. Even if an employee has a job role where they’re not able to work from home, they’re advised to not attend work for the period of the restrictions. The best option for employees falling under this category is furlough under the extended furlough scheme where eligible.
Those that live with someone who is shielding are not advised to follow shielding guidance, however, and they should continue to attend work if they cannot work from home.
It’s highly likely that most employers, aside from those in industries like hospitality and entertainment, will have at least some employees that have to continue to work physically from their regular workplace. And there’s a huge responsibility for employers to protect these employees as best they can, in line with current government guidelines and advice.
One way to do this is to make your workplace “COVID-secure” which, according to the UK Health and Safety Executive, means putting in place workspace adjustments to manage the risk and protect workers and others from coronavirus. Businesses have been provided with practical steps so that they can achieve this, including:
Here are some practical tips for keeping your employees safe as they continue to work from your premises during the second lockdown:
It’s your responsibility as an employer to keep up with all the recent information and guidelines and act accordingly. Even when the government says the lockdown is over and that it’s safe for employees to return to the office, it doesn’t mean you have to re-open immediately. In fact, it’s likely a much better idea to wait things out and see what the situation is a few weeks after restrictions ease.
To that end, keep an eye on government guidance and make a carefully considered decision that’s based on the needs of not only your business but your employees, too. Remember, if your employees can work remotely then they should continue to do so.
If you’ve got employees working from your premises during the second lockdown, you need to make social distancing a priority if you haven’t already done so.
While it might not be possible to make sure that employees are social distancing at all times, installing distancing stickers, markers, and reminders along with one-way systems is a good way to make sure that they at least try to stay distanced where possible.
In the fight against COVID-19, keeping our hands clean is key. We all know this by now. And although handwashing remains the best way to kill viruses, bacteria, and other pathogens on our hands, hand sanitisers are also extremely effective.
Your workplace should feature a range of freestanding and wall-mounted hand sanitiser dispensers that contain strong alcohol hand sanitiser dispenser. Depending on your workspace and the needs of your employees, it might also be a good idea to provide desktop hand sanitiser dispensers and alcohol-free hand sanitiser.
You can find out more about hand sanitiser and learn about the products we’ve got available in our hand sanitiser guide.
Provide other personal protective equipment
Personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks, gloves, visors, goggles, and aprons are all very helpful at stopping the spread of coronavirus, and you should consider making some or all of these available to your employees depending on their working environment.
For instance, employees in warehouses who are moving around a lot and coming into the proximity of other people would benefit more from visors and aprons than somebody sitting at a desk who could instead just don a mask when appropriate.
Think about your workspace and what measures you could take to keep everyone that bit safer.
At Hand Sanitiser Station, we provide a wide range of Hand Sanitizer Dispenser and hand sanitation products like dispensers to private individuals and businesses. If you’re looking for a one-stop-shop for all your hand sanitation needs, you’ve come to the right place!