Lockdown and what this means for employers
24 March 2020
The latest development in the UK Government’s response to coronavirus is strict restrictions on daily lives, including stricter stay at home rules and a ban on public gatherings of more than two people. This was announced by the Prime Minister in his message to the nation yesterday, and we thought it would be helpful to look at what this means for employers.
With all that has happened over the past few weeks, the vast majority of employees who are able to carry out their work from home were already doing so. The closure of pubs, restaurants and gyms announced on Friday had already meant that employees in those businesses were unable to work, and the Government announced the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme to allow employers to ‘furlough’ employees and recover 80% of their wages – see our article on the scheme here.
So what about the rest – the employees who can’t work from home but aren’t furloughed? Now that ‘lockdown’ is supposed to have taken effect, we are getting a lot of enquiries from employers about what should happen, especially given the requirement for social distancing. Most workplaces will have more than 2 people, and not all working environments will allow for sticking to the guidance of staying at least 2 metres apart.
The Government said initially that it would mean that one of the reasons people could leave their homes is to travel to and from work if it was “absolutely necessary”. That caused confusion because it wasn’t clear whether it was the work or the travel to work which had to be “absolutely necessary.” And what does it have to be “necessary” for – the country, or the employer’s business?
Some people also questioned how this tied in with the definition of ‘Key Workers’ whose children are supposed to be allocated a place at school. Their work is “absolutely necessary” to the country in the current situation, so was that what the Government meant? We took the view that it is not what they meant because they did not explicitly say so – but it would have been better if it had been made clear.
Next, the Government said that travel to and from work was permitted but only if the work “absolutely cannot” be done from home. However, there was then some confusion because that does not seem to fit with the overall ‘Stay At Home’ policy:
Working from home “if possible” is quite a low bar. So where does this leave us? As things currently stand, it appears that strictly speaking employees are allowed to travel to and from work if they cannot do their work from home. Not much of a “lockdown” if that is the case! Of course an increasing number of people cannot go to work and may well be ‘furloughed’ (details of how the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme will work are still awaited at the time of writing) but for those who aren’t, hopefully we will get some clarification from the Government soon.
If you are an employer dealing with employment law issues arising from the coronavirus, then we can help. Our offices are currently closed but our team are working remotely. You can call us on 01243 836840 for a no obligation chat, or email us at [email protected].