Insights

Restrictions Lifted - Return to Work?

This could be our final article on managing employees and workplaces through the pandemic but at the time of writing there are still a few days to go so we’ll see.    If we learned anything since March 2020,  it is that things can change even at the last minute!

The Government announced that the lockdown restrictions would end on the 19th July and that life could begin to return to more what it looked like pre-Covid.   There are less rules but more guidance and somewhat unhelpfully for employers, the guidance is that all employees can return to work but not all at once and that it is now for individuals to decide if they want to continue to wear a face covering or not.   It seems that we can all agree that this is likely to cause problems in the workplace.

The rule to work from home if you can ends on the 19th July and that means that employers can now require their home working employees to return to the workplace.    Many organisations have already started consultation with employees about a return to work and how that would work but with a steady rise in Covid infection rates, many employees understandably remain anxious and reticent to return to workplaces particularly those using public transport.    Employers should continue to engage with employees and work towards agreeing a plan for how and when employees return to their pre-Covid working patterns.   

Social distancing rules and face coverings requirements will cease to have effect from the 19th July except in some cases such as on public transport.   Some organisations will continue to mandate the use of face coverings and social distancing rules and all employers should be mindful of their duty to provide a safe place of work under the Health and Safety at Work Act and ensure that the workplace is safe.   In the face of dramatically rising Covid infection rates, employers may themselves need to keep this under review and maintain some level of social distancing and face coverings as we head into the Autumn and Winter and no doubt increased time for seasonal and respiratory illnesses.    Employers could continue with reduced numbers in the workplace, team attendance in the workplace on a rotating basis, prohibiting use of hot desking, staggered start and finish times or break times to reduce the numbers of staff congregating, entering and leaving at the same time and which may help those who remain anxious about public transport if they can travel to and from work at less busy times.

Employers are expecting a surge in flexible working applications from employees who now wish to move to a hybrid or home working arrangement.   It is important to deal with these applications carefully and to rely on the permitted business reasons for any refusal to agree to a request for a change in working patterns.

Many expect that we will continue to see changes in government and public health guidance and even further restrictions being imposed, so employers need to keep a close watch on government guidance. 

Covid Testing

If your organisation needs to implement Covid-19 testing or chooses to, then ensure that you have a policy to provide to employees which sets out the reasons for the testing, who will be tested and the frequency.   Ensure that you have employee consent and make arrangements for any update to your Data Privacy Notices or Data Protection Policy in relation to testing, storage and retention periods for test result data.

Right to Work update

Right to work checks were suspended during the lockdown and temporary arrangements put in place for online ID checks.   This has now been extended again to 31st August 2021 when the old rules will be reinstated for right to work checks.   The Government has indicated that employers will not need to do a retrospective check from the 1st September 2021 and that this will no longer be required.

The EU Settlement Scheme for EU, EEA and Swiss nationals who were living in the UK at the end of Brexit transition period on the 31st December 2020,  closed to new applicants on the 30th June 2021 and with effect from 1st July 2021 onwards, employers must now check the EU, EEA and Swiss nationals have a work permit or status under the EU Settlement Scheme.   Any individual not qualifying under the EU Settlement Scheme or with an existing work permit will now require a sponsored visa under the new points-based immigration scheme.

Furlough Extension

The Furlough scheme continues to wind down and from the 1st July 2021, the Government subsidy dropped to 70% of wages up to a maximum of £2,187.50 per month.   Further changes will take place in August and September when the subsidy will drop to 60% up to a maximum of £1,875 per month.    Employers must now top up the subsidy to 80% of employees normal wages capped at £2,500 per month. 

Although correct at the time of publication, the contents of this article are intended for general information purposes only and shall not be deemed to be, or constitute legal advice. We cannot accept responsibility for any loss as a result of acts or omissions taken in respect of this article. Please contact us for the latest legal position.

For advice on any of these issues, please contact our employment team on 01689 887887 or email Judith.curran@cwj.co.uk