Written by Alan Price, CEO of BrightHR
With the new coronavirus variant spreading across England, it seemed inevitable that we would face yet another lockdown in early 2021, this itself coming when most businesses in the country were shut due to tier 4 restrictions anyway. In his sombre message to the country last night, the Prime Minister made clear that this lockdown is stricter than the one we saw in November, being more akin to the original one back in March of last year. Schools remain closed this time, guidance on shielding and working from home has also been amended.
Work from home guidance has already changed several times for England, with previous wording providing a degree of flexibility to employers around whether staff could work from home and do so effectively. Now, the guidance is much clearer. People should only leave their home for work where it is ‘unreasonable’ for them to work from home. The knock-on effect of this is that employers will need to consider if any of their employees can reasonably work from home and take steps to implement the change. Employees are certainly more likely to encourage management to re-think their approach to this, and if a business is going to keep staff attending a workplace, they need to ensure they have followed all advice on making it COVID-secure.
In another significant development, individuals are once again being asked to shield in England and are entitled to receive statutory sick pay (SSP) for the period of time that they cannot work. There are a number of options open to a company in this situation. Those with less than 250 members of staff can still make use of the SSP Rebate Scheme, which funds up to two weeks of SSP for coronavirus absences. Alternatively, the furlough scheme remains an option for all businesses to now use if eligible, even if they have not done so before and will do so until April.
The government remain hopeful that these restrictions will be lifted by February. However, this is dependent on a number of factors, in particular the success of the vaccine roll-out, and employers must keep up to date with all developments.