This afternoon, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced that there will be further easing of coronavirus restrictions across the UK in an effort to ‘return to normality’ by the end of the year.
As part of today’s new guidelines, from August 1st, employers will have more discretion regarding if and when they can bring staff back to workplaces – as long as itis safe to do so.
He said: “Instead of government telling people to work from home, we are going to give employers more discretion, and ask them to make decisions about how their staff can work safely.”
At the news conference at Downing Street, Johnson said the COVID-19 recovery roadmap would be conditional due to the rate of infection rising or falling. This is after a series of reports on whether the UK is likely to experience a second wave of infections – something that could overwhelm the NHS.
Despite this, Johnson said: “It is my strong and sincere hope that we will be able to review the outstanding restrictions and allow a more significant return to normality from November at the earliest – possibly in time for Christmas.”
Josh Hardie, CBI Deputy-Director General
Any plan for returning to work must ensure employees are safe. Businesses have made monumental efforts to protect their workforce. But concern about infection is still high. The government’s announcements will not change that overnight, but changes in messaging on transport and further testing can lay a path to building confidence and helping those who want to come back to the office.
This matters. Some jobs cannot be done from home. Some homes are not good places to work from. And low demand and footfall on many high streets are leaving firms struggling, driving up unemployment.
Business know the return to offices must not risk an infection spike. Firms can be knocked down once, not twice. This announcement marks a welcome change in tone but changing behaviour and confidence will take time. Close collaboration between government, employers, and unions – alongside excellent employee engagement and continued improvements in childcare, transport and testing – will be the building blocks for success.
Businesses will now be closely examining government guidance. Clarity and consistency must guard against confusion.
Frances O’Grady, TUC General Secretary
We all want to get the economy up and running as quickly as possible. Returns to workplaces must happen in a phased and safe way.
The government is passing the buck on this big decision to employers. Getting back to work safely requires a functioning NHS Test and Trace system. Yet progress on test and trace is still patchy, and the government is still refusing to support workers who have to self-isolate by raising statutory sick pay from just £95pw to a rate people can live on.
A safe return to workplaces also requires much greater investment in public transport if people are to be able to commute to workplaces.
Before reopening any workplace, every employer must complete a risk assessment, and make plans to reduce the risk to workers through enabling social distancing. They must consult their staff trade unions, and larger employers should publish the risk assessment on their website.
Not everyone will be able to return to workplaces full-time or immediately. People who have been advised to shield and those without enough childcare may need to work fully from home for the foreseeable future.
Many businesses have seen the benefits of flexible approaches to working during this pandemic. This progress must not be lost. All staff should have the right to work flexibly from their first day in the job.