Freedom day? Restrictions in England removed from 19 July 2021.
On 19 July 2021, England moved to Step 4 of the roadmap and most of the legal restrictions that had previously been imposed by the Government were lifted. We round up some of the key changes for employers to be aware of.
Attending the workplace in Step 4
From Step 4, all businesses can open. Updated “Working Safely Guidance” has been published to apply from 19 July 2021. Employers still have a legal duty to manage risks and should continue to work closely with their Health & Safety teams or advisers. The guidance has been separated into six sectors and sets out six steps for employers to follow:
- Complete a H&S risk assessment that includes the risk of COVID.
- Provide adequate ventilation.
- Clean more often.
- Turn away people with COVID symptoms.
- Enable people to check in at your venue.
- Communicate and train on current safety measures.
There is no longer a requirement for social distancing and there are no longer limits on social contact between people from different households. However, the guidance recommends that employers mitigate the risk of transmission by reducing the number of people their employees come into contact with. This can be, for example, by using “fixed teams or partnering”; using screens or barriers; using back-to-back or side-to-side working; and avoiding sharing of workstations where possible.
Although face coverings are no longer required by law, the Government “expects and recommends” that people continue to wear face coverings in crowded, enclosed spaces as this may reduce the risk of transmission. It suggests encouraging the use of face coverings by employees, particularly indoors where they may come into contact with people they do not normally meet. However, employers are reminded to be mindful that some employees are not able to wear face coverings, and the reasons for this may not be visible to others.
The guidance does not currently refer to vaccination.
Employers should bear in mind that this guidance does not supersede their existing legal obligations relating to health and safety. It contains non-statutory guidance to take into account when complying with existing obligations.
Clinically extremely vulnerable employees in Step 4
Although the Government is no longer instructing people to work from home, employers should give particular consideration to employees who are at higher risk, such as those who are clinically extremely vulnerable (CEV).
Updated guidance on protecting those who are CEV has been published. In particular, it states that:
- Your employers should be able to explain the measures they have in place to keep you safe at work;
- Access to Work may provide support for the disability -related extra costs of working that are beyond standard reasonable adjustments. Access to Work will prioritise applications from disabled people who are in the CEV group;
- Those in the CEV group may be eligible for furlough, which is available until 30 September 2021.
Employers should bear in mind that CEV employees are also likely to have a condition that falls within the definition of disability under the Equality Act. Existing obligations in relation to the Equality Act continue to apply and are particularly relevant to CEV employees.
Working from home in Step 4
The Government is no longer instructing employees to work from home if they can. It recommends “a gradual return over the summer”. The working safely guidance advises employers to “remain responsive to workers’ needs, particularly during this period when not every adult will have been offered 2 vaccine doses.”
However, employers should keep up to date with local advice and guidance in areas where there is an enhanced response to COVID-19, as a result of the Delta variant. In those areas, advice may remain that employees should continue to work from home if they can.
Self-isolation in Step 4
Employees will still have to isolate if they test positive; or if they are contacted by NHS Test and Trace. This will remain a legal requirement, regardless of vaccination status. The Government has announced an intention to exempt those who are fully vaccinated from the requirement to self-isolate if they are a contact of a positive case, with effect from 16 August 2021. Employees will still have to isolate if they are returning to the UK from red list countries; or from amber list countries unless they are fully vaccinated.
Employers should not require a self-isolating worker to come to the workplace and should make sure that employees who have symptoms do not attend the workplace.
As the guidance notes, the pandemic is not over and “step 4 does not mark the end of the need for caution and restraint.” This is “not yet a return to normal”. There is a commitment that in September, the Government will undertake a review to assess the country’s preparedness for autumn and winter, which will consider whether to continue or strengthen public and business guidance. Employers should continue to keep up to date with Government guidance as and when it is published.
Sources of information:
22 July 2021
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