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Work from Home – Latest Advice from the Prime Minister

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The latest advice, announced in a statement by the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, on Tuesday 22 September, is for office workers to work from home wherever possible. For professions where this is not possible, such as care work, people should continue to attend their workplace…

Following a significant rise in the number of positive cases of Coronavirus since August, decisions have been taken to try and slow the spread of the virus once more. Otherwise, warned the Chief Medical Office and Chief Scientific Adviser, the doubling rate for new cases could be between seven and 20 days with the possibility of tens of thousands of new infections next month. As a result, the alert level was raised from 3 to 4 – the second most serious stage, meaning that transmission is high or rising exponentially.

The number of new cases is growing fastest amongst those aged between 20 and 29, although it is still spreading to other more vulnerable age groups. In the last fortnight, hospital admissions across England have more than doubled each day – leading to a bleak forecast for October and November when Covid is likely to spread faster as autumn turns to winter.

Key Takeaways

The PM was clear to reiterate that this was not a general instruction to stay at home, and that schools, colleges and universities can stay open – and just as importantly that businesses can stay open in a Covid-compliant way. The key principles for business are as follows:

  • Office workers are asked to work from home where they can do so
  • In key public services and where homeworking is not possible, such as education, construction and retail, people should continue to attend their workplace
  • From tomorrow, Thursday 23 September, all pubs, bar and restaurants must operate a table service only (except for takeaways obviously) and all hospitality venues must close their doors at 10pm
  • Staff in retail should now wear face coverings, as should users of taxis and private hire vehicles and both staff and customers in indoor hospitality, except when seated at a table to eat or drink
  • Covid guidelines within the retail, leisure and tourism sectors, for example, will become legal obligations

As a result of all of the above, business conferences, exhibitions and large sporting events will not be able to re-open on 1 October as planned. Additionally, businesses will need to display the official NHS QR code posters so that customers can ‘check-in’ at different premises using this option as an alternative to providing their contact details once the app is rolled out nationally (from 24 September).

More detail on this can be found on the Gov.uk website.

Legal Obligations

In addition to the changes to legal obligations within the business arena, mentioned above, the fine of up to £10,000 for those failing to self-isolate will also extend to businesses. And the penalty for failing to wear a face covering or breaking the rule of size will now double to £200 – for a first offence. To enforce the new rules, we will see a greater police presence on the streets backed up by military support where necessary.

There is no recommendation for shielding, other than in those areas in local lockdown. And, unlike the lockdown earlier in the year, the vast majority of businesses can continue to move forwards to support the UK economy.

New Support Packages

On 20 September, the government announced a Test and Trace Support payment scheme to support those people required by law to self-isolate from 28 September. The payment of £500 will be for those people on lower incomes who cannot work from home and have lost income as a result. New fines for those breaching self-isolation rules will start at £1,000 and could increase to up to £10,000 for repeat offences. This includes business owners who threaten self-isolating staff with redundancy if they do not come to work.

Furthermore, on 24 September, the Chancellor announced a ‘Job Support Scheme’ to help subsidise the wages of people in work, which will start in November. This new scheme will replace that of the previous ‘Furlough Scheme’ and means that the government will pay part of workers’ wages who have lost hours. The worker must complete at least one-third of normal hours and the government and the employer will pay one-third each of the lost hours. Fundamentally, this will ensure employees earn a minimum of 77% of their normal wages.

Working Safely

The government produced an extensive set of guidelines for businesses operating in England back in May, covering a variety of different types of industries and work. These guidelines are constantly updated and can again be referred to on the Gov.uk website. Employees can use this guidance to check what their workplace needs to be doing in order to keep people safe.

It’s important for businesses to use the learnings from lockdown to think about the future structure of their organisations and how best to work under the ‘new normal’ – not only for those continuing to work from home, but also considering those peoople’s wellbeing and family responsibilities.

If you have any concerns about the recent announcements and how it might impact your business or organization, please don’t hesitate to contact Cecily Lalloo at Embrace HR Limited.

T: 01296 761 288 or contact us here.

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Based in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, Embrace HR Limited supports business owners who do not have their own HR department or those that do but need help from time to time. We also work across the Home Counties of Oxfordshire, Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire, and also SMEs based in London.