Employers are encouraged to bring workers back to workplaces if it is safe to do so, even though the government is squeezing the “brake pedal” on the easing of restrictions because of increases in the number of coronavirus infections.
Boris Johnson postponed the reopening of the remaining “close-contact” business sectors – including bowling alleys, skating rinks and casinos – for two weeks to 15 August. Wedding receptions and indoor performances will also not resume.
At a previous briefing the Prime Minister announced that employers are to be given more discretion to make decisions about how their staff can work safely.
But despite new figures from the Office for National Statistics suggesting that the prevalence of the Covid-19 virus in the community in England is likely to be rising, the advice remains for employers to encourage staff back to the office.
Johnson said: “Two weeks ago, I said the government would give employers more discretion over how employees can work safely – whether by continuing to work from home or attending a Covid-Secure workplace.
“We know that employers have gone to huge lengths to make workplaces safe, so that guidance remains unchanged. We also said we would pause shielding nationally from 1 August [in England] – based on clinical advice, that national pause will proceed as planned.”
Shielded workers are those with health conditions that make them more likely to experience serious complications from a Covid-19 infection, so they have needed to follow more stringent guidance on social isolation.
The Prime Minister added that the authorities would “come down hard” on businesses that are not keeping workplaces safe.
Around 35,700 now have the virus, or one in 1500 people. This compares to one in 1800 on 15 July, and one in 2,000 on 2 July. The news comes as fresh restrictions were imposed on parts of north-west England and West Yorkshire.
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “We all want people to return to workplaces as soon as possible. But the virus remains a threat to shielding workers. And we may see further outbreaks that require local lockdowns.
“The government must make clear to employers that they cannot give shielding workers unreasonable ultimatums to return to workplaces. The job retention scheme is in place until at least October, so employers must continue using it if home working is not an option.”
She added that the government should make clear that furlough will still be an option after October for shielding workers who cannot safely travel to workplaces or who may be subject to a local lockdown.
The CIPD has urged employers to ensure they can meet three key tests before bringing their people back to the workplace: is it essential, is it sufficiently safe and is it mutually agreed?