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25th March, 2020

So who can actually go to work today?

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Following the Prime ministers announcement last night, the government has announced that workers should stay indoors and only venture outside for a specific list of reasons, this being:

• Shopping for basic necessities; or
• One form of exercise a day; or
• Any medical need/ care for vulnerable person; or
• Travelling to and from work but only if absolutely necessary.

This final point requires some level of clarification which for the moment is not being answered. Based on a literal interpretation, it would seem that unless a worker can work from home they should stay at home unless ‘absolutely necessary’.

However, following the announcement the government clarified that workers could travel to and from work but only where the work cannot be done from home. There is still clarity required as to whether it is the role/job that is absolutely necessary or whether the travel to get there is absolutely necessary.

To further confuse the situation, the government later clarified via twitter that only ‘key workers’ should be travelling to and from work, which seemed to suggest that unless you are a ‘key worker’ and cannot work from home then workers should not go into work today.

Further to this, the mayor of Manchester tweeted on 23rd March “…Have now spoken to No10 & had it confirmed that people CAN leave home to work – as long as they fully observe the 2m distancing rule…”. There is debate therefore, regarding who should continue to work as the latest suggests that anyone can go to work if (1) your work can’t be done from home; (2) you observe social distancing; (3) vulnerable staff should stay at home; and (4) your employer has not been forced to shut (pubs, bars, clubs and non essential retail shops).

There is increasing pressure in particular in relation to the construction and manufacturing sectors. The Government and these industries are facing pressure to close as it is thought that this is adding to the increased numbers on tubes and video footage shows some are not following the social distancing advice when at work.

As it stands at present, these industries are able to operate provided they follow the four rules above, but we expect to hear more on this and will update as and when we do.

Employers must remember that they have a duty of care to their employees and must weigh that responsibility with the needs of the business and government requests. We would also recommend that employers should consider their insurance policies if they are still continuing to operate and not following the Government Guidance.

Employers in the delivery sector must also be aware that that police are now carrying out checks on vans to question if their requirement to travel is “essential”. It may be worth employers revaluating the requirement for their staff to attend and perform non-essential job roles.

From Thursday 26 March, the police will also be able to start issuing fines to people who are not observing social distancing; starting at a £30 penalty but there is currently no limit on the penalty that may be issued. This is likely to be higher for repeated offenders. Employers should consider whether requiring their staff to come into work and not enforcing the social distancing rules could incur fines.

We shall be following announcements closely and will be updating our COVID-19 page as the situation is clarified by the government concerning whether workers should or should not attend their workplace in this crisis.

If you or your company would like any advice on coronavirus and how it affects your workplace, including the rights of workers in this situation please do not hesitate to contact us.

For the full Government advice, please click here.

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