The Government has announced ‘Plan B’ COVID measures that mean employers in England will be subject to new guidance measures to allow employees to work from home where possible.
The guidance will have effect from Monday 13 December meaning that many employers will only have two working days to put in place necessary arrangements.
The change brings England in line with the guidance that had already been issued in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
When making the announcement Prime Minister Boris Johnson has stated "Go to work if you must, but work from home if you can." It follows that those who cannot do their work from home may still be required to attend their workplace. That may raise questions as to whether an employee is able to work from home?
Whilst more detailed guidance is still awaited an update to the Guidance: Coronavirus: how to stay safe and help prevent the spread states that some workers “should continue to go into work where they need to access equipment necessary for their role or where their role must be completed in person”.
It recognises that in-person working will be necessary in some cases to continue the effective and accessible delivery of some services and suggests that taking lateral flow tests regularly might be a suitable way to manage any risk involved.
It also acknowledges that it may be appropriate for some workers to attend the workplace if they are facing mental or physical health difficulties, or have a particularly challenging home working environment.
However it does appear that all those that worked from home previously due to the pandemic are potentially in scope, certainly that is the view taken in Scotland, where First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has been more direct she when announced that employers they should ensure that all staff who worked from home at the start of the pandemic are able to do so again, until at least the middle of January.
In Wales, employers are encouraged to let people work from home where possible. Guidance says staff should not be "required or placed under pressure to return" to the workplace unless there's a clear business need.
In Northern Ireland employers have been asked to support home working "where possible".
Where employees still have to attend the workplace employers will have to take steps to ensure that the work environment is safe. This will mean following steps outlined in the Government’s Working safely during Coronavirus guidance.
Employers should take particular care in completing a health and safety risk assessment that includes the risk from COVID19.
The other changes that are as a consequence of the move to Plan B include that from 10 December 2021 face coverings will again be required by law in most indoor settings and that from 15 December 2021 certain venues and events will be required by law to check that all visitors aged 18 years or over are fully vaccinated, have proof of a negative test in the last 48 hours, or have an exemption.