The Government’s Plan B

Employers in England may be getting a strong feeling of déjà vu after the announcements on 8 December 2021 that bring back some Covid restrictions once again. It was confirmed that the Government’s Plan B, first announced in September as the stricter measures that would be implemented if needed, will be phased in from Friday 10 December 2021. This is as a result of recent data regarding the Omicron variant, which is quickly spreading throughout the UK. 

The following changes will be implemented: 

  • From Friday 10 December, masks must be worn in most public venues, including theatres and cinemas, unless someone is medically exempt. This will not apply in premises where people are eating or exercising (such as gyms or nightclubs).
  • From Monday 13 December, guidance to work from home wherever this is possible will be reintroduced.
  • By Wednesday, 15 December, Covid passes will become mandatory for nightclubs, unseated indoor venues with more than 500 people, unseated outdoor venues with more than 5000 people and any venue with more than 10,000 people.

Two doses will be sufficient for a Covid pass, as will a negative lateral flow test, but this requirement will be kept under review as the booster programme is rolled out.

Whilst employers are likely to be used to swiftly facilitating homeworking now, each instance still comes with its challenges. Employees who don’t have an adequate environment to work in at home due to lack of space or robust internet connection, for example, may struggle to be productive, and others may fear that their mental health will decline after having experienced a similar impact during previous enforced homeworking periods. Employers will need to spend time dealing with individual circumstances to make it work as best it can and provide support and assistance to those who need it.

The above is in fact guidance rather than law, so it will not be an offence to continue to work from the workplace even if that work could have been carried out from home. This will therefore give you some solutions for those who want to continue to attend the workplace.  

Health and Safety Obligations

It is also the case that you have a duty to take steps that are reasonably necessary to ensure the health, safety and welfare of all employees and provide and maintain a safe system of work – including for employees working from home. This extends to safeguarding mental health and wellbeing.

At the very least, however, employers ought to help employees assess and adapt their working environment during the period of home working by asking them to undertake a basic homeworking risk assessment. This would highlight any risks which arise from the type of work that is carried out from home, whether it can be carried out safely, and whether any measures ought to be put in place to protect employees from any risks identified. 

We can provide clients with a copy of a template homeworking risk assessment for this purpose if they require it. Furthermore, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has updated guidance on working from home and keeping workplaces safe during Covid-19. Use the following link homeworking guidance.

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