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New coronavirus-related measures impacting on the employment relationship

The government’s latest advice, as confirmed in the COVID-19 Secure guidelines for different types of workplaces, is that office workers who can work effectively from home should do so over the winter. However, anyone else who cannot work from home should go to their place of work, but employers should consult with their staff to determine who needs to come into the workplace safely taking account of the worker’s journey, caring responsibilities, protected characteristics and other individual circumstances. Extra consideration should be given to those workers at higher risk. 

In addition to this change of position for office workers, a raft of new coronavirus-related legislative measures have now taken effect in England, some of which directly impact on the employment relationship (with slightly different restrictions applying in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland). These include that:

  • Staff in a wide range of hospitality and retail venues are now required to wear face coverings when working in a part of the premises that is open to the public, and where they come or are likely to come within close contact of any member of the public – but those who are already exempt from the existing face covering obligations, such as because of an underlying health condition, continue to be exempt from this new obligation. However, the offence of failing to wear a face covering when legally obliged to do so is committed by the worker, not by their employer, and so it is the worker’s responsibility to pay the relevant fine. That said, it is an offence for an employer to prevent, or to seek to prevent, a worker who is subject to the requirement to wear a face covering from wearing a face covering, and therefore it is recommended that employers mandate the wearing of face coverings where required
  • A wider range of leisure and entertainment venues, services provided in community centres and close contact services must now comply with the COVID-19 Secure requirements as a legal obligation, with fines of up to £10,000 for repeated breaches
  • Employers must not knowingly allow or permit a worker, or agency worker, who is being required to self-isolate to attend their workplace, or any other place (except the place where they are required to self-isolate) for any purpose connected to their employment during their self-isolation period. Breach of this provision will result in a fine starting at £1,000 and increasing to £10,000 for repeated breaches. The worker is also now obliged to inform their employer, as soon as reasonably practicable, of the requirement on them to self-isolate, and the start and end dates of their self-isolation period, in circumstances where they would otherwise be required to attend work.

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