Withdrawal of working from home guidance leaves employers with plenty to think about

The working from home guidance is one of many COVID restrictions that are due to be removed on 19 July in England. Yesterday, to accompany the Prime Minister’s announcement, the Government published COVID Response: Summer 2021 which contains more information about how it intends to manage the lifting of most of the remaining restrictions.

As widely repeated in the media in recent days, the key message is that the Government will remove existing legal restrictions and “will instead enable people to make informed decisions about how to manage the risk to themselves and others.”

That potentially puts employers in a difficult position, particularly in businesses which have been operating at reduced capacity due to social distancing restrictions, or which have not been allowed to open at all. They will need to balance the business need to operate at optimum capacity with their legal obligations to protect the health and safety of their workers and customers. Similar considerations will apply to office based environments, as they decide how best to manage a return to the workplace.

More information is promised in the coming days, but here are three areas to watch:

COVID-secure guidance: Current guidance for businesses is due to be changed to reflect the removal of social distancing requirements in most settings, but the Government is likely to recommend the continuation of some other mitigating measures. In addition it will remain unlawful to require a self-isolating worker to attend work.

COVID status certification: The Government has ruled out making “vaccine passports” mandatory in domestic settings, but will allow businesses the discretion to adopt this in “non-essential” settings. It will continue to be a requirement for international travel, and may be introduced in some settings later in the year as part of contingency planning for the winter season.

Changes to self-isolation requirements: With rising case numbers, self-isolation requirements for close contacts of those infected with the virus are becoming increasingly difficult to manage. The Government is planning to introduce an exemption for fully vaccinated contacts with effect from 16 August.

Employers planning a return to the workplace will need to factor in these variables, as well as assessing the particular requirements of their business and the needs of their staff. We have explored these wider issues in a series of webinars which were broadcast last month, but which are now available to view here.

[Edited on 12 July to clarify that the planned lifting of restrictions on 19 July apply to England only, and to specify the date when changes to the self-isolation requirements for fully vaccinated people are due to come into effect.]

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