Based on the guidance published on 12 October, the Government’s key message to employers of office-based workers in England has not changed, even in areas on the highest alert level.
The current guidance derives from the Prime Minister’s announcement of the previous round of new coronavirus restrictions on 22 September, and was published on 24 September. It remains to the effect that office workers who can work “effectively” from home should do so over the winter, and that where an employer, in consultation with their employee, judges an employee can carry out their normal duties from home they should do so. In addition, while this may change, shielding currently remains “paused” across the whole of England, even in the highest risk areas.
It is follows that even in areas on the highest alert level, the Government has left it to employers to determine the correct balance between home and office working, taking into account the personal circumstances of the employee and the needs of the business. That is of course assuming that the workplace can be made "COVID-secure" in line with current Government guidance.
However, although the key message hasn’t changed, the level of alert in the area where the workplace is located is bound to be a factor in employers’ decision-making, particularly where employees need to use public transport to travel to work.
Leaving aside the working from home guidance, one important change that applies in the highest risk areas is the extension of the Job Support Scheme to provide wage support where a business has to close completely because of local or national lock-down measures. We are still waiting for guidance which will fill in some important details, but the broad outline of this new Scheme is explained in our separate briefing here.