On 23rd November 2020, the Government published its COVID-19 Winter Plan. We have summarised the key points which arise from an employment law perspective and how this may impact employers during the next couple of months. This is up to date at the time of publication.
- Although a UK-wide vaccination programme may commence as early as December 2020, subject to regulatory approval by the MHRA, restrictions in one form or another will remain until at least spring 2021.
- England will move back into a regional 3-tiered system from 2nd December 2020, although all 3 tiers will be much tougher than before.
- People will still be encouraged to work from home wherever possible. Guidance will be strengthened for homeworking with greater powers being given to local authorities, including fines for non-compliance. Employers should therefore ensure everyone who can work from home should work from home.
- In tiers 1 and 2, spectators at sporting fixtures, business events and activities can resume inside and outside, subject to capacity limits and social distancing. In tier 1, the limit is 50% of capacity or 4,000 people (1,000 indoors), whichever is lower. In tier 2, the limit is 50% of capacity or 2,000 people (1,000 indoors), whichever is lower.
- Last orders for pubs, bars and restaurants is 10pm, with a closing time of 11pm. Pubs and bars in tier 2 must close unless they are serving substantial meals. Indoor entertainment venues and hospitality except for delivery, takeaway and drive-through must close in tier 3.
- Hotels and accommodation can be open for any reason in tiers 1 and 2, but in tier 3 they must close except for specific reasons e.g. accommodation for work purposes.
- In terms of travelling, walking and cycling is recommended, with travel into and outside tier 3 areas avoided except where necessary e.g. work, education and medical attention. Areas in tiers 2 and 3 should reduce the number of journeys where possible.
- Education for early years, schools, colleges and universities remain open, together with registered childcare providers. However businesses should be mindful that existing rules will continue regarding self-isolation in the event of a positive test in an education bubble.
- The Government will be extending the accessibility of COVID-19 tests in early 2021 to those who are required to self-isolate for 14 days, with the possibility that a number of negative tests results in individuals being able to leave isolation much sooner.
- Areas in tier 3 will be offered rapid COVID-19 tests to everyone, regardless if they have symptoms or not following the successful pilot in Liverpool. As a result, businesses in tier 3 may have more members of staff being required to self-isolate due to the increased pick up of non-systematic cases and the identification of more close contacts.
- The Government will solely decide when to move regions between the different tiers. Tiers 2 and 3 will cause a number of significant restrictions for businesses, and therefore must be mindful of the possibility of changes in their tier status. The Government’s decisions will be based upon 5 key indicators:
- COVID-19 infection rates;
- Cases in the over 60s;
- The rate at which cases are rising or falling;
- The number of positive cases as a percentage of tests taken; and
- Pressure on the NHS
- Specific guidance will be published on how clinically extremely vulnerable people can protect themselves, although the blanket stay at home message will end on 2nd December 2020. Employers should engage with any clinically extremely vulnerable employees and consult on any reasonable adjustments.
- COVID-Secure rules for businesses and workplaces continue. In particular, the following behaviours should continue:
- Regularly wash hands for at least 20 seconds;
- Wear a face covering;
- Social distancing;
- Minimise the number of people you contact;
- Get a test immediately if you display symptoms;
- Ensure good ventilation for indoor spaces;
- If meeting people, try to meet outside; and
- Self-isolate if required to do so.
- In order to support the economy and jobs, the Government has already extended the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme until March 2021, in which employees can get up to 80% of their wages, subject to a cap of £2,500 per month.
- Further support measures for businesses include the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme, Local Restrictions Support Grants, Business Rate holidays, reduced VAT in hospitality and tourism to 5% until 31st March 2021, as well as the Culture Recovery Fund for cultural organisations, charities and spectator sports.
It is clear these restrictions and the impact of COVID-19 will be experienced by businesses for many more months. Whilst there is light at the end of the tunnel, we are crucially not there just yet. In the meantime, it is imperative that employers comply with their legal obligations, as we have been inundated with numerous employment law enquiries throughout COVID-19.
If you require any advice on any of the employment and HR issues referred to above, the Employment team is on hand to advise and assist. Please contact Sally Morris on 01905 610410 or at email@example.com to discuss this offer further and any frequently asked questions.