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Lockdown 3.0: what it means for employers

12th January 2021

No doubt by now the dust is beginning to settle on the news of a further national lockdown, and businesses across the UK will have taken steps to increase remote working and further tighten health and safety measures.

The latest lockdown has forced some businesses to shutdown entirely, particularly those in the leisure and hospitality sectors, non-essential retail, and education providers.  Elsewhere, people are being instructed to stay at home, working remotely if and where possible, and those who are vulnerable now being required to begin shielding once again.  Perhaps surprisingly, not all industries are being forced to close; the Government has confirmed that manufacturing, construction, essential public services, and the housing market can continue to operate and remain open.

How do the latest lockdown rules affect employers though? In many ways the new rules are not dissimilar to those from March 2020, and for many the options when dealing with employees remain the same:

  • The CJRS scheme remains in place for supporting those employers forced to furlough their staff. Employers should check whether the individuals are eligible to recover monies under the scheme, and should ensure that any new period of furlough is covered by an appropriate written agreement.  The rules around the prohibition on carrying out any employment duties remain during such periods of furlough.
  • Where the right exists in the contract, employers may utilise periods of lay off and short-time working.
  • Where redundancies are unavoidable, such processes can still take place and employers will still be required to follow the normal requirements set out under employment law in the UK.
  • Where there are issues regarding the closure of schools and the need for flexibility around childcare issues, the requirements of the Employment Rights Act 1996 remain in respect of time off to care for dependants.
  • Key workers and those in the areas which are exempt remain able to attend work where it is not possible to work remotely, and provision of voluntary services can continue.
  • Where employees are required to attend work, there must be appropriate risk assessments completed and provisions put in place to adequately control and minimise the risk of the spread of the Coronavirus and mitigate effects. This will mean at the very least following the Government guidelines, under which “hot desking” should be avoided, the number of employees should be restricted, facemasks should be used, and there should be provision of adequate sanitary products available.  The clinically vulnerable should be considered and adequate protections taken.
  • Statutory sick pay remains available for those shielding and those who are unwell due to the virus.
  • Those found breaking the lockdown rules once again find themselves at risk of significant fines for doing so.

From experience of the last two lockdowns, issues are likely to arise around:

  • managing the workplace and ensuring adequate measures are taken to protect the workforce;
  • dealing with concerns of employees;
  • dealing with attendance and conduct issues; and
  • dealing with employee demands in respect of time off.

Employers should remain aware that despite these strange times, and significant changes at short notice, that it does not displace other requirements and rights granted under the existing employment law in the UK, and they should remain aware and alert to them.

In dealing with all such issues, we would always advise that at this difficult time employers approach matters cautiously.  Employers should ensure that all decisions are considered carefully and based on the information before the employer at that time. As is often the case, the key to successfully avoiding (or at least mitigating) and resolving issues is likely to be via the use of clear, consistent and continued communication.

If you would like to discuss any concerns regarding the employment law implications of the Coronavirus, the National Lockdown in England and Wales, or generally, please speak to Jason Alcock, an experienced employment law solicitor in our dispute resolution team, on 01543 267 196 or email him at jalcock@ansonssolicitors.com

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