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HCR Law Events

31 August 2021

Covid-19 Step 4 in England: can everyone now go back to the office?

On Monday 19 July England moved to Step 4 on their Covid-19 roadmap which saw the lifting of most coronavirus-related legislation. This means the government are no longer instructing people to work from home. However, that does not mean that we will see everyone rushing back to the office immediately, even where people are keen to return.

The introduction of Step 4 across England saw the end of social distancing guidance and saw the full re-opening of many hospitality businesses. Despite the removal of restrictions in England, businesses still have a legal duty to assess and manage risks for those who may be affected by their business.

Businesses are expected to carry out health and safety risk assessments to identify risks, including the risk of Covid-19, and to take steps to mitigate against any risks that are identified. This will be required before staff come back to the workplace.

In order to support businesses, “Working Safely” guidance has been produced. The guidance is helpfully broken down into six different sectors providing advice for employers to consider.

Since all businesses have a requirement to consult workers on health and safety matters, it is expected that they will communicate with staff to tell them what measures are in place to protect against the risk of Covid-19.

Many businesses are being recommended to keep previous measures in place, such as:

  • Ensuring good ventilation
  • Frequent cleaning
  • Encouraging frequent hand washing or providing sanitiser
  • One-way systems to minimise contact and avoid congested areas
  • Using screens to separate people or using back-to-back or side-to-side working

In addition, during the continued period of high prevalence, the government expects and recommends a gradual return to work. So, it is unlikely that we will see all members of staff returning to the workplace at one time in sectors where working from home has become normal for the past 16 months.

This stage also means that those who are clinically extremely vulnerable are no longer advised to shield. Employers should consider whether any individual’s wellbeing would be particularly adversely affected by returning to the workplace, including those facing mental health difficulties.

Now when those who have been double-jabbed (at least 14 days ago) and those under 18 are identified as close contacts of positive Covid-19 cases, they are not required to self-isolate unless they test positive themselves or are displaying symptoms.

However, those who have been in close contact are requested to get a PCR test as soon as possible.

Employers should remember that it is an offence to allow a worker to attend the workplace if the employer knows that the worker is required to self-isolate because they;

  • have tested positive for Covid-19
  • have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive and are not exempt from self-isolation.

Those employees who are required to self-isolate should be enabled to work from home if appropriate.

Whilst many of the Covid-19 legal requirements have gone in England, the duties on employers to assess the risks is still apparent. Whilst many employees who have been double jabbed will no longer need to isolate when “pinged” by the NHS Covid-19 app, the effects and obligations of Covid-19 regulations still impact employers.

The way an employer operates will vary sector by sector. Many industries, such as manufacturing, are reliant on staff being present for their business to operate successfully. However, for those roles that are more office based, it is likely home working will remain as part of the business, at least for some time to come.

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About the Author
Rory Ford, Solicitor

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