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What Are the Rules for Reopening Workplaces?

As lockdown continues for the most part, one big question remains for many employers and employees. How will lockdown measures “end” or ease, and what are the rules for businesses to open again? Although many issues on the lockdown are still being detailed, there are several ways employers and business owners can prepare now during “Step One” of lockdown easing. The current guidance is now different in different areas of the UK. The government has published a guide called ‘Our Plan to Rebuild: The UK Government’s COVID-19 recovery strategy’ (11 May 2020) which applies to England. The additional “COVID-19 Secure” guidelines go into specific detail on how to make the workplace safe. Here are key points for workplaces to think of now.

Who Can and Cannot Work?

In the latest guidance published 11 May 2020, the government says: “For the foreseeable future, workers should continue to work from home rather than their normal physical workplace, wherever possible.” Other workers who cannot work from home are encouraged to go to work. The industries listed in the guidance include “food production, construction, manufacturing, logistics, distribution and scientific research in laboratories.” Some non-essential retail is still required to remain closed, such as hospitality and personal care or leisure such as cinemas. This is the time to review your home working policies, prepare your coronavirus risk assessment, and consider ways to adapt your services, products, and production in the long-term to enable social distancing. You should consider who on the team should be involved in these decisions and what legal support you can take advantage of to be compliant.

How to Keep the Workplace Safe After Lockdown

Social distancing guidance must still be followed in public and in the workplace, as of the latest documentation. The “COVID-19 Secure” guidelines set out how each type of physical space can be adapted to operate safely. This guide makes it clearer on how to implement social distancing and what – if any – exceptions can be made. It is important to remember than no one is obliged to work in an unsafe environment. For those who work in people’s homes, there is separate guidance which covers trade people, nannies and similar services performed in the home. Social distancing is still key in these areas. In “Step Two”, the guidance talks about measures that are likely to be included in the next phase of easing lockdown. These are areas where businesses can look ahead as “Step Two” is likely to involve:
  • A phased return for early years settings and schools
  • Opening non-essential retail
  • Permitting events to take place behind closed doors for broadcast (such as sports)
  • Re-opening more local public transport

Reducing Risks and Protecting the Vulnerable

Another key point is that all employers are to carry out a COVID-19 risk assessment. Businesses with over 50 employees are expected to publish it on their website. You will need to consider fair policies to make the workplace safe while remaining inclusive and protecting employee rights. As details are still undetermined about schools, it is important to consider how your staff might be affected if their children are still unable to attend school. Those who are considered vulnerable and must be shielded should be given the most protective roles, if they cannot work from home. It remains unlawful to discriminate, directly or indirectly, because of a characteristic such as age, sex, or disability. Protecting the mental health of your employees, especially those not working on the premises, is also highlighted in the guidance. One thing is clear: if someone has any symptoms, they should self-isolate until they are well, or it is confirmed with a test that they do not have coronavirus. Any changes and policies will perform best if you keep flexibility and business contingency in mind. Depending on the outcomes of any lockdown changes, the government might bring back restrictions.

Building a Better, Safer, Happier Workplace

How a business and its management approach these changes will have a huge impact on the health and wellbeing, both physical and mental, of everyone in the workplace. It will be critical to make any new policies clear, not only to follow the rules, but to reassure staff. The correct documentation, clearly written, will be an important part of this. We can support you with legal advice about your obligations and rights in the workplace. We can also provide support with contracts, redundancy policies, and other documentation your workplace might need now or in future. For all your HR and employment questions, our Head of Client Employment & HR is available for enquiries. At Kidwells Solicitors, we can provide support with contracts, policies, and other legal advice to help your workplace thrive and resolve disputes. We are also able to assist with risk assessment templates and other coronavirus-specific support. Contact us at 01432 278 179 to ask for Kate Wargen or email her directly at

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