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Boris Johnson announces new COVID-19 restrictions – employment law expert reaction

Kate Palmer, Associate Director of HR Advisory at Peninsula

Comment – Kate Palmer, Associate Director of HR Advisory at Peninsula

Businesses up and down the country will be very used to these urgent statements from the government surrounding new coronavirus measures. Firstly, it is important to remember that the Prime Minister’s speech in the Commons is to be followed by an address to the nation tonight, meaning further information could still be provided. Nevertheless, it has provided us with a bit more clarity as to what we can expect in the coming months.

The news most employers likely waited for was whether they still had the discretion to ask staff to return to the office in England. It seems that the government have now reversed this guidance, now once again advising staff to work from home if they can. Whilst the Prime Minister stressed that this does not apply to jobs where staff cannot work from home, such as retail, it does mean that employers will now need to consider implementing a new or further period of homeworking for staff that fall into this category.

This may be frustrating news for some businesses, especially if they have taken costly steps to make the workplace COVID-secure. However, they should bear in mind that they will, presumably, have found ways to make this work during the initial lockdown months and should, hopefully, be better prepared this time.  

Further restrictions announced are less surprising; the Prime Minister reaffirmed his stance that schools and colleges are to remain open, meaning working parents will not suddenly be faced with childcaring issues nationwide. He was also keen to stress that he is ‘in no way’ returning to the full lockdown we saw in March; encouragingly, subject to localised lockdown restrictions that are to remain in place, businesses can stay open provided they are COVID-secure. It is also less surprising to learn that the planned reopening of stadiums and conference venues, scheduled for 1 October, has now been delayed. 

The Prime Minister outlined that these restrictions will remain under constant review; they may be relaxed or strengthened depending on the level of infection. He also was keen to point out that they may be in place, in some capacity, for at least six months. Despite the hard months we have ahead, one topic of discussion did remain conspicuously absent from this statement; whether the furlough scheme will be extended. On this, it seems, we must wait for further notification from the government.


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