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Employment law expert reaction to Wales two-week ‘firebreak’ lockdown

Kate Palmer, HR Advice and Consultancy Director at Peninsula

Another week begins, and with it comes more coronavirus restrictions. As anticipated, Wales is to enter a state of full lockdown for two weeks from this Friday. Essentially, the rules that applied back in March around staying at home are now once again applicable in Wales.

Although Wales had been less flexible about working from home than other areas of the UK, never really moving from advice that those who could work from home should do so, any apparent flexibility has, temporarily, been removed. For non-essential offices, this means that all employees who can work from home will need to be permitted to. While this may not be welcome news for employers, they will presumably have responded to this call back in March and may, this time, be in a more prepared position to react to it.

As back in March, businesses are also once again being asked to close across Wales. If staff cannot work from home, employers may be able to make once again use of the furlough scheme, subject to eligibility, before it ends on 31 October. They may also be able to use the new Job Support Scheme from 1 November. Whilst Wales’ First Minister has hinted at plans to bring forward the new scheme to use from this Friday in the country; this is still to be confirmed by the UK government.

The fact that this so-called circuit break lockdown is scheduled for half term may help to mitigate the impact of staff needing to facilitate childcare, with many of them likely already having done so in preparation for this. Furthermore, while only children up to the age of year eight will return in the second week of this lockdown, this is likely to reflect the fact that older children will be in a better position to look after themselves. That said, it is essential to remember that previously made plans for childcare may need to change due to the new rules. There is no doubt that child care issues are still likely, and employers will need to consider flexibility, and legal rights afforded to parents, over this period.

Unlike the March lockdown, this one does at least have a time limit; it will last until 9 November and will not continue past this date. However, what further restrictions the Welsh government will put into place remain to be seen. What is clear is that the coronavirus crisis is far from over, and we will likely see many more announcements of this nature.

Comment by Kate Palmer, HR Advice and Consultancy Director at Peninsula

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