Workplace meetings: The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (All Tiers) (England) Regulations 2020 (the Regulations) came into force on 2 December 2020 in England to replace national restrictions which implemented a 4 week “lockdown” from 5 November until 2 December 2020. The Regulations introduce a regional 3 tier approach to restrictions designed to limit the spread of COVID-19 in England. Other rules apply to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
The Regulations do not prevent people from going into the office and attending on their own (such as in a private room) but they will have an impact on what happens when they meet with others, whether that be in the office in a meeting room, a corridor, the bathroom or the work canteen, or in premises outside the office, such as a business meeting in a restaurant.
The practical effect of the Regulations for workplace meetings is that if it is reasonably necessary for employees to work together, or to meet with clients or suppliers for business purposes, then on the face of it the meeting would be allowed. Such a gathering could take place in the office or in another place such as a restaurant or pub.
Working from home: In the new local tier guidance which applies from 2 December the government guidance for all tiers says “[e]veryone who can work from home should do so.” In other parts of existing government guidance, working from home is recommended if the work can be done “effectively”. This was also the position before the November lockdown in England. It is not clear whether the government has intentionally dropped the term “effectively” from the new local tier guidance. If it has, this potentially means the government’s message around working from home has become stricter than it was before the November lockdown and people should not be going to the office simply because they work more productively in the office or prefer to work there, where they can do their work from home.
In either case, whether the word “effectively” is retained or not, the government’s COVID-19 Winter Plan for England does recognise that there are specific reasons why attendance in the workplace may be needed, including mental health issues or concerns and/or a need to work on-site physically. This is helpful for employers and employees who consider that they need to go to the workplace in order to work.
Whatever the case may be, employers and employees should make sure there is a specific reason why the employee needs to be in the office. Employers will want to consider the processes that they have in place around any attendance in the office, and ensure they are happy that proper consideration has been given to this and records are retained as appropriate. This will also need to be reflected in the COVID-19 workplace risk assessment and actions should be taken to manage the risks of transmission in line with current government guidance.
Whilst the local tier approach to restrictions remains in place in England, any gathering for work purposes which is not “reasonably necessary”, will be an offence and could result in a fine.
The new government guidance around working from home is likely to be in place for the entire winter period and so many office workers who have been working from home to date, are likely to be doing so for some time to come. Employers will need to consider requests for employees to work in the office carefully and make sure there are specific reasons why it is necessary for them to do so. For many employers, this will mean revisiting and adapting their working arrangements again.
For more information on these articles or any other issues involving labour and employment matters in the United Kingdom, please contact Robert Hill (Partner) at Clyde & Co at email@example.com or visit www.clydeco.com.