Today the government has formally confirmed the information, leaked in part to the media over the weekend, that it is potentially postponing full easing of lockdown restrictions in England by a period of 4 weeks. Subject to a review in 2 weeks’ time, this means that it is likely there will be no change to the existing restrictions until 19 July 2021, at the earliest (confirmed in the Coronavirus: What you can and cannot do guidance). Today’s announcement comes in response to a notable rise in the R number and continuing concerns over the impact of the Delta COVID-19 variant.
Unfortunately this news has important ramifications for employers who, until very recently, had hoped all COVID-19 restrictions would end on 21 June 2021, as originally laid out in the government’s roadmap.
‘Work from home’ guidance continues
Many businesses with employees able to work from home have been planning a ‘return to workplace’ strategy for much of the past year, but have had to grapple with ever-evolving guidance in this respect as the COVID-19 situation has continued to develop.
Just when it seemed that there was finally some certainty on the date when employers would be able to allow all employees back into the workplace, the goalposts have moved again. The announcements today confirm that employees who are able to work from home should continue to do so. This remains subject to the caveat that employees are still able to return to workplaces in certain limited circumstances, for example because continued home-working is detrimental to their health or wellbeing.
There is no change in respect of employees who cannot work from home – in these circumstances, employees continue to be permitted to work in their usual workplaces, and the Working safely during coronavirus guidance continues to apply.
Delay to end of restrictions in the hospitality sector
While indoor hospitality was permitted to reopen on 17 May 2021, this has been subject to onerous restrictions on indoor bookings (with no more than 6 individuals or 2 households permitted in a group), mandatory table service if the venue serves alcohol, and the implementation of social distancing measures.
In unwelcome news for the hospitality sector, today’s announcements have postponed any likely easing of these restrictions until 19 July 2021. This clearly has an impact on the number of customers which hospitality venues can accommodate and a corresponding impact on required staffing levels. For now, it is likely that some employers will need to reassess their staffing requirements and quickly decide what this means for any current furlough arrangements.
Mixed news for businesses in the events sector
There is mixed news for businesses in the events sector. Those involved in wedding events will welcome the announcement that the current restrictions, limiting guests to 30, will be removed on 21 June 2021. Instead, the limit will depend on how many people the venue can safely accommodate with social distancing measures in place.
However, employers who operate in the wider events sector will be disappointed by the news that the easing on capacity restrictions will be delayed until potentially at least 19 July 2021. At present, (aside from any pilots being run) the restrictions mean that indoor venues can operate with a capacity of 1,000 people or half-full (whichever is a lower number), and outdoor venues can operate with a capacity of 4,000 people or half-full (whichever is a lower number). In the largest outdoor seated venues, where crowds can be spread out, up to 10,000 people are able to attend (or a quarter-full, whichever is lower). The announcement today will therefore have an impact on any imminent events planned to run over coming weeks.
The news also remains disappointing for night clubs who will continue to be required to remain shut.