On 22 September 2020, Prime Minister Boris Johnson addressed the nation due to the rise in infection rate of Covid-19. In his speech, he offered new guidance on working from home. This advice caused confusion for many businesses as they were left wondering whether they should be sending their staff back to working from home, just like the March 2020 lockdown?
Here is a Q&A guide on what it all means.
Are we back to where we were in March 2020 and should staff be working from home?
No. In March, ahead of the Covid-19 lockdown, we were all requested to stay at home with very limited allowances for people to leave home. One of these was travelling to and from work, but only where “absolutely necessary”.
In his September address and subsequent gov.uk guidance, it was stated that office workers who can “work effectively” from home should do so over the winter.
My team have recently returned to office working. Do I need to send them back home to work from there again?
No, not necessarily. The Government’s guidance on working from home makes clear that employers should consult with employees and an employer should decide if an employee can carry out their normal duties effectively from home. If they can, “then they should do so”. Employers are able to use their experience from the lockdown in March to make their decisions on this. If staff have recently returned to the office and the employer notices, for example, an increase in productivity, they may be inclined, and are within their right to do so, to keep staff working in the office in a Covid-19 safe manner.
As far as initial reaction to the guidance went, we ran a poll on LinkedIn to see where businesses stood on working from home. Here’s what we found…
What if employees are worried about coming into the office?
Employees concerned about the safety of a workplace should raise their concerns with their employer. The employer must operate a Covid-19 safe workplace. If an employee remains concerned then they could report the employer the Health and Safety Executive. Employers owe a duty of care to employees so it is important to make sure you comply and take any concerns raised seriously.
Can mental health and home situations play a part in deciding who can come to the office?
Yes. The Prime Minister made this clear in response to a question from MP Stephen Crabb in Parliament. Staff who live in cramped conditions, busy households, or struggled with loneliness during the lockdown in March should go to work. It links back to the guidance on office staff being able to work effectively from home – for employees in these circumstances, their wellbeing and mental health is affected.
It may be worth considering extra mental health support for your employees during this time, here’s how we can help with that.
What about the clinically extremely vulnerable. Do they have to work from home?
No, staff who are vulnerable due to health conditions can go to workplace, as long as it is Covid-19 secure. But again, the guidance of working from home remains.
What about the rule of six?
The rule of gatherings of six people does not apply when it comes to the workplace. It is of course vital that your workplace remains Covid-19 secure for however many staff you have in the office, but it can be more than six.
What if an employee tests positive for Covid-19?
Anyone who has symptoms of Covid-19 or has tested positive should self-isolate for 10 days from the start of their symptoms or date of test respectively. Workers who test positive without symptoms should restart their 10-day period if and when they get symptoms. Workers who are in a support bubble or live with someone who has symptoms or tests positive should self-isolate for 14 days.
As an employer, you should make sure people who are self-isolating can work from home if they can. If they are unable to work due to the symptoms they are experiencing, then they are off sick and you may be able to claim back Statutory Sick Pay (SSP). Guidance on that is available here.
The guidance does state that workers do not need to self-isolate if they’ve been in proximity with someone showing symptoms as long as they have been following social distancing measures. Some employers may make the decision to encourage temporary home-working in these situations though as a precaution. Workers who are contacted as part of test and trace should self-isolate as normal and as long as they have a self-isolation note they should be paid SSP if they can’t work from home. Additional benefits have been made available for those on low incomes to help if they are self-isolating.
How Loch Associates Group can help
If you’re having trouble getting your head around the latest work from home and self-isolation guidance, then our HR Advise Me team will be happy to assist. Find out more here.