An employer’s roadmap out of lockdown: key legal considerations

Posted on April 7, 2021
Posted by Frankie Mundy

employer's roadmap out of lockdownMonday 29 March 2021 heralded one of the the first steps on the Government’s roadmap out of lockdown, with outdoor sporting facilities being permitted to reopen and the official ‘stay at home’ order coming to an end. As the UK* starts cautiously easing out of lockdown and businesses begin to put in place plans to bring staff back into the workplace, we’ve highlighted some key considerations employers must bear in mind to make sure they’re complying with their legal obligations as they reopen.  

*The dates in this roadmap are specific to England and are subject to change by the Government, but the legal considerations at each stage will apply to all businesses in England & Wales. 

 

General steps for employers to consider when reopening and/or bringing staff back into the workplace

Current Government guidance is for staff to work from home unless it is unreasonable for them to do so. However, if your business is permitted to open and your staff cannot work from home, or if you’re planning for a future return to the workplace, our Q&A on Returning to the workplace after coronavirus guides you through some of the key issues your business will need to consider. Check things off as you go using our Returning to the workplace checklist; it will help you to comply with your legal obligations whilst smoothing the transition back to the workplace. 

Important steps for your business to consider include:

 

✅ You must conduct a COVID-19 risk assessment and ensure your premises are COVID secure, taking into account any clinically vulnerable or extremely clinically vulnerable staff 

 

✅ Consider whether your business is required to collect data from your staff and visitors for the purposes of NHS Test and Trace (eg close contact services like hairdressers) 

 

✅ Put arrangements in place to bring staff back from furlough (use Furlough leave letter – return to work to confirm this with your staff member in writing) 

 

✅ Remind yourself how to deal with flexible working requests from returning staff and check that your flexible working policy is up to date

 

✅ Consider how you will deal with staff who are anxious about coming back

 

✅ If you want to carry out workplace coronavirus testing, consider whether this is justified and register for the Government’s free rapid test scheme before 12 April 2021 

 

Other steps to consider at each stage of the Government’s roadmap are highlighted in our employer’s roadmap below.

 

 

Employer’s roadmap out of lockdown

 

1. 31 March 2021: Shielding guidance ended

The Government ended shielding guidance for clinically extremely vulnerable individuals on 31 March 2021, but its guidance confirms that formerly shielding staff should continue to work from home wherever possible. If clinically extremely vulnerable staff are unable to work from home, you must review your COVID-19 risk assessment and ensure that you have appropriate safety measures in place. 

Consider using COVID-19 individual risk assessment to assess staff members’ individual risk and feed the results into your general COVID-19 risk assessment.

 

 

2. 12 April 2021: Non-essential retail reopens

From 12 April 2021, non-essential retail and indoor leisure facilities (eg gyms) will reopen and hospitality venues will be permitted to serve people outdoors.

If your business will be reopening and bringing your staff back to work, make sure you consider the general steps for employers set out above. 

 

 

3. 12 April 2021: High street shops permitted to open until 10pm

The Government has confirmed that High Street shops in England will be allowed to stay open until 10pm from 12 April 2021 until 21 June 2021 without needing to apply for any additional permissions. If your shop will be opening late, consider whether this will affect your staff members’ contracts (eg if you will be requiring them to work different shifts or longer hours). If this will only be a temporary change, then you could consider agreeing it informally with your staff.

For guidance about how to change staff members’ contracts, see Changing or adding to staff contracts and for guidance about the rules on working hours if your staff will be working longer shifts, see Rules about working hours

 

 

4. 17 May 2021: Indoor hospitality and entertainment venues reopen

From 17 May 2021, businesses in most other sectors will be able to reopen, including indoor hospitality and entertainment venues.

If your business will be reopening and bringing your staff back to work, make sure you consider the general steps for employers set out above. 

 

 

 

5. 21 June 2021: Back to the office?

According to the Government’s current timetable, all legal limits on social contact are set to be removed on 21 June 2021. This means the highest risk businesses (eg nightclubs) will be permitted to reopen and it is likely that general working from home guidance will come to an end.

If your business will be reopening or you will be bringing staff back to the workplace (whether as a phased return or on a full-time or part-time basis), make sure you consider the general steps for employers set out above. Remember that if your staff will no longer be required to work in the office full-time, this may require you to change their contracts. See Changing or adding to staff contracts and for guidance. 

 

 

6. 1 July 2021: Employers to begin contributing towards the furlough grant

From 1 July 2021, employers will be expected to begin contributing towards furloughed workers’ wages for time spent not working. Whilst furloughed workers will continue to receive 80% of their usual wages for time spent on furlough, employers will be expected to contribute 10% (up to a cap of £312.50 per month). For further guidance, see out Q&A on the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme extension

 

 

7. 1 August 2021: Employers’ contribution towards the furlough grant increases

From 1 August 2021 until the furlough scheme ends on 30 September 2021, employers’ contribution towards furloughed workers’ wages for time spent not working will increase to 20% of usual wages (up to a cap of £625 per month). For further guidance, see out Q&A on the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme extension

 

 

8. 30 September 2021: Furlough scheme ends

The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme is due to finally come to an end on 30 September 2021. Ahead of this date, employers who have been relying on the furlough scheme will need to carry out longer-term workforce planning. This may mean potentially making difficult decisions about whether you can afford to keep all of their staff, or whether you need to make alternative arrangements eg:

  • Moving staff around within the business; 
  • Renegotiating staff contracts (eg to reduce pay and/or hours);
  • Making temporary lay-offs; or
  • Making redundancies (whether voluntary or otherwise). 

 

For guidance about your options if your business can no longer afford to keep all its staff, see Deciding to make redundancies. If you need to make an employee redundant, our Redundancy toolkit guides you through the process and provides relevant template documents that you’re likely to need to make sure you follow a fair and legally compliant procedure. 

 

The content in this article is up to date at the date of publishing. The information provided is intended only for information purposes, and is not for the purpose of providing legal advice. Sparqa Legal’s Terms of Use apply.