return to work covid-19 Image by Di Studio AdobeStock_332953331

Who is allowed to go to work?

The following sets out key frequently asked questions, listed by the government, on working during the coronavirus outbreak.

The government says that employers should make every effort to support working from home. Including by providing suitable IT and equipment as they have been already. This will apply to many different types of businesses, particularly those who typically would have worked in offices or online.

Where work can only be done in the workplace, the government said that it has set out tailored guidelines for employers to help protect their workforce and customers from coronavirus while still continuing to trade or getting their business back up and running.

There are detailed COVID-19 secure guidelines available here. They have been developed in consultation with businesses and trades unions.

These ‘back to work’ guidelines apply to those in essential retail like:

  • Supermarkets
  • Those in construction and manufacturing
  • Those working in labs and research facilities
  • Those administering takeaways and deliveries at restaurants and cafes
  • Tradesmen, cleaners and others who work in people’s homes
  • Those who are facilitating trade or transport goods
  • and so on

Non-essential retail, restaurants, pubs, bars, gyms and leisure centres will remain closed. They will reopen in a phased manner provided it is safe to do so.

There are specific guidelines for those who are vulnerable, shielding, or showing symptoms.

What is a critical worker?

Critical workers are those working in health and care and other essential services, who can still take their children to school or childcare and can use hotels and other accommodation services for work related purposes.

For example, if they can’t get home after a shift or need to isolate from their families. This critical worker definition does not affect whether or not you can travel to work. If you are not a critical worker, you may still travel to work provided if you cannot reasonably work from home.

What is meant by the phased approach?

Not all forms of work will return to normal at once. People will have to prepare for a new type of normal. Any changes are to be monitored to ensure that they do not increase the risk of infection and push the Reproductive value ‘R’ above 1.

‘R’ describes how many people on average will be infected for every one person who has COVID-19.

Will pubs/cinemas/hairdressers open in July?

The government has set out a roadmap which means some businesses (like pubs, cinemas or hairdressers) will not open until Step 3 is reached. The Government’s current planning assumption is that this step will be no earlier than 4 July.

When these businesses do reopen, they should also meet the COVID-19 secure guidelines.

What are the ‘COVID-Secure’ safety guidelines workplaces have to put in place?

The government has set out the steps businesses should take to ensure their workplaces are COVID-19 secure and give their staff the confidence to return back to work.

These include how to keep as many people as possible safely apart from those they do not live with in various workplace settings.

Do people need to wear face coverings at work?

Face coverings are not compulsory. However, if you can, people are advised to wear face coverings in enclosed public spaces where social distancing is not possible or where you are more likely to come into contact with people you do not normally meet.

For example, on public transport or in some shops.

Face coverings can help us protect each other and reduce the spread of the disease if you are suffering from coronavirus, but not showing symptoms. You should be prepared to remove your face covering if asked to do so by police officers and staff for the purposes of identification.

A face covering is not the same as the surgical masks or respirators used as part of personal protective equipment by healthcare and other workers. These should continue to be reserved for those who need them to protect against risks in their workplace such as health and care workers and those in industrial settings like those exposed to dust hazards.

Will a face covering stop me getting COVID-19?

The evidence suggests that face coverings can help us protect each other and reduce the spread of the disease if you are suffering from coronavirus, but not showing symptoms.

To protect yourself, you should continue to follow social distancing measures and isolation guidance and wash your hands regularly.

Workers’ rights

My employer is asking me to come to work but I’m scared

Employers and staff should discuss and agree working arrangements.

Employers should make all efforts to help people to work from home where they can. But where work cannot be done at home, employers should take clear, practical steps to help protect workers and create safe places to work, such as shift working or staggering processes.

To identify the precautions needed to manage risk, your employer should discuss the workplace risk assessment with you to identify the practical ways of managing those risks.

If you remain concerned that your employer is not taking all practical steps to promote social distancing then you can report this to your local authority or the Health and Safety Executive who can take a range of action, including where appropriate requiring your employer to take additional steps.

If you are concerned, refer to the “COVID-19 Secure” guidelines on how to make workplaces safe, which have been developed in consultation with over 200 business leaders and trades union organisations.

What if they try to fire me because I won’t go to work but cannot work at home?

Employers are urged to take socially responsible decisions and listen to the concerns of their staff. Employers and employees should come to a pragmatic agreement about their working arrangements.

If individuals need advice, they should approach ACAS where they can get impartial advice about work disputes.