The new Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Steps) (England) Regulations 2021 set out the new rules in England for the gradual easing of lockdown, following the government's roadmap. England is currently in step one, in which there is no longer a mandatory stay-at-home order but significant restrictions on people and businesses remain. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are also easing their respective lockdown rules, but this article discusses the rules in England.
From an employment law perspective, individuals are no longer subject to a mandatory legal requirement to work from home where possible. For businesses that were permitted to remain open during lockdown, there was never an associated express legal requirement to enforce home working, but this was recommended. Despite the change to the COVID-19 restrictions, the updated government guidance still says that people should continue to work from home where they can and that employers should take every possible step to facilitate their employees working from home.
Home working cannot be enforced via the new regulations (and there was little, if any, evidence that it was being enforced before). Nonetheless, given the ongoing pandemic, businesses should carefully consider if home working is still possible before requiring employees to return to the office. Workplaces that are open should have up-to-date risk assessments covering COVID-19, and should comply with government COVID-19-secure guidelines. Additional caution should be taken in regard to clinically vulnerable employees, despite formal shielding having ended on 31 March 2021.
Please speak to your usual Baker McKenzie contact if you would like advice on bringing employees back to the workplace.