Returning to work after lockdown

Updated as of 12 May 2020

The Government has published a range of measures and recommendations to support employers re-opening their workplaces after the lockdown and to facilitate employees returning to work.

Return to work

On 10th May 2020 the Prime Minister announced a “change of emphasis” in terms of actively encouraging employees to return to their normal place of work, and identified the manufacturing and construction sectors as examples.

On 11th May the Government published its “Our plan to rebuild” guidance document, which expanded this message on these lines:

  • Employees should continue to work from home rather than their normal physical workplace, wherever possible, for the foreseeable future.
  • All employees who cannot work from home should travel to work if their workplace is open.
  • As soon as practicable, workplaces should follow the new “COVID-19 Secure” guidelines.
  • Anyone with coronavirus symptoms, however mild, or in a household where someone has symptoms, should not leave their house to go to work.

The implication that employees should return to their workplaces before employers had put measures in place to comply with the new workplace guidance understandably generated considerable concern. Employers are strongly advised to undertake thorough Covid-19 risk assessments and implement appropriate safety arrangements, in compliance with the workplace guidance, before they can reasonably expect their employees to come back into the workplace.

The clarity of the Government’s guidance was complicated by the advice, elsewhere in the same document, that employees should avoid using public transport as a means to travel to work, as well as the uncertainty left about the position of employees who cannot currently return to work because of their childcare responsibilities.


Workplace guidance

On 11th May the Government published detailed sector guidance to assist employers in maintaining workplaces secure from Covid-19 risks;

There are eight guides covering different categories of work environment, for example:

  • construction and other outdoor work
  • factories, plants and warehouses
  • offices and contact centres
  • shops and branches.

Each of the guides is structured around the following framework:

  • carrying out a Covid-19 risk assessment, and sharing this risk assessment with employees
  • identifying who should come on-site into the workplace – including protection for people at high-risk and those who need to self-isolate
  • social distancing at work – maintaining the 2 metre rule wherever possible, including on arrival and departure, and while travelling between sites
  • managing customers, visitors and contractors
  • cleaning the workplace
  • personal protective equipment (PPE) and face coverings. The guidance advises that, with some exceptions such as clinical settings, additional PPE is not beneficial as a means to manage Covid-19 risk, but face coverings may be marginally beneficial as a precautionary measure.
  • workforce management – covering the organisation of shift patterns and working groups, the management of work-related travel, and communications and training
  • handling of inbound and outbound goods.

It is important for businesses to consider these recommendations in the wider context of their statutory duties and responsibilities as employers under health and safety legislation, such as the duty to provide and maintain a working environment which is safe, free of risks to health and with adequate provision of welfare facilities and arrangements.


Extension of the furlough scheme

On 12th May the Chancellor announced a further extension to the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme until the end of October 2020.

The scheme will continue unchanged until the end of July 2020. From August there will be greater flexibility in the scheme, which will support businesses in bringing back furloughed employees to work part-time. For example a full-time employee might be able to return to work two days a week, with their wage costs for these days met by the employer, and with the furlough scheme in effect providing their income for two days.

Employers will also start having to share the costs of paying the salaries of furloughed employees, with employees continuing to receive the same level of overall support as now, at 80% of wages subject to the limit of £2,500 per month. The extent of this employer contribution to furlough costs is not yet known, although it has been reported that the level of Government support will fall from 80% to 60% with employers required to make up the 20% difference.

Full details of these changes to the furlough scheme are due to be published by the end of May 2020.


Please contact our Employment team for advice and support on any of these issues or if you have any queries.