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COVID-19: Restrictions further eased for businesses in England

This week sees restrictions further eased for businesses and individuals in England, as the government opted to stick to its planned roadmap out of lockdown, despite fresh concerns over COVID variants.

Indoor entertainment and attractions such as cinemas, theatres, concert halls, bowling alleys, casinos, amusement arcades, museums and children’s indoor play areas are permitted to open with COVID-secure measures in place. People may now attend indoor and outdoor events, including live performances, sporting events and business events. Indoor hospitality venues such as restaurants, pubs, bars and cafes may also reopen.

From 21st June at the earliest, and assuming the success of this latest step, the government said it hopes to be in a position to remove all legal limits on social contact, as well as rules on social distancing and face coverings.

It will be at this point that guidance for businesses on working from home will be announced.

“Even for those returning to the office, we still await the government guidelines on social distancing within the office, and as now, employers will need to ensure that they provide a safe environment for their workers. The one caveat, is that a ‘safe’ environment is not the same as one which is wholly risk-free,” commented Rustom Tata, partner at law firm DMH Stallard and head of the firm’s employment group.

“Most employees will want to return, partly as they have missed the office environment, and they won’t want to be left behind. However, those employers who are simply saying that they expect office life to how it was before, will be either taking a calculated risk, or may be unaware of the potential challenges that they face.”

Tata says employers don’t have an absolute “unfettered right” to require employees to return to the office.

“With so much of the working population still not having had the opportunity to be vaccinated and the relative uncertainty of the effectiveness of the vaccine in terms of reducing the rate of transmission, it would be a bold employer who just presses ahead regardless with a requirement for everyone to return to the office.

“While many organisations are gearing up to return to the office over the next few weeks, the key will be for the employer to listen to the employee’s concerns to establish whether the employee has a good, objective reason for resisting.”

Prior to 21st June, those that can work from home should continue to do so.

New rules from 17th May 2021 (Source: UK Government)

Indoor entertainment and attractions such as cinemas, theatres, concert halls, bowling alleys, casinos, amusement arcades, museums and children’s indoor play areas are permitted to open with COVID-secure measures in place.

People can attend indoor and outdoor events, including live performances, sporting events and business events. Attendance at these events is capped according to venue type, and attendees should follow the COVID-secure measures set out by those venues.

Indoor hospitality venues such as restaurants, pubs, bars and cafes can reopen.

Organised indoor sport can take place for all. This includes gym classes. It must be organised by a business, charity or public body and the organiser must take reasonable measures to reduce the risk of transmission.

All holiday accommodation can open, including hotels and B&Bs. This can be used by groups of up to 6 or 2 households (each household can include a support bubble, if eligible).

New guidance on meeting friends and family emphasises personal responsibility rather than government rules. Instead of instructing people to stay 2m apart from anyone they don’t live with, they are encouraged to exercise caution and consider the guidance on risks associated with COVID-19 and actions they can take to help keep themselves and others safe. The risks of close contact may be greater for some people than others and in some settings and circumstances, there will be specific guidance that people will need to follow even when with friends and family.

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