Govt sets out plans to lift last COVID restrictions

COVID-19 restrictions are to end in England on Monday 19th July, subject to a final review of the data next week. The delayed Step 4 of the government's roadmap out of lockdown is expected to bring an end to limits on social contact and guidance to work from home, allowing employers to start planning a safe return to workplaces.

All venues currently closed will be allowed to reopen, and there will no longer be a legal requirement for table service in hospitality settings.

Masks will no longer be mandatory, although they are advised in enclosed spaces and indoor settings, the virus having by no means disappeared.

Chairman of city law firm, DMH Stallard, Rustom Tata said employers can expect there to be an increase from staff querying the vaccination status of colleagues.

"With the relaxation of measures to prevent the spread of covid, many employers will be expecting their employees to return to the workplace on 19 July. They are likely to find reluctance to do so, particularly amongst staff who have not achieved maximum protection (two weeks after their second jab), and also from those who have been working remotely on a relatively satisfactory basis over the last 15 months.

"In terms of the contract, in most cases the place of work will be the employer’s premises, and yet in many cases that will have been implicitly varied by the conduct of the parties since March 2020. The question now is the extent to which the employee can refuse to return to the employer’s workplace. There is a risk that if they refuse to do so that they might not be paid, or might be subject to disciplinary action, including potential dismissal from employment.

"It isn’t yet clear what the prevailing government guidance will be regarding workplaces generally, but subject to that, employers will be expected to continue to provide a safe working environment. Employees can refuse to attend at work if they can show that they genuinely and reasonably believe that their personal safety is at risk if they attend.

"Some employers may well require all employees to be subject to a temperature test on entering the workplace.

"Employers can also expect there to be an increase from staff querying the vaccination status of colleagues. Perhaps the most difficult issue will be the potential ill feeling between different groups of staff, some feeling that their colleagues are lax in terms of hygiene management, and others who feel that there is a lot of fuss being made about the risks of covid transmission. As ever, we will find the conflict in wider society being played out in the local microcosm of the workplace."

CBI: Clarity needed on mask wearing

CBI director-general, Tony Danker welcomed the announcement, which he said would bring enormous relief for businesses. But, he said the Prime Minister's announcement lacked clarity on mask wearing and testing.

“Businesses welcome the reopening, which will provide huge relief for many firms who have struggled to stay afloat during the pandemic. Critical now will be to build both customer and employee confidence in living with the virus. This will require businesses to continue putting safety at the heart of their approach as they have since the start of the COVID crisis and government providing a vital role in supporting employers through guidance and advice.

“Firms will be placing a premium on close dialogue with their employees in boosting confidence and will be demonstrating to customers how they are reopening safely and with their interests at the forefront. Meanwhile, government and the Health & Safety Executive should continue to play a critical role in helping to inform good decision making and risk assessments.

“In the coming days we need government to put in place further measures to create this much-needed confidence. Knowing whether workplace testing will continue beyond July, gaining clarity on mask wearing for public transport and understanding how a role test and release scheme can support both domestic industry and our international travel sector can provide a further boost for firms as we all move from crisis to recovery.”

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