Covid-19: Working in the office and the new 3-Tier system
Covid-19: office working and the new 3-Tier system
The government has introduced a new 3-Tier system of Covid-19 restrictions in England, Tier 2 of which will apply to London from midnight on Friday 16 October. What does this mean for businesses working from the office and holding internal and client meetings?
Can businesses continue to work from the office?
As of 22 September, following the publication of new government guidance, businesses have been advised that office workers who can effectively work from home should do so over the winter. The guidance continues to say that anyone else who cannot work from home may go to their place of work.
In practice it is for the employer, in consultation with their employees, to decide whether their normal working duties can be carried out from home or not. If employees are coming into the office, then it is critical that the business considers the risks to their employees and visitors, implements control measures and that extra consideration is given to those people at higher risk. Businesses should undertake and continue to monitor compliance with their Covid-secure risk assessments.
What do the Covid-19 tiers change for businesses coming to the office?
On 12 October, the government introduced a system of Local Covid Alert Levels. If your business operates in a Tier 1 area (Alert Level Medium), national restrictions continue to be in place. This means that you can continue to operate from the office in a Covid-19 secure manner. Some businesses remain closed in law. Where employees are attending the office, businesses should continue to follow social distancing rules, alert employees to avoid using public transport where they can and enable work from home where you can effectively do so.
Additional restrictions apply in Tier 2 areas (Alert Level High) and Tier 3 areas (Alert Level Very High). If your business operates in a Tier 2 area, which applies to London from midnight on 16 October, or a Tier 3 area, the restrictions for offices remain largely the same as for a Tier 1 area. The Government has not changed the Covid-secure office guidance in this regard.
However, there are some changes to be aware of. The new rules and Tiers place restrictions on gatherings in indoor and outdoor settings. Under Tier 1, the rule of six applies to gatherings. Under Tiers 2 and 3, those from different households are prevented from mixing indoors even in groups of less than six. However, these rules do not prevent attendance at work as the regulations permit gatherings which are “reasonably necessary” for work purposes. The Tier 2 and Tier 3 guidance also states that there is no limit to the group size when employees are meeting or gathering for work purposes. Employers will therefore need to assess whether gatherings/meetings are reasonably necessary for work purposes.
Can we have meetings with clients at the office?
Across the three Tiers meetings in offices can continue to take place for work purposes, taking into account Covid-19 implemented procedures and permitted travel in and out of higher risk areas, provided that the meeting is “reasonably necessary” as explained above. As such, internal work and client meetings can potentially still take place in-person in Covid-secure offices, subject to them being reasonably necessary. However, in areas in Tiers 2 and 3 entertaining clients at restaurants (and pubs, if allowed to open) is now not permitted by the regulations as they prohibit the mixing of households in indoor (non-work) settings.
Employees who need to self-isolate
By law, from 28 September employers must not knowingly require or encourage someone who is being required to self-isolate to come to work.
Clinically extremely vulnerable employees
The Government has also revised its shielding guidance for those who are extremely clinically extremely vulnerable. Click here for further information.
The above is a summary of recent government guidance and regulations. Please contact us for specific advice for your situation.
The articles published on this website, current at the date of publication, are for reference purposes only. They do not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Specific legal advice about your own circumstances should always be sought separately before taking any action.