As infection rates of the Omicron COVID-19 variant rise across the UK, the Government has…
On 19 July the majority of the remaining Coronavirus pandemic restrictions will end in England, with a similar reduction of measures in Wales and Scotland.
Commonly being referred to as Freedom Day, this final step in reopening the economy will see many of the rules placed upon businesses removed.
Instead, the Government has decided to make many of the previous measures voluntary, therefore, shifting much of the responsibility onto individuals and employers.
What rules are changing?
The relaxation of the rules from 19 July differs slightly in each nation of the United Kingdom, but in England, the following measures will change:
- There will no longer be any limits on how many people can meet
- Social distancing is no longer required, except in some places like hospitals and border control
- Masks and face coverings are no longer a legal requirement
- Night clubs can reopen
- Restaurants and pubs are no longer required to only offer table service
- No limits on visitors to concerts, theatres or indoor events, including business conferences
- Fully vaccinated adults in the UK will no longer have to quarantine for 10 days after returning from nations on the amber list
- Under-18s won’t need to quarantine
- Double-vaccinated adults do not need to self-isolate if they simply come in contact with someone who later tests positive (if they test positive themselves then they must self-isolate).
Although not enforced, the Government also recommends that people try to meet outside instead of indoors, where possible, and it is encouraging the continued use of face masks in crowded public settings.
The day will also mark the end of the ‘work from home’ recommendations made by the Government, however, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has called for businesses to attempt a “gradual return” to the workplace, where possible (although this will not be legally binding).
Employers have many important obligations when it comes to the health and safety of their staff and visitors to their place of business.
This means that whilst the rules have changed, they must still meet these important responsibilities.
Under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, employers must ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare of all their employees at work.
As a result of this requirement, where employers decide to remove the requirement to wear a mask in the workplace, reduce social distancing or remove screens they could potentially breach their duties as it may lead to an increased risk of transmission of COVID-19.
This duty is also extended to employees, who must take reasonable care for their health and safety and that of anyone who may be affected by their acts or omissions while at work.
Beyond these legal obligations, some employers may face challenges from staff and visitors over policy changes which they should be prepared for.
With the new rules focusing on the responsibilities of individuals and businesses, instead of a set of legally enforceable regulations, there is not a single approach for managing the workplace post-Freedom Day.
The steps that businesses decide to take will likely depend on how they operate, the risks to employees and staff and commercial considerations.
With this in mind, employers should:
- Conduct a fresh risk assessment of their business in light of the new rules
- Ensure that all reasonable steps have been taken to protect the health and safety of those entering the workplace, including visitors and customers/clients
- Review whether employees need to return to the workplace full time or can continue to work remotely, or flexibly
- Communicate all new policies and procedures with employees and customers/clients
- Continue to monitor risks within the business, taking into consideration changes to the rate of infection
- Offer support to staff who continue to work from home, including supporting their well being
- Support staff returning from home working or furlough with additional training if necessary.
The list of things for businesses to consider could be exhaustive, but they should focus on the points highlighted above to ensure they meet their legal obligations.
Are there any financial implications to Freedom Day?
Although there aren’t any specific rules regarding financial elements of running a business, the 19 July does mark a turning point for many companies.
For those in the hardest-hit industries, such as travel, leisure, hospitality and entertainment, the relaxing of rules is likely to be celebrated as it will allow revenues to rise once again.
However, the changes also come at a time when many of the Coronavirus financial support mechanisms are being whittled away.
The Government has begun to wind down the furlough scheme by increasing employer contributions, reduced the lower threshold for Stamp Duty Land Tax and is tapering away business rates relief.
Many businesses are also having to contend with the repayment of loans, deferred VAT and tax.
Here to help
As the pandemic restrictions draw to a close, we just wanted to reassure you that our experienced team are standing by to support you.
Throughout lockdown, we have proudly worked with a wide range of businesses to overcome difficult and complex issues and our commitment remains the same as the UK looks to rebuild and recover.
If you need advice or would like to discuss your plans for the future, please contact us.