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Government lockdown easing measures give employers ‘more discretion’

UK prime minster Boris Johnson

Employers can exercise “more discretion” over their employees' return to work as part of a conditional schedule for the further easing of COVID-19 lockdown restrictions in England.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson stopped short of delivering a “back to work” directive, but said that a change of stance on the return to work legislations would be introduced from August 1.

A possible October return of conferences was also announced alongside plans to re-start sporting events in stadiums from October 1 under the new plans.

Local authorities, meanwhile, will be handed greater powers to contain outbreaks - similar to that experienced in Leicester - in their areas from tomorrow.

In a public address this lunch time (July 17), Johnson said: “Even as we plan for the worst, I think we should hope for the best.”

The Prime Minister said that, nationally, the COVID-19 infection rate remains at 0.7 to 0.9 – below the Government’s self-imposed ceiling of ‘1’ – and the number of patients admitted to hospital with the virus had declined by over 90% since the pandemic’s peak in mid-April.

Yesterday, Vertu Motors chief executive, Robert Forrester, urged the Government to change its stance on the UK’s return to work to “Get to Work if you can”.

However, Johnson said: “From August 1 we will update the advice on going to work. Instead of Government telling people to work from home, we’re going to give employers more discretion and ask them to make decisions on how their staff can work safely.”

Johnson said that this could mean continuing to work from home, but added that it could mean “making ourselves safe by following COVID guidelines”.

He said that employers should only ask employees to return to work “if it is safe to do so”.

August 1 will also bring about the re-opening of more leisure settings in England, including bowling alleys. Soft play centres and night clubs will remain closed, however.

Johnson said that it was possible the COVID-19 virus could become more virulent as winter approaches, with more people potentially requiring tests due to symptoms shared with common seasonal illnesses.

As a result, it has targeted the provision of 500,000 daily COVID tests across the UK by the end of October.

Commenting on Government’s change of message regarding home working, Nic Redfern, finance director of KnowYourMoney.co.uk, said: “Offering a blueprint is a decent starting point for UK businesses – but we really do have to appreciate the size of this task.

“The transition back to office working will never be a case of one-size-fits-all; a strategy for the Civil Service, for example, certainly wouldn’t work for a small high street accountancy firm.

“Social distancing will likely be at the forefront of many strategies. While this may seem simple enough, different businesses will have different concerns; what happens if the office is too small to practice social distancing? Can they afford to update their health and safety equipment or introduce regular intensive cleaning sessions to the workplace? It is no wonder that many businesses will likely continue to work remotely indefinitely. 

“The Government has offered some outlines. Business leaders now need to develop a strategy that best suits the needs of the business and their staff.

For now, it is vital they speak with their staff about how they feel about returning to work - some might be eager to no longer work from home, while others will be anxious about transitioning back to office life. Plans must be put in place that respect these different opinions.”

Earlier this week MHA MacIntyre Hudson highlighted the fact that car retail and motor repair businesses remained among the largest volume of claimants for the Government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS).

According to Government data, 176,100 businesses classified under the ‘Wholesale and retail; repair of motor vehicles’ definition were claiming the funding as of June 30, with a total cost of £5.27 billion.

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