“You must stay at home. The single most important action we can all take is to stay at home to protect the NHS and save lives.” This is the opening sentence from the official Government guidance on the new UK lockdown.
On Monday 5th January it was announced that the UK would yet again be placed into a national lockdown – with people ordered to stay at home if possible.
The guidance goes on to detail exactly when you may be allowed to leave your home – these include to:
- shop for basic necessities, for you or a vulnerable person
- go to work, or provide voluntary or charitable services, if you cannot reasonably do so from home
- exercise with your household (or support bubble) or one other person, this should be limited to once per day, and you should not travel outside your local area.
- meet your support bubble or childcare bubble where necessary, but only if you are legally permitted to form one
- seek medical assistance or avoid injury, illness or risk of harm (including domestic abuse)
- attend education or childcare – for those eligible
The guidance further explains that, like the previous lockdown in March 2020, if you are clinically extremely vulnerable you should only go out for medical appointments, exercise or if it is essential – and most notably you should not attend work.
The key part of the guidance for both employers and employees will be the provisions for working from home. The guidance states that you may only leave your home for work if you cannot reasonably work from home.
Where people cannot work from home they should continue to travel to their workplace. This includes, but is not limited to, people who work in:
- critical national infrastructure
- childcare or education
- essential public services
Employers and employees should discuss their working arrangements, and employers should take every possible step to facilitate their employees working from home, including providing suitable IT and equipment to enable remote working. Where people cannot work from home, employers should take steps to help employees avoid busy times and routes on public transport.
Furthermore, colleges, primary and secondary schools will remain open only for vulnerable children and the children of critical workers. All other children will learn remotely until February half term. Early years settings remain open and Higher Education provision will remain online until mid-February for all except future critical worker courses. The fact that schools went to remote learning with little to no warning could also pose difficulties for those employees who may now be trying to organise last minute childcare. It will therefore be essential that employers discuss any arrangements with their employees – which may involve allowing people to take Dependent’s Leave.
Also, the HMRC has updated its guidance to state that employers can (not must) furlough employees whose health has been affected by COVID-19 or any other conditions, including if they are unable to work from home, or working reduced hours, because they:
- are clinically extremely vulnerable, or at the highest risk of severe illness from coronavirus and following public health guidance
- have caring responsibilities resulting from COVID-19, such as caring for children who are at home as a result of school and childcare facilities closing, or caring for a vulnerable individual in their household.
This resolves an area of uncertainty, making it clear that parents who stay at home to look after school-age children are eligible for furlough.