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Employment law for employees & Employment law for employers

Coronavirus – Answering the question ‘Can you go to work today?’

From ‘do I really need to go to the shops just to get milk?’ to ‘should I go for a jog now or save my only outside trip for later?’, the Covid-19 pandemic has infiltrated all the daily decisions we used to make without thinking. But one vital question at the forefront of the British workforce’s minds is ‘can I go to work today?’.

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The answer is not necessarily a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’; it could well be ‘maybe’. Government advice is constantly changing and we are left with what we describe as a ‘semi-lockdown’. Increasingly other countries are going into full lockdown. For example, India went into full lockdown on 24 March with all its 1.3 billion people subject to a total ban on leaving home.

Government guidance currently sets out that if it is possible to work from home, you must do so. Working from home is no longer an option, it’s an order for anyone who possibly can. If this order is not complied with and you go to work without a very good reason, then you could be fined. Going to work is permitted if it is necessary, in which case it would be sensible to avoid public transport – walk, cycle or drive instead to keep yourself and others safe.

The decision of whether to go to work is not, at the moment, dependent on the type of work or if the individual is a key worker, the decision is based on whether the work can or cannot be done from home. The key workers list seems to be more about whether your children can still attend school. If you must go to work, you must stay two metres away from your colleagues. This is a decision employers and workers must make for themselves and will need to be assessed on a case-by-case basis. In our view, the government will likely have very little patience for those arguing that they must be at work to access hard-copy documents, or work with colleagues or clients in person.

An absolute necessity must go further, where the job actively involves being outside the home – nursing, construction, transport workers and emergency services seem to fit the definition, as it stands.

Taking a ‘big picture’ view, we do not think this will be an issue for long. We predict that it’s only a matter of time before a full lockdown is implemented here. By ‘full lockdown’ we mean a situation in which only key workers can go to work, and that list will be very limited. For example, Spain previously implemented a similar policy to the one we have but has tightened its lockdown and banned all but essential construction work. In the UK that could mean construction on domestic homes stopping but work to transform venues such as Excel Centre into field hospitals continuing.

Click here for our flow chart advising you on what to do if your workplace remains open.

If you still have any questions about whether you or your staff should be going to work, please contact our Coronavirus Employment Advice Helpline and we can help you decide and what options may be open to you and your business.

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Kathryn Burke

Trainee Solicitor

kathryn.burke@collyerbristow.com