When can I go back to the office? Latest government guidance and social distancing measures you’ll have to follow in the workplace
Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced several changes to current lockdown restrictions following the government’s latest review on 23 June.
The changes, which include plans to allow family visits overnight, the reopening of businesses, and a reduction of the 2m social distancing rule, will take effect in England from Saturday 4 July.
But what do the latest rules mean for office workers? Here’s everything you need to know.
When can office workers return to workplaces?
Since lockdown was imposed in March, the UK Government has advised people to work from home, rather than their usual workplace, wherever possible.
This guidance has not yet changed, with home working still being recommended above a return to offices.
Employers have been advised to decide, in consultation with their workers, whether it is viable for them to continue working from home. In cases where it is decided workers should come into their place of work, businesses need to take steps to manage the risk of transmission first.
There are no restrictions on the type of offices that are allowed to open for staff who cannot work from home, providing social distancing can be observed and the workplace meets the government’s Covid-secure guidelines.
What safety measures need to be in place?
Every company in England that is returning to work has a legal duty to carry out a Covid-19 risk assessment if it has more than five employees. This assessment must be done in consultation with unions or workers.
Failure to complete a risk assessment which takes account of coronavirus, or completing an assessment and failing to put in place sufficient safety measures on place, could constitute a breach of health and safety law.
To help minimise the risk of virus transmission in the workplace, offices must follow these government guidelines:
- Ensure workers who feel unwell stay at home and do not enter the workplace
- Increase the frequency of handwashing and surface cleaning
- Make every reasonable effort to comply with the government social distancing guidelines of keeping people two metres apart, or one metre with mitigation where two metres is not possible. Mitigating actions could include:
- Further increasing the frequency of hand washing and surface cleaning
- Keeping the activity time involved as short as possible
- Using screens or barriers to separate people from each other
- Using back-to-back or side-to-side working, rather than face-to-face, whenever possible
- Introducing one-way systems and staggered arrival times
- Reducing the number of people each person has contact with by using ‘fixed teams or partnering’, meaning each person only works with a few others
If people must work face-to-face for a sustained period with more than a small group of fixed partners, companies will need to assess whether the activity can be conducted safely.
Companies have also been advised to pay particular regard to whether staff members are especially vulnerable to coronavirus, and if it would be safe for them to return to the workplace.
Will workers have to stay two metres apart?
One of the key changes announced by Mr Johnson at the last review was the change to the two metre social distancing rule.
As of 4 July, where a social distance of two metres cannot be applied it will instead be replaced with a distance of “one metre-plus”.
However, employers are still being advised to make “every reasonable effort” to space workers two metres apart at all times.
In situations where this is not possible, the distance will be reduced to one metre-plus, with mitigating measures such as face masks and protective screens used to help minimise the risk of transmission.
Have any companies returned to offices?
Some companies across the UK have already started a phased return of a small number of their workers, who have felt comfortable to head back to the workplace.
These include Deloitte, Barclays, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs and law firm CMS.
However, with the government still advising people to work from home wherever possible, many companies have yet to announce plans to welcome staff back to workplaces.
Transport also plays a factor in the return to offices, with the government advising to avoid use of public transport where possible.
Public transport is also not yet running at full capacity, meaning the return of all staff to office is still unfeasible at present.