Stay at home measures – can employees travel to work?
On Monday the government announced stricter measures in an attempt to tackle the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. In his address to the nation, Boris Johnson said people will only be able to allowed to leave their homes for limited purposes, including shopping for necessities, exercise (once a day), medical needs and “travelling to and from work, but only where this is absolutely necessary and cannot be done from home”.
This created some confusion as it was unclear from this announcement whether it was the travel to work or work itself which needed to be “absolutely necessary”.
It is now clear employees can travel to work if they cannot work from home, regardless of whether or not their work is deemed “essential”. In its more detailed guidance, the government stated that individuals were permitted to leave home when “travelling to and from work, but only where this absolutely cannot be done from home”.
In a press conference yesterday, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock, confirmed that those who cannot work from home should go to work “to keep the country running”. He said that, on the whole, employers are being sensible and supportive, and that in many cases it was possible for the workplace to be organised in compliance with the social distancing rules. He gave the example of construction workers, confirming that this work can continue as long as workers can remain two metres apart at all times.
This approach has not been without criticism, with some questioning the logic of encouraging construction sites and factories producing non-essential items to remain open. It may therefore be that this position is revisited over the coming days or weeks.
For those with employees who cannot work from home, employers should be mindful of their general health and safety obligations towards their staff when deciding whether to require them to attend the workplace. In particular, they should consider whether they are able to provide a safe working environment which is compliant with the government’s general guidance on social distancing and hand washing. They should also make clear to staff what steps they are taking to support staff work safely and have systems in place for employees to raise concerns about their work environment.
Find all our Covid-19 related advice here.
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