What does the COVID-19 'lockdown' mean for UK employers?

Last night Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a complete nationwide lockdown, enforceable by law, to protect people from the coronavirus. Paul Holcroft of Croner explores some key questions for employers.

Coronavirus COVID-19 Lockdown UK

Do all employers have to shut their workplaces?

The businesses that need to close due to the coronavirus have been announced, and it is those considered non-essential by the government in tackling the coronavirus outbreak that have been told to shut.

You can find a full list of businesses and premises which must remain closed, including the exceptions, on the GOV website. Businesses which must close include:

  • Restaurants and cafes (food delivery and takeaway can remain open)
  • Public houses
  • Bars and nightclubs
  • Hair, beauty and nail salons
  • Libraries
  • Places of worship for services (excluding funerals where social distancing guidance is followed)
  • Cinemas, theatres and concert halls
  • Museums and galleries
  • Fitness studios, gyms, swimming pools or other indoor leisure centres
  • Arcades, bowling alleys, soft play centres and similar

All retail premises must also close with notable exceptions, including:

  • Supermarkets and other food shops
  • Health shops
  • Pharmacies including non-dispensing pharmacies
  • Petrol stations
  • Bicycle shops
  • Home and hardware shops
  • Laundrettes and dry cleaners
  • Garages
  • Car rentals
  • Pet shops
  • Corner shops and newsagents
  • Post offices
  • Banks

Can I expect employees who have roles they can do from home to still work?

Provided they can still conduct their role from home, and the business is still able to offer them work, staff can continue working as normal. This will mean that their usual entitlements to pay should also remain at this time.

Can I expect parents looking after children during a lockdown to work from home? If not, do I need to pay them?

When implementing a period of homeworking, there are several things to bear in mind. Firstly, the employee still needs to be able to conduct their role from home. If a business does not feel this will be possible due to their situation at home, such as having to care for small children, it may be advisable not to permit a homeworking period.

However, this should be assessed carefully. Just because an employee is also caring for children does not necessarily mean they will be unable to do their work. To this end, it is advisable to observe the arrangement and evaluate if it is working in practice. If not, it may be that the homeworking situation should not continue.

If they are unable to work from home, they will technically be considered laid-off. How they should be paid in this situation will depend on whether there is a specific lay-off clause in their contract. In the absence of this, the lay-off will need to be at full pay unless an alternative agreement can be reached with them. 

If parts of my workforce can’t work from home, do I still need to pay them?

Again, the staff in this situation will technically be laid-off. Employers should bear in mind that the government has recently announced the Job Retention Scheme, which aims to assist businesses in this situation.

Essentially, the Job Retention Scheme permits staff to be placed on furlough, meaning they are on a temporary leave of absence but are retained on the company’s books. Employers who do this will be able to obtain a grant from the government to cover 80 per cent of furloughed employees wages, up to a maximum of £2,500 per month.

How can I maintain a productive workforce if the whole office is working remotely for an extended period?

It is essential to keep up to date with what staff are doing during this period. Management should maintain regular contact with them and encourage group communication where possible. It is also advisable to set targets and ask for daily, weekly or monthly work logs to be filled in. In this way, managers can maintain awareness of what their staff are doing and ask for further clarity if specific tasks have not been completed.

About the author

Paul Holcroft is Associate Director at Croner, a consultancy for HR, health and safety and reward.

Find out more

Coronavirus (COVID-19): what you need to do (GOV.uk)

Job Retention Scheme (GOV.uk)

Common questions - Coronavirus (COVID-19) (NHS)

Image: Getty Images

Publication date: 24 March 2020

Any opinion expressed in this article is that of the author and the author alone, and does not necessarily represent that of The Gazette.