Businesses will still be allowed “more discretion” on whether to make employees return to work from next week, Boris Johnson confirmed today, despite delaying the easing of lockdown for many leisure activities.
However, the Prime Minister insisted that if employers did not make sure their workplaces were safe they could face legal punishment.
“If employers don’t keep their workplaces Covid-secure then that’s a matter that can be enforced in law”, he said.
“We will come down hard on people who are not doing the right thing”, he said, when asked about people who might be apprehensive about returning to the office as cases rise.
“I want to see people discussing with their employers, whether they can work from home, because a lot of people can. A lot of people discover that it does work.
“But if employers think and employees think that you actually need to get in to be productive, and you need to be at your place of work then that’s a very very important consideration.
“And if it is safe to get into a Covid-secure workplace, and people should understand that, and that is our guidance”, he reiterated.
Johnson’s comments came as he hit the brakes on easing the lockdown for “higher risk” settings including sports venues, casinos, leisure centres and weddings, following a sharp spike in coronavirus cases.
The PM said plans to reopen venues tomorrow will now pause until at least 15 August.
Speaking alongside Johnson, chief medical officer Chris Whitty said that it was likely that the UK had reached the limits of how much of society and the economy it could open without causing infections to rise.
“We all know that what we have to try and do is to get to the absolute edge of what we can do in terms of opening up society and the economy without getting to the point where the virus starts to take off again,” he said.
“We have probably reached near the limits, or the limits, of what we can do in terms of opening up society.”
Andrew Secker, employment lawyer and partner at law firm Mills & Reeve, said that businesses would need to have a clear plan in the event of a second lockdown.
“Employers need to be both flexible and to have a clear plan, being able to react and communicate what changes it needs to make, temporarily or permanently, and consider how to obtain agreement from employees where necessary”, he said.
Those who repeat mistakes from the first lockdown will find employees far less forgiving and far less accommodating.”