As coronavirus continues to dominate our lives, what have we learned of late regarding the government’s plans to ease the ‘lockdown’ and other COVID-related matters?
An end to ‘working from home’?
Many of us had hoped that almost all current COVID-19 restrictions, including the requirement to work from home, would be removed on 21 June 2021. Unfortunately, fears over the Delta variant and the prospect of a ‘third wave’ put paid to that idea.
Having patiently waited another month, can we now definitely expect employers to be free to invite workers back to the office from 19 July 2021? Well, Boris Johnson’s announcement from Downing Street on 12 July 2021 certainly seems to suggest this is the case. However, most employers are likely to adopt a relatively cautious approach. It may be a case of gradually inviting people to spend more and more time in the office. Furthermore, various measures aimed at reducing the risk of transmission (e.g. social distancing, screens, masks, good hand hygiene etc) may still have an important role to play for some time yet.
A few words on furlough
With the extension of coronavirus restrictions by another month (and the prospect that many businesses will feel the effects of the pandemic for a long time to come), you could be forgiven for assuming that the furlough scheme would automatically be extended in an effort to provide ongoing assistance to those who need it. After all, the scheme has been a lifeline for many businesses and whilst many fewer workers are furloughed now than previously, some 1.5m people are still benefiting from its support. However, as things stand, it looks fairly certain that the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) will permanently close its doors at the end of September 2021, as previously planned.
Employers who still have employees on furlough (including flexi-furlough) also need to bear in mind that with effect from 1 July 2021, the level of support provided by the government has begun to taper off. So, whilst employees will continue to be entitled to 80% of pay when furloughed (subject to the relevant cap), the government will now only cover 70% of the cost. And from 1 August 2021 to the end of September 2021, the government contribution will reduce again to 60%.
As a result of the reduction in and ultimate removal of the support provided by the CJRS, we all have to be prepared for a potential rise in the number of redundancies over the coming months.
On a slightly different subject, the TUC has recently called for ‘long COVID’ to be categorised as a disability for the purposes of the Equality Act 2010. Normally, for a disabled person to benefit from the protection of the Equality Act 2010, they must have a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities. By ‘long-term’ we mean a condition that has lasted or is likely to last 12 months or more. Some conditions, such as cancer and multiple sclerosis, are deemed to be disabilities, regardless of their actual effect. So, could ‘long COVID’ be added to this list?
We would be surprised if the government heeds the TUC’s calls, but if you would like to read more about their campaign, here’s a link to the TUC website: