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Updated government guidelines on coronavirus: here’s what they mean for your business

4-minute read

Sam Bromley

18 May 2020

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The government has eased some lockdown measures and set out its plan to restart the economy. Here’s what the guidelines mean for your business.

The plan includes details on the separate phases and the “roadmap to lift restrictions step-by-step”.

What does a ‘phased recovery’ mean for businesses?

The government has said that we’re currently exiting the first ‘phase’ of its response. The next phases are designed to minimise the risk of infection and ensure that businesses have enough time to prepare to run their businesses as safely as possible.

  • Phase two involves gradually replacing “the existing social restrictions with smarter measures”
  • Phase three involves developing reliable treatments to reduce the virus to manageable levels

We’re in phase two, which involves moving through certain steps with strict conditions for completing each one. This is important for businesses that have been forced to close, because the steps reached during phase two will dictate which ones can open their doors.

The government has confirmed that we are reaching step two of the second phase, which means non-essential retail can start reopening on 15 June – as long as the conditions remain appropriate.

Shops, stores and branches need to be aware of (and follow) the Covid-19-secure guidelines before they reopen. Remaining businesses like pubs, restaurants, cinemas and hairdressers need to stay closed until July at the earliest, when we reach step three.

The guidance remains the same, regardless of whether your business can open or not – if you can run your business from home, the government says you should take all reasonable steps to do so. But if the work has to be done from the workplace, then you’re able to go to work.

All businesses (open or not) need to follow the relevant guidelines to keep their workplace safe.

What is ‘essential retail’?

Businesses in ‘essential retail’ include:

  • supermarkets
  • those in construction and manufacturing
  • those working in labs and research facilities
  • those administering takeaways and deliveries at restaurants and cafes
  • tradesmen, cleaners and others who work in people’s homes
  • those who are facilitating trade or transport goods
  • and so on

What is ‘non-essential retail’?

Non-essential retail includes businesses like clothes stores and homeware retailers. The government says these businesses should be able to open when we reach step two (the government has now confirmed these businesses can open from 15 June).

Following that, the government plans to open “at least some” of the remaining businesses that have been required to close in step three. These include businesses in the hospitality industry (like pubs, cinemas, and restaurants), and businesses that offer personal care (like hairdressers and beauty salons). The government expects this step to start no earlier than 4 July.

Coronavirus guidelines for businesses going to work

The Covid-19 secure guidelines explain how to manage risk, who should go to work, and how to minimise the risk of Covid-19 in your workplace. There are different guidelines for:

You can read all of the different guidelines at gov.uk.

Has the government announced any further financial support for businesses?

The government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) is designed to protect jobs that would otherwise be lost due to the coronavirus pandemic. On 12 May, the Chancellor announced that the scheme would be extended until October, with additional flexibility being introduced in August. This flexibility will allow employees to return to work part-time, with employers paying a percentage towards their salary.

And the Self-Employed Income Support Scheme (SEISS) opened on 13 May, which was earlier than expected. This scheme pays self-employed sole traders and those in partnerships 80 per cent of their average trading profits over the last three years, or up to £2,500 a month.

Read more about the government’s support for businesses.

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What should I do if I have employees?

Can my employees come to work?

If you can run your business from home, you should take all reasonable steps to do so. This includes providing suitable IT and equipment for your employees.

For businesses in ‘essential retail’ where work can only be done in the workplace, you should refer to the Covid-19 secure guidelines to minimise the risk of infection.

In general, you should:

  • carry out a Covid-19 risk assessment and consult staff and trade unions, as applicable
  • apply two-metre social distancing where possible
  • if you can’t apply two-metre social distancing, you should minimise the risk of infection where possible (you could do this by using barriers and shields in shared spaces, or making sure employees face away from each other)

Are my employees critical workers?

Critical workers can “still take their children to school or childcare and can use hotels and other accommodation services for work related purposes”. Critical workers are those in:

  • health and social care
  • education and childcare
  • key public services
  • local and national government
  • food and other necessary goods
  • public safety and national security
  • transport
  • utilities, communication and financial services

The government notes that the definition of a critical worker doesn’t affect who should and shouldn’t go into work.

Do your employees need to wear masks?

While face coverings aren’t compulsory, the government is advising people to wear face coverings in enclosed public spaces amongst people you don’t ordinarily meet with – for example public transport and some shops.

There will be further information for specific industries in the Covid-19 secure guidelines.

What if my employees are afraid to come into work?

As mentioned, you and your employees should be working from home if work can be done from home. But if your employees can’t work from home and they’re afraid to go into work, then you should discuss working arrangements.

Steps you might be able to take include introducing shift work or staggering processes. You can also talk to your employees about the risk assessments you’ve completed, to help reduce concerns.

The government says you should be making socially responsible decisions and accommodating staff wherever possible. If employees feel their employer isn’t doing this, the government advises them to speak to Acas for impartial advice.

We’ve based this information on the government guidance available at gov.uk. Please use this article as a guide only. As a small business owner, it’s important to research the available information and take the appropriate steps specific to your business.

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We create this content for general information purposes and it should not be taken as advice. Always take professional advice. Read our full disclaimer

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