Can my office stay open during the January 2021 lockdown?

Vicki Filson

Vicki Filby-Filson
Senior Consultant, Assurity Consulting
12th January 2021

You may only leave your home for work if you cannot reasonably work from home.

Where people cannot work from home they should continue to travel to their workplace. This includes, but is not limited to, people who work in:

  • critical national infrastructure
  • construction
  • manufacturing
  • childcare or education
  • essential public services’

Like in November this is fairly easy to justify for manual roles such as maintenance, construction, or in the case of Assurity Consulting conducting physical workplace inspections, sampling and testing. However, what about desk-based roles and offices?

In the latter part of 2020, we saw people return to offices, not in big numbers and for many not every day. As workplaces have become COVID-19 Secure, in addition to essential roles that were ineffective at home, this did include some who from a wellbeing perspective preferred the office, rather than home, as their workplace. So, does mental health or happiness remain a legitimate reason to attend the usual workplace or is it is for essential staff only? With the recent update, the prevailing message from Government is staying at home is the priority.

Businesses should support the national effort to minimise contacts in addition to minimising risk to their staff. Therefore, even where you can justify going to work if part of your business requires it, this does not mean that everything you do has to be done outside of the home. Risk is minimised by reducing contacts; therefore, staff should only leave home for the task that they cannot do from home. This is where your moral duty to health and safety as an employer comes in; it is not just about pushing the limits of what is legal.

It is also worth remembering that the lockdown rules have been put into law and that police could fine your staff if they are travelling for or commuting to work without reasonable reason. January tasks: 

  • Familiarise yourselves with the updated Government rules and the support they have available for your business and your staff;
  • Establish what the recent changes mean to your operations;
  • Review risk assessments for those who have reasonable excuse to work outside the home in line with your industry guidance, is the risk still justifiable?;
  • Revisit your home working arrangements;
  • Make sure that your employees feel supported and can raise concerns;
  • Support flexibility in working hours – it is significantly more pleasurable to go for a run or walk in the light at lunchtime than in the dark at 6pm (or not at all). Additionally, many of your staff will now be juggling their work with supporting their children to home school; and
  • Communicate change to your employees.

Please also see our other insights regarding home working and supporting mental health along with our white papers regarding considerations for empty or partially occupied premises here