Social Distancing - A Workers Q&A

The Prime Minister has given a clear instruction that the British people must stay at home, because the critical thing we must do is stop the disease spreading between households.

People will only be allowed to leave their home for very limited purposes. This includes travelling to and from work – but only where work cannot be done from home.

We recognise that certain jobs require people to travel to their place of work – for instance if they operate machinery, work in construction or are delivering front line services. 

If you absolutely cannot work from home then you can still travel to work, provided you are well and neither you nor any of your household are self-isolating. This is consistent with advice from the Chief Medical Officer (CMO). 

Employers who have people in their offices or onsite should ensure that employees are able to follow Public Health England guidelines.

Questions & Answers

Can you tell me clearly who is allowed to go to work?

With the exception of the closure of non-essential shops and public spaces, we have not required any other businesses to close – it is important for business to carry on.

Employers should take every possible step to facilitate their employees working from home, including providing suitable IT and equipment to enable remote working.

Sometimes this will not be possible – we understand that certain jobs require people to travel to their work, for instance if they operate machinery or are delivering front line services, such as train and bus drivers, those in the financial services sector, construction workers, restaurant workers handling deliveries or health and social care workers. 

So, if you cannot work from home then you can still travel to work, provided you are well and neither you nor any of your household are self-isolating.

Employers who have people in their offices or onsite should ensure that employees are able to follow Public Health England guidelines including, where possible, maintaining a 2 metre distance from others and washing their hands.

Are you allowed to leave home to look for work?

We have been clear that you can only leave home for one of four reasons shopping for basic necessities, exercise, medical/caring need and travelling to and from work, but only where this absolutely cannot be done from home. 

Looking for work does not fall into these categories. We would encourage people to use other ways to look for work, such as online, and for any interviews to be conducted over video call. 

EMPLOYER ACTIONS

What guidance is there for people in the workplace?

Employers should ensure that as far as possible employees are able to follow Public Health England guidelines, including maintaining a 2 metre distance in the workplace where possible and washing their hands with soap and water often for at least 20 seconds (using hand sanitiser gel if soap and water is not available).

My employer is asking me to come to work but I'm scared.

Employers and staff should discuss working arrangements and any concerns they have.

Employers must make all efforts to help people to work from home where possible, as this will help limit the spread of the virus by reducing the amount of contact between people.

In some circumstances this may be impossible – this would apply to those working for a business or organisation that we have not asked to close and requires them to travel and be at work, such as tube drivers, construction workers, restaurant workers handling deliveries or those on the frontline like NHS workers.

For these workers who need to be at work and are not vulnerable members of society, we have outlined clear guidance to help protect workers and create safe places to work [as above].

What if they try to fire me because I won’t go to work but cannot work at home?

In this unprecedented time, we would urge employers to take socially responsible decisions and listen to the concerns of their workforce. Employers and employees should come to a pragmatic agreement about these arrangements. If individuals need advice they should approach ACAS where they can get impartial advice about in work dispute.

What about if I cannot stay 2m away from others or my employer isn’t following the guidelines? How do I raise concerns about an employer who is not letting staff observe social distancing rules?

We encourage you to speak to your employer about any concerns you have and work with them to adhere to the guidance.

If individuals need advice they should approach ACAS where they can get impartial advice about in work disputes. 

What are my rights if I don't want to go to work because I’ve been told to stay at home, but can't work from home?

Employers and their employees should discuss their working arrangements. Employers must make all efforts to allow people to work from home.

Employers should be taking all efforts to allow people to work from home, but where this is impossible, employees are able to travel and be at work. – our clear message to stay at home where they can, will help lessen the risk for those who must go to work.

We encourage you to speak to your employer about any concerns you have and work with them to adhere to the guidance.

If individuals need advice they should approach ACAS where they can get impartial advice about in work disputes. 

Background: This could mean that an employer can take the necessary action against the employee if they have followed the appropriate guidelines but their employee refuses to work. This will be on a case by case basis. 

What are my rights if I can work from home, but my employer is telling me to come to work?

Our guidance is clear – employers must make all efforts to allow people to work from home. If employees can work from home, we urge employers to enable them to do so. We must all play our part to reduce the spread of the virus.

In this unprecedented time, we would urge employers to take socially responsible decisions and listen to the concerns of their workforce. Employers and employees should come to a pragmatic agreement about these arrangements. If individuals need advice they should approach ACAS where they can get impartial advice about in work disputes.

What about companies that are offering staff accommodation in skyscrapers? Should employees accept/should employers offer?

We’ve been clear that employers should carefully consider the guidance. It sets out that they should help their staff find alternative arrangements to support them working from their homes.

CONSTRUCTION

Why are you allowing builders to continue to go to work?

With the exception of the closure of non-essential shops and public spaces, we have not required any other businesses to close – it is important for business to carry on.

Employers should take every possible step to facilitate their employees working from home.

Sometimes this will not be possible – for instance if they operate machinery, work in construction or manufacturing, or are delivering front line services.

So, if you cannot work from home then you can still travel to work, provided you are well and neither you nor any of your household are self-isolating.

Construction should continue where it can happen in a way that follows PHE and industry guidance. 

The industry has also issued guidance on Site Operating Procedures through the Construction Leadership Council. Employers and employees in the construction industry should refer to PHE or CLC if they require further information.

Is it all builders or just those working on key sites?

Construction should continue where it can happen in a way that follows PHE and industry guidance.

However, we urge employers and individual employees to follow the government guidance and use their common sense. For example, if there are families or residents inside a building that’s being maintained or repaired then workers and residents should follow safe distancing practice. 

Will you stop work on major Government construction sites?

Work on major construction projects can continue, so long as employers comply with PHE guidance.

It’s important we closely monitor major construction projects and keep the situation under constant review, ensuring that building sites are in line with the government advice on managing Covid-19. 

TRADESMAN/PLUMBERS

Will plumbers/electricians etc still be able to go to work?

Yes, work carried out in people’s homes, for example by tradespeople carrying out repairs and maintenance, can continue. Again, it will be important to ensure that Public Health England guidelines, including maintaining a 2 metre distance, are followed to ensure everyone’s safety.

No work should ever be carried out by a tradesperson who has coronavirus symptoms, however mild.

Why - doesn’t this undermine the advice?

We’ve said that you are able to go to work if you absolutely have to, unless you are a vulnerable member of society, in which case we urge you to stay at home.

This is consistent with advice from the Chief Medical Officer (CMO).

Will a heating engineer be able to go into someone’s home to fix a broken boiler?

Yes, the public should take a sensible and measured approach to limit unnecessary visits for heating engineers, electricians plumbers and other such trades. 

How close should they get to the person in the house?

We recommend that they keep 2 metres apart at all times.

What about households of vulnerable people? Can people visit those?

No work should be carried out in any household which is isolating or where an individual is being shielded, unless it is to remedy a direct risk to the safety of the household, such as emergency plumbing or repairs, and where the tradesperson is willing to do so. In such cases, Public Health England can provide advice to tradespeople and households.

I need to have a phone line/satellite TV/broadband repaired or installed. Can an engineer do a call out?

We have been very clear that people should stay at home and work from home where possible. 

It’s therefore important that people who rely on WiFi to do their job can access a functioning broadband connection.

If they require an engineer call out to install or repair their broadband – then they should be able to do so. Likewise, where people lose TV or phone line access then they should be able to fix this.

However we urge engineers and residents to follow safe distancing practice inside the home at all times in the exceptional circumstance that their broadband, TV or phone line needs fixing. 

What about moving house? Are removal companies still allowed to function?

Where possible, moving house should be postponed to reduce the risk of spreading coronavirus. 

However, we understand that this may not be possible and so removals companies can continue to work.

It’s vital that you disinfect your house and belongings before removal companies can start packing in line with PHE guidance.

The number of people inside the house at any one time should be kept to a minimum, and workers and residents should follow safe distancing practice during the move.

What about vets?

Yes, vets can still travel to work but should observe social distancing in the work place as per the guidance.