Responding to the publication of Government guidance for businesses ahead of the full reopening of the economy, Hannah Essex, Co-Executive Director of the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), said it was important workers understood that July 19 would not see face coverings and hand sanitiser disappearing from all workplaces, businesses and venues.
“As the Prime Minister has said, the pandemic has not disappeared and businesses will need to continue to play their part in keeping their employees and customers safe.
“That means that although there may be changes, many businesses will be keeping in place some of the measures that have become familiar over the last 12 months, including face coverings in certain circumstances,” she said.
“Although the Government has removed some specific legal restrictions – such as mandatory face coverings in indoor settings – as the guidance makes clear, businesses still have an overall responsibility to minimise risk to their employees and customers.
“Therefore, many are asking questions about whether they will be held liable should they make changes to the way they operate from July 19.
“Companies now have just five days to make this judgement call and effectively communicate it to their staff and customers.
“This is a tight turnaround, but with cases continuing to rise, we hope the public will understand the need to stick to the Covid safety rules put in place at each individual location.”
On changes to the self-isolation rules, Essex said: “We are already seeing issues for businesses related to staff having to self-isolate with COVID, or as a close contact of someone who has tested positive, and some of our members are struggling to stay open as a result.
“Instances of self-isolation will almost certainly continue to rise between now and the change set for August 16, so firms need to know if there are any plans to help them cope in the intervening period, including any plans to roll out a ‘test and release’ process – allowing people to return to work more swiftly.”
On working from home, Essex said: “With so many businesses already experiencing staff shortages, due to employees contracting COVID or being forced to self-isolate, many will likely take a cautious approach even with the Government giving the green light for the return to the office. Our research shows many businesses are planning to keep at least some staff working remotely for at least the next year. But the capability to do this varies greatly across business types so it won’t be an option for everyone.”
On vaccine certification, Essex added: ”BCC research shows most firms previously had no plans to use vaccine certificates. Where they are being asked to use such a scheme then Government must set out the full rationale for the system, how this relates to employment law and anti-discrimination law and what the consequences will be for businesses who choose not to take this approach.”
On contingency plans for the future, she said: “Our research shows that almost two in five businesses cite concerns about possible future lockdowns as a barrier to restarting or returning to pre-pandemic levels. This rises to 50% for business-to-consumer facing firms such as hospitality and retail.
“To give firms the confidence to fully reopen the Government must set out contingency plans for any future virus response, the circumstances under which they would be used, and the support it would provide businesses impacted.”