Out-Law News | 25 Mar 2020 | 2:35 pm | 2 min. read
UK prime minister Boris Johnson put the UK into lockdown on Monday night when he announced that people must stay at home and away from others in all but the most limited of circumstances in order to reduce the spread of the coronavirus, officially Covid-19.
Following uncertainty within industry of whether that instruction applied to people working in manufacturing, manufacturing body the Society of Motor Manufacturers & Traders (SMMT) asked the government to clarify the matter. The government has now said that workers in manufacturering should go to work as normal where they cannot work from home and are fit to do so, while continuing to observe public health guidelines in relation to maintaining a distance of at least two metres from others and regular hand-washing.
"Employers and employees should discuss their working arrangements, and employers should take every possible step to facilitate their employees working from home, including providing suitable IT and equipment to enable remote working," according to Cabinet Office guidance.
"Sometimes this will not be possible, as not everyone can work from home. Certain jobs require people to travel to their place of work – for instance if they operate machinery, work in construction or manufacturing, or are delivering front line services. 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. This is consistent with advice from the chief medical officer," it said.
The clarification was welcomed by Nicole Livesey, a lawyer who specialises in advising manufacturers for Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.
"There has been much confusion over the past 48 hours as to whether or not manufacturing businesses should remain open if they provide non-essential products or services," Livesey said. "It is now clear that the government currently wants business to continue and so all manufacturers can remain open but should abide by the government guidance – people should work from home where possible and if they cannot, the public health guidelines should be followed."
"Clearly this may change if the current measures do not have the intended impact on limiting the spread of coronavirus and we can envisage a scenario where only those manufacturers providing, directly or indirectly, products or services into critical sectors – possibly based on the key worker guidance – can remain open," she said.
Certain employees of some manufacturing businesses will be classed as key workers, according to the government's definition of the term. For that to be the case, the workers need to work in one of the named critical sectors and, based on the employer’s business continuity arrangements, have a specific role which is necessary for the continuation of the essential public service. If people are key workers and are not able to care for children at home, then they are able to continue to place their children into schools or nurseries. Businesses may provide a letter to their relevant employees confirming that they consider them to be key workers, and state why.