New COVID-19 Restrictions - Homeworking & Face Masks

By Andrew Willis
23 Sep 2020

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced new measures that are to be put into place. The one measure most people will be aware of is office workers in England should once again ‘work from home if they can’.

These restrictions could be needed for up to six months.

‘We always knew that, while we might have driven the virus into retreat, the prospect of a second wave was real,’ he told MPs. ‘And I am sorry to say that - as in Spain and France and many other countries - we have reached a perilous turning point.’

A month ago, on average around a thousand people across the UK were testing positive for coronavirus every day. The latest figure has almost quadrupled to 3,929. The number of new cases is growing fastest amongst those aged between 20 and 29. However, the evidence shows that the virus is spreading to other more vulnerable age groups.

On the advice of the four Chief Medical Officers, the UK’s COVID alert level has been raised from 3 to 4. The second most serious stage, meaning that transmission is high or rising exponentially.

New COVID restrictions - September 2020

Main points made by the Prime Minister

  1. The Government is not issuing a general instruction to stay at home.
  2. It will ensure that schools, colleges and universities stay open and that businesses can stay open in a COVID-compliant way.
  3. The Government is asking office workers who can work from home to do so.
  4. In key public services people should continue to attend their workplaces. This also applies to all professions where homeworking isn’t possible, including construction or retail.
  5. From 24 September, pubs, bars and restaurants must operate table-service only, except for takeaways.
  6. Together with all hospitality venues, they must close at 10pm (and that means closing, not calling for last orders).
  7. The requirement to wear face coverings will be extended to include staff in retail. It will also include users of taxis and private hire vehicles and staff and customers in indoor hospitality. The exception to this is when seated at a table to eat or drink.
  8. In retail, leisure, tourism and other sectors, the Government’s COVID-secure guidelines will become legal obligations. Businesses will be fined and could be closed if they breach these rules.
  9. From 28 September (Monday), a maximum of 15 people will be able to attend wedding ceremonies and receptions. 30 people can still attend a funeral as now.
  10. The ‘rule of six’ will be extended to all adult indoor team sports.
  11. Plans to reopen business conferences, exhibitions and large sporting events will now not go ahead from 1 October as previously suggested.

The news most organisations likely waited for was whether they still had discretion to ask staff to return to the office in England. It seems that the government have now reversed this guidance. Businesses are once again advised to let staff work from home if they can. The Prime Minister stressed that this does not apply to jobs where staff cannot work from home, such as retail. It does, however, mean that employers will now need to consider implementing a new or further period of homeworking.

This may be frustrating news for some businesses. This may be particularly hard if they’ve taken costly steps to make the workplace COVID-secure. However, you should bear in mind you have found ways to make this work during the initial lockdown months. Refer to your previous preparations when implementing a new period of homeworking. 

Guidance that has since been released that clarifies this in more detail. It states that office workers who can work effectively from home can do so. This is intended to be the advice until March 2021. The guidance goes on to state that where an employer, in consultation with their employee, judges an employee can carry out their normal duties from home they should do so.

In light of this development, employers should consult with their staff over working from home. Assess how well they can work efficiently from home and evidence this where possible. Staff may have worked from home previously due to lockdown. As a result, you should be able to call upon previous findings over how effective the arrangement was.

The Prime Minister also stressed that the measures he has announced all apply in England. However, the Devolved Administrations are taking similar steps. It should be remembered that guidance on working from home did not change in Scotland and Wales – it remains to work from home if possible.


A fine of up to £10,000 for those who fail to self-isolate has already been introduced and will now be applied to businesses breaking COVID rules. The penalty for failing to wear a mask or breaking the rule of six will now double to £200 for a first offence.

‘We will provide the police and local authorities with the extra funding they need,’ Mr Johnson said. ‘There will be a greater police presence on our streets and the option to draw on military support where required to free up the police.’

Expert support

If you need support based on the latest government guidance, speak to one of our HR or health & safety experts on 01455 858 132.

About the Author

Andrew Willis

Andrew Willis is the senior manager of the Litigation and Employment Department and assumes additional responsibility for managing Croner’s office based telephone HR advisory teams, who specialise in employment law, HR and commercial legal advice for small & large organisations across the United Kingdom.