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How soon can I return to work after the coronavirus lockdown?


With Britain in lockdown, many people are asking what comes next. A review of current procedures is set to happen in May, and some businesses are limbering up to return to partial operations.

But what is the protocol around work now, and just who is allowed to work? 

Who is currently encouraged to work?

At the moment, key workers are those encouraged to work by the Government, as they help society continue to function.

According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, there are 7.1 million key workers across Britain. Key workers are eligible for their children to attend a local school or nursery and encouraged to continue to use public transport systems in order to get to work. 

According to the Government list, NHS and social care staff are key workers, as are police officers, journalists, religious workers, those who work in delivery or supermarkets, emergency service workers, prison and probation staffers and transport workers. 

Which sectors can go back to work?

If your workplace has been closed by the Government, it cannot re-open until the Government has authorised its opening. However, if a business has not been specifically instructed to close, it is free to re-open “if it has worked out how to operate safely” according to Craig Beaumont, head of external affairs at the Federation of Small Businesses.

Restaurants that opt to open up in order to provide food delivery are an example of businesses safely re-opening. 

I’ve been furloughed; when can I return to work?

When you are able to return to work is dependent on your employer, who has applied for you to be furloughed. Edwin Morgan of the Institute of Directors explains that the minimum furlough period is three weeks. After an employee returns from furlough, they can be put back on furlough if it’s necessary (again, for a minimum of three weeks).

“Ideally, going forward we’d want the system to become more flexible, particularly when restrictions start to lift, so that businesses are able to respond more agilely to demand,” Morgan says.

Under the furlough system, which sees the government paying 80pc of wages up to £2,500 a month, workers are not allowed to undertake work for their company.

Are construction workers allowed to work?

Government guidance states that as long as work is done safely, it may continue. Additional guidance has been published by the Construction Leadership Council on how to carry out work safely.

Guidance from the London Mayor’s office is different, with City Hall saying that “The Mayor is clear that construction sites should stop work, unless the work is for safety purposes. If construction is taking place for safety purposes, it’s critical and it should carry on.”

Other workers such as plumbers and engineers are still allowed to complete work, as long as social distancing guidelines are followed. However, individual companies may be setting their own guidance on resuming work.


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