New rules, guidance and job schemes have been unveiled as part of the government’s efforts to curb Covid-19. So how do they affect you? The rising rate of Covid-19 infections has meant that the UK government has backtracked on its previous advice to return to work. On Thursday, September 24th, prime minister Boris Johnson advised people in England to work from home where possible in a bid to tackle the increased rate of coronavirus cases. While Mr Johnson has stressed that this is not a return to a full lockdown as seen earlier in the year, it is recommended that those who are able to avoid their shared workplaces do so. Those who are unable to work from home, such as retail and construction workers, are encouraged to continue going in to work so long as their workplaces are Covid-secure. This advice follows on from the government’s scientific advisor and chief medical officer, Professor Chris Whitty, warning that mid-October could see 50,000 new coronavirus a day, as well as a further 200-plus deaths a day by mid-November if more wasn’t done to slow the spread of the virus. So what do you need to know about the latest guidance and restrictions? Going to work Those who cannot work from home are able to go into work, however, your employer must ensure that arrangements are made so you can work safely. This can include allowing you to travel to work when it is quieter if you use public transport, reducing face-to-face contact with the public and ensuring that the workplace adheres to social distancing. If your employer is failing to maintain a Covid-secure workplace, such as not promoting social distancing, you can report them to your local authority or to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). This can result in your employer being required to take additional steps to ensure workplace safety. Clinically vulnerable If you are classed as clinically vulnerable you are advised to work from home if you can. However, as the government says you no longer need to shield, you can return to work so long as your workplace is Covid-secure. In the instance that you’re not able to work from home, your employer should ensure that you are offered the safest available roles at work. This is to allow you to maintain social distancing and may mean that you are moved to a different role or that your work pattern is altered temporarily. The government has further advice available for those who are classed as clinically extremely vulnerable. Concerned about working If you do not want to return to work due to safety concerns, your employer doesn’t have to pay you. However, you may be able to come to an agreement with your employer so you are still being paid while not working. Furlough is still an option up until October 31st, so you can ask your employer if they would consider furloughing you. This will mean that you will be paid 80% of your usual wage up to a maximum of £2,500 per month. You can only be furloughed if: You were previously furloughed for at least three weeks before July 1st. You are returning to work from maternity, paternity, adoption, shared parental or parental bereavement leave. However, if you are returning from an eligible type of leave, you can only be furloughed if your employer previously used the scheme to furlough other employees before July 1st. If you are already furloughed, you can ask if your employer will keep you on the scheme until it ends. In the instance that furlough is not an option, you can ask: To take paid time off by using some of your annual leave. For a wage advance or loan, with an agreement in place to pay the loan back through future wages. To take unpaid parental leave if you look after children. You can contact Citizens Advice if you need help understanding what your options are or if you need to negotiate with your employer. Face coverings Wearing facemasks on public transport has been compulsory, unless medically exempt, since June 15th. It has also been compulsory to wear them as a customer in shops since July 24th, with people able to be fined £100 for failing to do so. However, new rules are now in place that cover more workplaces. As of Tuesday, September 22nd, face-covering rules have been extended to cover more places of work. While you don’t need to wear them in an office environment – as social distancing should be in place – people working in retail and hospitality will be required to wear face masks, as well as customers. If you are eating in a restaurant, cafe or pub, face coverings must be worn unless you are sitting down to eat or drink. Face coverings are also now mandatory if you are boarding an aircraft or getting a taxi. Failing to wear a face-covering where it is required – unless you are medically exempt – could now result in a find of £200; double the previous fine amount. Furlough scheme The current furlough scheme is set to end on October 31st, to be replaced by the newly-announced Job Support Scheme. According to chancellor Risi Sunak, the new scheme is part of a wider economy plan for the winter months and is designed to only support “viable jobs” rather than those jobs that only still exist because the government has been subsidising wages. While the previous furlough scheme saw the government cover 80% of people’s standard monthly salary, the Job Support Scheme will only cover 22%, being capped at £697.92 a month rather than £2,500. The new scheme will see the government subsidise the pay of staff who can work at least a third of their usual hours, with employers paying staff for the hours they do work. For those who are still unable to work, their employer and the government will each cover a third of the lost wages. All small and medium-sized businesses will be eligible and large businesses will only be eligible if they can demonstrate that their turnover has fallen during the Covid-19 pandemic. Employers will be able to use the scheme even if they haven’t previously utilised the furlough scheme. This scheme will run for six months from November 1st and will go alongside the Job Retention bonus that sees the government pay £1,000 for every furloughed employee who returns to work until the end of January.