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New tier system: what will it mean for employers?

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When England’s lockdown is lifted on 2 December, a new, more stringent regional ‘tier’ system will be introduced that will bring in different levels of restrictions that are designed to prevent the spread of Covid-19 based on the infection rate in different parts of the country.

While tighter than the previous tiered system, it should allow many businesses to re-open ahead of the festive season and, hopefully, recoup some of the revenues lost in what has traditionally been the most lucrative part of the year.

There are three tiers for local restrictions:

  • Tier 1: Medium
  • Tier 2: High
  • Tier 3: Very High

Employers can use the gov.uk postcode checker to check which restrictions apply to them.

Decisions on tiers are made based on public health recommendations informed by the following factors:

  • case detection rate (in all age groups and, in particular, among the over 60s)
  • how quickly case rates are rising or falling
  • Covid-19 positive tests in the general population
  • pressure on the NHS – including current and projected NHS capacity
  • local context and exceptional circumstances, such as a local but contained outbreak.

Health and social care secretary Matt Hancock said: “I know for those of you faced with tier 3 restrictions this will be a particularly difficult time but I want to reassure you that we’ll be supporting your areas with mass community testing and extra funding.

“By following the rules together we can get out of these tough measures.”

Which workplaces will be allowed to open?

Under all tiers, the following businesses and venues will be able to open, but they must follow Covid-secure guidelines:

  • essential and non-essential retail, including indoor and outdoor markets and car boot sales
  • certain leisure and sporting facilities such as gyms, sports courts and facilities, leisure centres, fitness and dance studios, golf courses, swimming pools, riding centres, outdoor playgrounds – subject to relevant social distancing in each tier. Indoor group activities and classes should not take place in tier 3
  • personal care and close contact services such as hairdressers and barbers, beauty salons, tattoo parlours, nail salons, spas and beauty services, massage parlours and tanning salons
  • public buildings, such as libraries, community centres and halls. In Tier 3 such venues should not host events for private hire, such as birthday parties or most other social activities
  • allotments, recycling and waste centres, public toilets, car parks
  • essential public services such as the NHS and medical services, courts, and Jobcentre Plus sites
  • places of worship

All hospitality businesses will be allowed to reopen but if they serve alcohol they must provide a table service only. They must close between 11pm and 5am and must stop taking orders at 10pm. Hospitality businesses selling food and drink for consumption off the premises can continue to do so after 10pm, as long as this is through delivery service, click-and-collect or drive-through.

Cinemas, theatres and concert halls can stay open beyond 11pm in order to conclude performances that start before 10pm.

Under Tier 2, pubs and bars must close, unless operating as restaurants or providing take-away or delivery.

Under Tier 3, a wider variety of businesses must close. These include all hospitality settings, including cafes and restaurants, unless for delivery or take away; accommodation such as hotels, B&Bs, campsites and guest houses; and indoor entertainment and tourist venues. Gyms and sports facilities can stay open, but group exercise classes must cease.

Can employees travel between tiers?

If an employee lives in an area under tighter restrictions than the area they work in, they may still travel for work or education purposes, as well as for several other essential reasons including medical treatment or because of caring responsibilities.

Should employees continue to work from home?

Government guidance around working from home if possible remains in place.

Where people cannot do so – including, but not limited to, people who work in critical national infrastructure, construction, or manufacturing – they should continue to travel to their workplace. Public-sector employees working in essential services, including education settings, should continue to go into work where necessary.

Can staff travel overseas?

Employees may travel abroad for work or leisure purposes, but must follow any quarantine restrictions in place upon their return. Requirements for each destination can be found via the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office website and the travel corridors list.

Is there a limit on the number of staff who can work?

Where work is being carried out, including charitable or volunteer work, the ‘rule of six’ gathering limit does not apply. However, workplaces must adhere to social distancing guidelines in order to remain Covid-secure.

Can staff still be furloughed?

The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme remains in place until 31 March 2021 and any employer that wishes to put some or all of its staff on furlough can do so and continue to claim 80% of their wages back from the government.

How will it affect my sector?

Education: Schools, colleges, universities and any other premises providing education can remain open under all three tiers.

Sport, gyms and leisure: Under Tier 1 organised outdoor sport, physical activity and exercise classes can continue, and organised indoor sport, physical activity and exercise classes can continue to take place if the rule of six is followed. Public attendance at spectator sport is limited to whichever is lower: 50% capacity or either 4,000 people outdoors or 1,000 people outdoors.

Under Tier 2 public attendance at spectator sport can resume inside and outside, subject to social contact rules and limited to whichever is lower: 50% capacity, or either 2,000 people outdoors or 1,000 people indoors. Organised outdoor sport, and physical activity and exercise classes can continue, but indoor activity will only be permitted if it is possible for people to avoid mixing with people they do not live with.

Under Tier 3 leisure and sports facilities may continue to stay open, but group exercise classes should cease. Saunas and steam rooms should close. There should be no public attendance at spectator sport and indoor activity should stop. Outdoor sports or exercise classes can continue but high-risk contact should be avoided.

Hairdressing, beauty salons, spas, massage parlours and tanning salons: These can stay open under all tiers.

Theatres, cinemas, casinos, concert halls, bowling alleys and other indoor leisure: Under Tier 1 these can stay open but must close at 11pm, unless a performance has started before 10pm. Public attendance is permitted at indoor and outdoor events but is limited to whichever is lower: 50% capacity, or either 4,000 people outdoors or 1,000 people indoors.

Under Tier 2 they can stay open until 11pm. Attendance is limited to 50% capacity or either 2,000 outdoors or 1,000 indoors.

Under Tier 3, all of these businesses must close.

Hospitality: Under Tier 1 all hospitality businesses are allowed to operate. If they serve alcohol they must provide a table service only. They must close between 11pm and 5am and must stop taking orders at 10pm. If they are selling food and drink to take away they can continue to do so after 10pm, as long as this is through delivery service, click-and-collect or drive-through.

Under Tier 2 pubs and bars must close, unless operating as restaurants or providing take away or delivery.

Under Tier 3 all hospitality venues must close.

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