New workplace guidelines released by the government just days before most of the remaining COVID rules were lifted in England have been criticized as a “recipe for chaos”.
Employers have been told they will no longer need to use social distancing as of Monday and that if possible, stop working from home, plan to gradually return over the summer.
However, the union federation TUC said the government had failed to provide the necessary clarity, while the directors’ institute said the guidelines had done little to dispel confusion among bosses.
The guide provides advice to employers in various sectors and stresses that they still need to âtake sensible steps to manage riskâ in the workplaces and places where they work.
For example, it tells night club operators to consider using the NHS COVID passport to reduce the risk of virus transmission.
There is now no legal requirement for face-covering in offices and shops, but the government “expects and recommends that people continue to wear face-covering in crowded, enclosed spaces”.
For services like beauticians and hairdressers, employers are told that they “may choose to ask customers or employees to wear face-covering, especially if doctors are performing treatments that involve being in close proximity to the face, mouth and nose” .
Cabinet Secretary Robert Jenrick defended the government against allegations that the new guidelines would throw companies into chaos.
“We released guidelines today … and the guidelines reflect the wide variety of businesses across the country,” the secretary for housing, community and local government told Sky News.
âWe say there will be some situations in which companies have the best of their ability to follow these guidelines.
“In my experience, having spoken to literally hundreds of companies over the past year, this is the kind of discretion they want – which reflects the fact that companies are in very different situations and have a unified approach – supported by the force of the law – does not make sense. “
Mr Jenrick said COVID restrictions are now âa matter of personal responsibility,â adding, âWe ask every citizen to be careful and make reasonable judgments about wearing masks when in close contact indoors, for example.
“And also for companies that are considering whether they want and need to apply these restrictions.”
However, TUC Secretary General Frances O’Grady described the new guidelines as “a recipe for chaos and rising infections”.
“Instead of providing clear and consistent guidelines for employee safety at work, the government is failing workers and employers,” she added.
Ms. O’Grady said the guidelines would “leave many employers with more questions than answers and worries about their liability if they do something wrong”.
She added that wearing face covers on public transport and in stores should remain a legal requirement. “It is not a question of ‘personal responsibility’ and should not be left to individual employers either.”
Roger Barker, Policy Director at the Institute of Directors, said, âLike everyone else, companies across the country have been waiting with bated breath for Freedom Day.
âInstead, we received a number of mixed messages and patchwork requests from the government that dampened that excitement.
âGo back to work or stay at home. Throw away your masks or keep wearing them.
“The government’s long-awaited instructions today have done little to dispel this confusion.”
Hannah Essex, Co-Executive Director of the British Chambers of Commerce, said, âMany companies will keep some of the measures that have come out over the past 12 months, including facial covering in certain circumstances.
âAlthough the government has lifted some specific legal restrictions … companies still have the overall responsibility to minimize the risk to their employees and customers.
âThis is why many are wondering whether they will be held liable if they make changes to the way they work after July 19th.
“Companies now only have five days to make this judgment and communicate it effectively to their employees and customers.”
The guidelines come two days after the government confirmed most COVID-19 restrictions will end on July 19 while it continues to urge caution – news that was criticized as “confusing and contradicting”.
Discrepancies are already emerging as the use of masks on public transport continues to be enforced in parts of England including London but bus and train operator Go-Ahead tells Sky News that it will not insist on facial covers for passengers unless ordered to do so.
Meanwhile, nightclub operator REKOM UK said it would not ask for vaccination records despite government encouragement.
But the bookstore chain Waterstones has said that given the “closed browsing environment” in their stores, they would encourage customers to wear face masks and maintain social distancing “to respect the safety of staff and other book lovers.”
And Sainsbury’s has announced that its stores will encourage customers to continue wearing face covers when they can starting Monday.
The supermarket said, âColleagues are also encouraged to wear face-covering unless they are behind a screen and the entire Sainsbury leadership team wears one when visiting stores.
âWhile wearing face-covering is becoming a personal choice, the decision to ask everyone in stores to keep wearing face-covering when they can reflects feedback from customers and colleagues, with the majority of respondents sticking to the policy would like to.”