Lockdown ends in tiers: key issues for employers


Lockdown ends on 2 December 2020 and will be replaced by a system of tiered restrictions across England.    Although there are three tiers, around 99% of England's population will be subject to tier 2 and 3 restrictions.  This is due to be reviewed on 16 December 2020. 

It has been confirmed that Greater London, the south and west of Essex and the south of Hertfordshire will be in Tier 3 from 16 December 2020, to be reviewed on 23 December 2020. 

The Government's summary of the restrictions is here.   They are expected to remain in force until the end of March 2021, despite progress in developing a vaccine. 

Key points for employers

Tier 2:   Retailers, leisure facilities and entertainment venues can open (but with capacity limits for events).  Schools and childcare settings remain open.   Pubs and bars must close unless operating as restaurants.  Restaurants and other hospitality venues can open but with table service only, can only serve alcohol with a substantial meal and must close by 11pm (with last orders at 10pm).  Households can mix in groups of up to 6, but outdoors only.  Everyone who can work from home should continue to do so. 

Tier 3:  As for Tier 2, but with takeaway service only from restaurants and cafes, closure of indoor entertainment venues, no outdoor mixing of households (with exceptions for support bubbles and similar) and cancellation of entertainment and sporting events. 

There will be a modest relaxation of the restrictions on household mixing over Christmas, but restrictions will be reinstated in the New Year. 

Who will feel the brunt?

Although the announcements will come as a welcome relief to retailers depending on a pre-Christmas rush to boost sales, they have been met with much more pessimism in the hospitality sector.  It appears likely that some businesses will not be able to survive financially and others will need to make substantial staffing cuts.

Next steps for employers

Many employers are likely to need to consider making redundancies.   Although the extended furlough scheme provides financial support for businesses and their staff, employer contributions are due to be reviewed in January and will likely increase from February.   Given the need to consult collectively where making 20 or more redundancies at one establishment within a 90 day period, employers will need to make decisions rapidly if they want to avoid the increased employer costs.  The added difficulties of consulting with staff over the Christmas period mean that consultations will need to begin shortly.   As ever with the COVID-19 pandemic, uncertain and difficult times lie ahead for many businesses. 

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