Going to work is one of only four reasons why people can leave their homes under the unprecedented crackdown on freedom of movement unveiled by Boris Johnson on Monday. However, the Prime Minister made clear in his address to the nation from 10 Downing Street that people should not travel to work unless it was absolutely necessary.
Allied to this, the Government published a list of businesses which legally had to close "due to the threat to public health" including all pubs, bars, nightclubs, hotels, cafes, restaurants and workplace canteens apart from takeaways or cafes in hospitals and other institutions. Only supermarkets and other food shops, health shops, chemists including non-dispensing pharmacies, petrol stations, bicycle shops, home and hardware shops, launderettes and dry cleaners, bicycle shops, garages, car rentals, pet shops, corner shops, newsagents, post offices, and banks were allowed to stay open.
Any business opening or operating in contravention of the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Business Closures) Regulations 2020 will be committing an offence. However, questions remained about whether staff could refuse to work if their employer was on the list of businesses which can remain open and whether staff had to work from home or could be asked to come to their workplace.
Who decides who can work from home?
People should use their common sense in deciding whether they should leave home to go to work. Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, said that "the advice is crystal clear - you should stay at home" unless you had one of the key reasons to go out: exercise, shopping, for medical need or to do work that work cannot be done at home.
What should staff do if they have to go to work?
The Government wants company managers to think of different ways to encourage staff to do their work by minimising social distancing. Jenny Harries, the deputy chief medical officer, said people should try to practice "safe distancing at work" if they are required to be in the office, describing it as a "commonsense principle". She said: "We are encouraging our employers to think really carefully about how they can innovate in the way their staff are working and if they do need to be in the office just to spread people around."
A Number 10 spokesman said: “Guidance in relation to anybody who fears that they may have symptoms or anybody in their house might have symptoms - they should remain at home. We need people to stay at home as ultimately that will save lives."
Should staff refuse to go to work if they are worried about coronavirus?
The advice from the Government is to raise any concerns about their place of work with managers. Ms Harries said: "If people don't feel safe in their work environment they should always raise those concerns.
"The majority of employers are being really sensible and supportive and there has been huge support for staff and the population in general." Ms Harries said that the Government could "not individually cover every single scenario whether it is in the workplace or in the family. It is back to applying the principles. If individuals can work safely they can keep a distance apart".
Can I leave home to find a job?
The guidance is silent on whether people can leave home to look for a job. However, a Downing Street source said that people should try to look for a job online rather than head outside. The source said that employers should be "flexible wherever possible and be prepared to conduct an interview online, over the phone, or via Skype". The key issue was to adhere to the rule to stay two metres or six feet apart.
Why are construction workers still allowed to go to work?
The Government's position is that building sites should remain open if workers can stay six feet apart. Fresh guidance was also issued by the Construction Industry Council on Tuesday. Number 10 said on Tuesday that construction sites “should continue where it can happen in a way that follows Public Health England and industry guidance".
A statement read: "We urge employers to use their common sense when managing live projects and ensuring that employees can follow government guidance and practice safe social distancing on site." However there was some confusion, with Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish First minister, telling buildings sites to close. Sadiq Khan, the London Mayor, claimed on Tuesday that he was "overruled by the Prime Minister who doesn’t believe that construction workers should be at home" when he asked to close sites.
Why are London Underground trains in the Capital running with overcrowded carriages?
Transport for London has cut the number of London Underground trains running through the capital due to staff shortages. However, congestion has been caused by builders heading to work at the same time as health workers and other key workers are heading to work, as well as fewer trains. One idea could be for building sites to start work later to avoid the early morning overcrowding. Number 10 said Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister, pressed Mr Khan - who chairs Transport for London - on Tuesday on the issue of “reduced services on the Tube and its impact on people trying to get to work”. Further talks were held on Tuesday between Mr Khan and Grant Shapps, the Transport secretary, to make sure “appropriate timetabling is in place to ensure that it is safe for those who need to get to work because they cannot do this from home”, 10 Downing Street said.