Coronavirus UK: ‘Employers can decide if staff should return to work’

Security Minister James Brokenshire said employers should decide if staff should go back to work (Picture: Sky News;Getty; EPA)

Government messaging on whether people should return to the office and other works spaces has been thrown into confusion after a minister said it was for employers to decide.

James Brokenshire said government advice, which is to work from home where possible, has not changed. However, he said employers should be having discussions with staff about making the workplace safe and that people should go back to work if they can do so.

He told Sky News: ‘The approach that we have taken was that it is for employers to decide, obviously if people can return to an office space or environment or their place of work, then that’s a positive step and a matter for employers to discuss with their employees and therefore the preparations they put in place around all of that. ‘

The security minister suggested this had always been the case, saying: ‘I don’t think there is a change of emphasis in that way’. He hinted that the advice may be updated later today, when Boris Johnson sets out the next phase of his roadmap for lifting lockdown.

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Mr Brokenshire said: ‘You will need to hear what the PM says on that in the roadmap a little later, but the emphasis that’s been given is on safety, on working with employers, and if people can get back to work and obviously employers are assessing that is the right thing to do, then obviously people can do so.’

It is thought that the prime minister will tell people to go back to work when he sets out his nine-month plan to get the UK back to normal later today.

It is unclear if the stay at home advice will be ditched or if employers will be told to decide at their discretion. The government was accused of ‘shirking responsibility’ by leaving it down to employers to decide if it was safe to go back to work on BBC Breakfast this morning, where James Brokenshire faced another grilling over mixed messages.

Mr Johnson said in an online question and answer session today: ‘I want people to go back to work as carefully as possible. It’s very important that people should be going back to work if they can now.

19/06/20 Pictured: some People on the jubilee line this morning chose not to wear masks Caption: Some people wear face masks but some have chosen not to on the London underground this morning. Since Monday it is the law that face coverings have to be worn on public transport

Boris Johnson is expected to set out plans for people returning to work and using public transport later today
(Picture Nick Edwards)

‘I think everybody has sort of taken the ‘stay at home if you can’ – I think we should now say, well, ‘Go back to work if you can’.

‘Because I think it’s very important that people should try to lead their lives more normally.

‘I want to see more people feeling confident to use the shops, use the restaurants, and get back into work – but only if we all follow the guidance.’

August, which is typically quiet due to the summer holidays, has been marked as a good time to set these plans into motion.

Mr Johnson will also reveal details on using public transport safely, including advising people to avoid travelling during the peak rush hour of 7am to 9am – particularly in London. Workers will be encouraged to drive, walk and cycle where possible and only use buses and trains between 9am and 4pm, and after 8pm

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