Covid-19 – the latest guidance on office working

How to adhere to employers’ duties for return to work

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On 19 July 2021, the government lifted most of the legal Covid-19 restrictions in England. Its statement said that although cases are rising, and people can still catch and spread the virus even if fully vaccinated, we all have a personal responsibility and should use our judgement to manage and reduce the resurgence by taking appropriate steps.

The government is no longer instructing people to work from home; all businesses should follow the principles set out in the working safely guidance

Risk assessment

Employers still have a legal duty to manage risks to those affected by their business. You must still control the risks and review and update your risk assessment.

As part of your risk assessment, you must:

  • identify what work activity or situations might cause transmission of coronavirus (Covid-19)
  • think about who could be at risk – this could include workers, visitors, contractors and delivery drivers
  • decide how likely it is that someone could be exposed
  • identify the controls needed to reduce the risk.

If you have fewer than five employees you don't have to write anything down, but it might help if you doYou must also continue to consult your workforce on health and safety matters. Employers should think about reasonable adjustments under discrimination law.

Employers should consider:

  • using barriers or screens between people
  • staggering times people come into work or go home
  • organising meal or other breaks to avoid crowding
  • asking people to work side-by-side rather than face to face
  • grouping work teams so they consistently work together
  • using one-way systems through buildings.

The workplace controls such as adequate ventilation, sufficient cleaning and good hand hygiene remain unchanged.

Insurance cover

Employers should review and assess their insurance providers for any health and safety legal obligations, too. Insurers play a major role in helping organisations to protect against and manage health and safety risks by providing advice and guidance on assessing and managing risk and incentivising good behaviour.  

Insurers complement the regulatory system but are not themselves regulators ­– they deal with civil, not criminal liability.

Insurers have identified five key measures organisations can adopt to manage their health and safety risks effectively. These build on the HSE's regulations on the management of health and safety at work:

  1. Ensure senior management's commitment to and leadership on health and safety
  2. Obtain competent assistance
  3. Adopt a structured approach
  4. Complete suitable and sufficient risk assessments
  5. Foster a positive culture.

Read ACAS's guidance for employers.


Wales moved into alert level 1 from 17 July 2021. The rules in Wales are different from other parts of the UK. For more information, please visit the Welsh government's website

The Welsh government is still encouraging people to work from home where possible. However, people who are not able to work from home, but are able to work safely in their workplaces, can do so, provided their workplace is permitted to open.

The Welsh government's guidance to employers is that employees should not be required or placed under pressure to return to a workplace setting if there is not a clearly demonstrated business need for them to do so.

The coronavirus restrictions impose obligations on people responsible for premises where work takes place to take reasonable measures to minimise the risk of exposure to and the spread of coronavirus. 

Employers that are considering requiring their staff to return to workplace settings should first assess whether alternative arrangements could meet most of the employer’s needs. This should be discussed with staff or their representatives.

As an employer or business operator, you also have a legal responsibility to protect employees and contractors, and anyone else on the premises, from risk to their health and safety. This means you need to think about the risks they face and do everything reasonably practicable to minimise them, recognising you cannot eliminate the risk of Covid-19.

You must make sure that the risk assessment for your business addresses the risks of Covid-19, having regard to the regulations and the statutory guidance to inform your decisions and control measures.

From 7 August (if conditions allow), Wales will complete the move to alert level 0, which means:

  • removal of legal restrictions on the number of people who can meet indoors, including in private homes, public places or at events
  • all businesses and premises can open, including nightclubs
  • people should still work from home wherever possible
  • face coverings will remain a legal requirement indoors, with the exception of hospitality premises. This will be kept under review.


On 9 August, Scotland will lift most of the legal restrictions put in place for Covid-19, with some mitigations remaining. 

After 9 August, there is no longer any legal requirement for any business to remain closed.  A 'phased and limited' return to offices can be in place but the Scottish Government continues to advise home working where possible, recognising that some staff will start to return to offices in line with staff wellbeing discussions and business need.  

There is a longer-term recommendation from the Scottish Government that businesses move towards a hybrid model of home and office working.

Employers’ planning must be based around appropriate risk assessments and safe systems of work, emphasising protective baseline measures such as effective hand and respiratory hygiene, robust cleaning, face coverings where appropriate, and ensuring appropriate ventilation and outbreak management to manage and mitigate outbreaks in the workplace.

There is sector-specific guidance and general workplace guidance available on the Scottish Government website.

Useful resources

ACCA Professional insights report, Covid-19: The road to recovery?