Beyond Level Zero - what next for employers in Scotland?

In this article, we discuss the next steps and useful resources for employers in Scotland as restrictions ease

06 August 2021

Next steps and resources for employers in Scotland as restrictions ease

The vaccination programme is continuing across Scotland and restrictions are set to relax, presenting another change in circumstances for employers and employees. The First Minister has confirmed that Scotland will move beyond level 0 and drop most major legal COVID restrictions on 9 August 2021.

Although the Scottish Government continues to advise home working where possible, they have confirmed that, from 9 August, a gradual return to offices can begin in line with staff wellbeing discussions and business need. However, it is expected that baseline risk measures will continue to be necessary and home working will continue to be an important mitigation for controlling the virus. Businesses have been asked to continue to support employees to work from home, where possible and in consultation with employees.

The Scottish Government has also encouraged employers to consider a hybrid model of home and office working for the longer term.

Governing principles

The following principles, developed by the Scottish Chambers of Commerce in conjunction with trade unions and other trade organisations, should be applied:

  • the health and safety of employees and customers remains a priority for businesses throughout levels 0 to 4 and beyond
  • businesses are encouraged to work with employees and trade unions to consider flexible working arrangements in their own contexts
  • a phased and co-ordinated approach should be considered to support the re-opening of offices to support employee wellbeing and economic recovery
  • a wide variety of models of working should continue to be promoted with businesses considering the unique situation for their staff e.g. hybrid models of office based and home working.

Planning for a return

Businesses planning for restrictions easing should document the steps they are taking. They should ensure that their plans are 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, ensuring appropriate ventilation and outbreak management to manage and mitigate outbreaks in the workplace.

The COVID-19 compliance self-assessment tool can support employers to assess the effectiveness of COVID-19 control measures within the workplace.

For employees attending the office, free lateral flow home test kits are available for pick up from all local walk-through or drive-through test sites in Scotland and can also be ordered online or collected from local pharmacies for people to test themselves twice-weekly.

Free LFD tests are available for food production and processing businesses with over 25 employees to run routine staff testing. The Scottish government has published guidance for employers considering or already running asymptomatic workforce testing programmes. The guidance highlights that employers should consider, amongst other things, that there are appropriate facilities to carry out the tests.

From 9 August, the rules on self-isolation will change. If an adult is double-vaccinated, with at least two weeks since the second dose, and has no symptoms, their self-isolation can end if they take a PCR test and the PCR test is negative. PCR results come back quickly which will greatly reduce the amount of time that people will need to spend in self-isolation, which will also minimise business disruption for businesses whose employees or workers are unable to work from home.

The First Minister’s statement on 3 August 2021 outlined further details on the baseline measures which will remain in place after 9 August, including the law that face coverings must be worn in indoor public places and on public transport and that Test & Protect will continue to contact-trace positive cases.

Training for staff

Employers should consider whether training should be arranged for employees on COVID-19 safety, in particular refresher training on baseline measures may be required in preparation for re-opening. Additional training is anticipated to be created, following the success of the SportScotland training modules.

Additional resources

The Government has published general guidance for workplaces, which can be considered alongside any sector specific guidance.

The Health and Safety Executive has also published useful guidance on what to include in a COVID-19 risk assessment which can be used alongside the Scottish Government’s self-assessment tool mentioned above.

For assessing those in higher risk groups, employers should refer to the individual occupational risk assessment guidance.

The COVID-19 ventilation guidance contains advice on how to ensure premises are properly ventilated. 

Next steps

Whilst most major legal COVID restrictions will cease on 9 August 2021, some protections will remain in place, notably that face coverings must be worn in all the same indoor settings as is the case now.

The Scottish Government website will continue to be updated with public health guidance on the changes being implemented. The Scottish Government has stated it will engage with businesses to ensure guidance on the return to the office is as clear and simple as possible.

As part of the Scottish Government’s next steps, a 10-year National Strategy for Economic Transformation will be launched to set out steps to deliver a green economic future and create a Council for Economic Transformation to shape the strategy for this future. The National Transition Training Fund is also set to provide up to £20m to enable people to retrain, particularly in sectors badly affected by the pandemic.

If you have any questions about how these developments (or any other COVID-19 measures) will affect your business, please contact Katie Russell or anyone in the Burges Salmon Employment team, who would be happy to advise you.

This guidance notes gives general information only and is not intended to be an exhaustive statement of the law. Although we have taken care over the information, you should not rely on it as legal advice. We do not accept any liability to anyone who does rely on its content.

Key contact

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Katie Russell Partner

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