Coronavirus: What is an essential worker and what is the government advice on which businesses should close?

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Coronavirus: What is an essential worker and what is the government advice on which businesses should close?

Ever since the government announced further restrictions on Monday evening, there has been a lot of confusion about what businesses should remain open, who should be going to work and what constitutes an “essential worker”.

People have been conflicted between adhering to the government’s advice for everyone to stay at home and equally trying to maintain business continuity, or in the case of employees, being told to continue to go to work by their employer.

The advice was set out again by Matt Hancock, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care in last night’s BBC Briefing who reiterated we are all advised to stay at home unless we have 1 of the 4 reasons to leave:

  • to shop for food (as little as you have to),
  • for exercise,
  • for medical reasons, or
  • to go to work.

Elaborating on the ambiguous final point, the Secretary of State was clear that we should only go in to work “where the work cannot be done at home”. This was demonstrated by the role of key workers which is “vital in the effort to tackle coronavirus”. What this actually means for some is still, unfortunately, less clear.

A list of businesses have been told directly to close over the past few days, including gyms, restaurants, bars and non-essential shops, and more have been added to that list by the government this morning, including more detail on the exceptions that are allowed to remain operational. The current list is available here:

There are many businesses which do not fall into those categories and it has been confirmed by the government that it is not an exhaustive list.

Employers who do need to have people in their offices or onsite should ensure that employees are applying the early principles of maintaining a 2-metre distance from others and regular and thorough hand washing. The duty is on the employer to enforce these principles.

These principles are applied to manufacturing and construction workers as many businesses in these industries remain open because this work cannot be carried out from home. On the contrary, some have already taken the decision to close. There are also numerous occupations where employees do not have to physically be at work, so the Government is encouraging employers to innovate in the way their staff are working.

The rule is to “stay at home unless there is a good reason to leave” and this is a rule which will be enforced. Fines can be imposed starting at £30 and increasing to an indefinite amount. The government has confirmed it will enforce against those businesses told to close which have not done so.

If people are continuing to go to work and do not feel safe in the employment environment, they are told to raise these concerns strongly with their employer. Employers are urged to apply common sense principles in their decisions. The various measures and financial support being offered by the government to businesses and their employees is undoubtedly intended to encourage employers to prioritise a collaborative effort to reduce the spread of coronavirus and to support our NHS.

For further advice on any of these issues, please email to be directed to the relevant department.

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