Firms tear up office return plans as PM extends Covid restrictions



Thousands of law firm employees in England face at least another four weeks of home working after the government called a halt to the easing of restrictions.

Prime minister Boris Johnson said existing coronavirus rules would stay in place for now amid rising numbers of cases of the Delta variant. The news will put paid to many firms’ plans to increase capacity in their offices this month.

It is expected that England will move to step four – effectively the end of social distancing rules – on 19 July, though the data will be reviewed after two weeks. Any move towards step four would be confirmed a week in advance.

The government’s update guidance largely keeps office workers in the same situation: those who can work from home should continue to do so.

The guidance adds: ‘Employers and employees should discuss their working arrangements, and employers should take every possible step to facilitate their employees working from home, including providing suitable IT and equipment to enable remote working.

‘Where people cannot work from home, employers should take steps to make their workplaces Covid-19 secure and help employees avoid busy times and routes on public transport.’

Several legal businesses have said in recent weeks that 21 June would mark an increase in the staff they allow into the office.

National firm Eversheds had planned to make office working optional from that date, while Irwin Mitchell had expected to be working at 50% capacity after next week. In April, magic circle firm Clifford Chance said it would begin a new policy from 21 June allowing staff to work from home up to 50% of the time, with its offices operating at half capacity.

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Full-time staff at City practice Fieldfisher were due to return to the office for three days a week from 21 June. Prior to the prime minister’s statement, the firm told the Gazette: ‘If the working from home guidelines are set to remain in place for the time being, we will amend our return to the office plans accordingly.

‘Our UK offices have been open with social distancing and rigorous infection control measures in place throughout the last lockdown for our staff to access the facilities if they need to. Many colleagues have been coming in out of choice and are free to continue doing so.’



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