Work, Social Distancing and the Prime Minister’s Statement – FAQs

Work and social distancing - FAQs

Update: Friday 03 July

On Monday 23rd March the Prime Minister made a statement about the Government’s restrictions on everyone’s movements during the outbreak of Coronavirus.

This introduced the idea of social distancing, and required us all to keep at least 2m away from everyone outside of our immediate household whenever we leave our homes.

From Monday 4th July, the UK Government policy has changed to “1m plus”. This allows employers to reduce the social distancing to 1m, so long as a range of measures is in place to mitigate risk.

GMB endorsed the principles behind social distancing and urged everyone to follow Government advice. Hundreds of thousands of GMB members are engaged in the frontline of the fight against the virus. We owe it to all of them and everyone else working on the frontline to stay at home so we don’t spread the virus even more.

We have severe reservations about the move to “1m plus”, and believe that wherever possible employers should be maintaining the 2m distance. We are clear that, whilst some jobs cannot be performed at a 2m distance, most can, and the further people are from each other, the less the risk of transmission of Covid.

A number of employers kept their workplaces open and many more will be reopening on 4th July.  

GMB is receiving many questions from members about whether or not they should be going to work. We are clear that nothing has fundamentally changed, and that where workers can work from home they should continue to do so.

Where they must return to work, risk assessments must be in place and protective measures implemented before the return to work; and PPE must be provided, especially when the “1m plus” approach is being taken. More information on risk assessment and PPE can be found elsewhere in the Coronavirus Hub.


My employer is refusing to allow me to work from home even though I know it is perfectly possible for this to happen

Your employer is directly ignoring Government advice that everyone who can work from home should do so. Take this up with your employer and enlist the help of your GMB workplace rep if they continue to refuse to allow it. Your employer is placing you and everyone around you at unnecessary risk if you can work at home but are not being permitted to do so.

You can find the Government advice here

My employer is carrying on with pretty much business as usual. Staff are being called in and we are continuing to work as if nothing has happened

Your employer must ensure that the requirements of social distancing are adhered to as far as they possibly can, and that the work is risk assessed (see our separate guidance here). Every employer must assess the risk of COVID exposure and enact the requirements of government advice. Talk to your GMB workplace rep or Officer if you are being compelled to go to work and your employer is not adequately protecting you.

I have been contacted by the NHS and told I am at risk due to a pre-existing health condition. Should I go to work?

No – you should be at home until you are advised that you no longer need to shield. For England, Northern Ireland and Scotland, this will usually be 31st July when shielding is paused. In Wales it is 16th August. This covers all workplaces.

The definition of “at risk” can be found in the link below.

Vulnerable workers (defined as anyone who is required to have an annual flu jab on health grounds – see https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-guidance-on-social-distancing-and-for-vulnerable-people/guidance-on-social-distancing-for-everyone-in-the-uk-and-protecting-older-people-and-vulnerable-adults) should have individual risk assessments, in consultation with occupational health professional if they have underlying health conditions. They may need to be redeployed away from working directly with the public, or be provided with personal protective equipment for their job role.


I am a key worker and live with an at risk person

There should be a risk assessment carried out by your employer that is specific to you and your circumstances and appropriate measures implemented to protect you from becoming infected and/or passing on the virus. GMB believes that those at most of infection living with an at risk person should be provided with free temporary accommodation should they choose to take it.

My boss is claiming that my work is essential but I don’t agree with that decision

The Government has issued guidance on which workplaces have to close – if your workplace is one of these then it has to close. Your employer is likely to get a visit from the enforcement agencies.

You can access this Government advice here

Other workplaces may still operate but it can’t be business as usual. See our separate advice about safe working and social distancing.

Join more than 600,000 people and become a GMB member today
Join Us!