Should businesses remain open?

Should businesses remain open?

ARTICLE · By Timber Trade Federation · 30 March 2020

There remains much confusion as to whether businesses should remain open or closed. Government clarification was published on Wednesday 25 March said that businesses should remain operational wherever possible to keep economy moving. However, this has not been consistent.

Significant variation between devolved nations and CBI is talking to Scotland and Wales to help get consistent response about businesses remaining open.

Police and trade unions are not in all cases being particularly helpful in correctly implementing defined government policy. Media and public pressure also being put on business to close even though this is contrary to defined policy and guidance.

The Timber Trade Federation took part in a Confederation of Business Industries webinar to get the latest updates for businesses and will continue to seek further info:

  • Businesses that are on defined list of closures must follow this requirement and remain closed. Unless on these lists’ businesses are NOT legally required to close.
  • Wherever possible employees should work from home. Businesses must show they have thought flexibility about how they can maximise this working from home and have provided necessary facilities to do so. Although it is reasonable to expect employees to use own IT and equipment where they have it. It may also be reasonable to ask employees to take on amended role which can be done from home.
  • Where employer has determined it is not possible to work from home then employees are permitted to travel to work. Many employees are being issued with “travel pass” letters on company letterhead to confirm their reason for travelling. Employers must work with staff to address concerns about travel perhaps by amended hours outside of peak times.


Businesses must always ensure the safety of their employees by undertaking a risk assessment of the workplace and document measures necessary to protect employees and minimise risk. These measures should be based on meeting public health requirements for distancing and handwashing.

Further information is available on Government and HSE websites, and some basic suggestions are:

  • Clearly display posters and information at entrances and throughout workplace
  • Minimise face to face customer interaction by prioritizing phone and online facilities
  • Restricting number of customers who can access site at any one time
  • Increasing number and access to handwashing facilities.
  • Increasing number for breaks to allow them to be used.
  • Increasing cleaning schedules of critical facilities
  • Defined and marked out distances between workstations
  • Temporary change from hot desk to specified desk policy
  • Temporary Perspex screens between employees and customers
  • Increasing physical space for rest and canteen facilities to main distancing
  • Staggering breaks and working hours
  • Ask employees for their ideas and suggestions
  • Regularly address employees concerns and fears
  • Make sure safety changes are visible and open to scrutiny especially from employees
  • Advice is evolving so keep all measures under review


Operational challenges are also in many cases overriding the defined legal position and business are having to close for an increasing list of reasons.

  • Demand has significantly reduced or ceased
  • Key material suppliers have closed
  • Productivity has fallen below acceptable levels due to additional safety measures
  • Employee concerns and fears make operation untenable
  • Media and public pressure have made continued operation not viable


Other sources of information

Public Health England – Posters and Information leaflets

ACAS Website

Scottish position – All non-essential business must close.

Welsh position – Appears to be same as England for present:

More specific government guidance for the food sector was published last week – Some of the practical information may be applicable to members with manufacturing or merchant workplaces.