Coronavirus – can a business stay open / should we be working?


My Trading Standards department has received a large number queries which tend to fall into two categories:

  • can a particular business stay open
  • a business is still open and staff are being put at risk

This is not an area in which I am an expert but I will try to draw together some of the documents that you may wish to refer to.

The main Government guidance can be found at the link below – but please bear in mind that it appears to be a document that is updated as time goes on so the advice on this blog is only current as at 28 March 2020.

What businesses MUST close?

The type of businesses that MUST close are outlined in the link above – basically it covers places where large groups of strangers may meet such as retail premises or entertainment venues.

All retail premises MUST close but there are some exceptions. These are listed on the above link. The exceptions are for goods or services we may consider essential.

Any business that is on the MUST close list must not open to the public (that is not to say they cannot continue operating behind the scenes)

More specific guidance can be found here:

If you want to read the legislation itself then you can do so here:

The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020

What about tradesmen doing work in a customers home?

This point is specifically covered in the Government guidance:

So what about all other businesses not on the above list ?

If a business is not on the above list then it CAN stay open – therefore if you work in say an office or factory then it can remain open and you can travel to work. The guidance is that you should work from home IF you can.

Your employers should operate in a way that allows you to wash your hands and distance 2m from other people ‘where possible’.

Therefore, the restrictions we are seeing on some workplaces are not as tight as one might expect because you can still be required to go to work and the employers should let you wash hands/stay 2m apart ‘where possible’ – this is not the same of course as saying they must close if they cannot comply.

These restrictions may become tighter if the we need a tighter lock down.

It is fair to say that all of these somewhat mixed messages are causing confusion among the public (for example you can sit in an office with 20 others but you may not be able to go to a big park with 20 others nearby).

My employer is putting me at risk as I can not distance from others at work.

There is lots of evidence that people are being told to go to work and cannot distance from other people. Unfortunately, there is no regulator that deals with this issue and as explained it is not technically in breach of any law.

Unless the Government creates a new law and gives powers to a regulator or Police to go around checking businesses are complying (and handing out heavy fines) then I have no doubt this will continue.

You can read the guidance for employers here:

You may also find this interesting

What about ‘essential businesses’?

Some people think they should only go to work if their work or business is ‘essential’. This is understandable of course given the message we have been given is effectively stay at home to save lives.

This is not the case – all businesses can remain open other than the ones that MUST close (as explained at above).

Think of it this way:
1 – is the business on the MUST close list? If yes it must close (but remember it may be able to open if it in the exceptions list)

2 – if the business is not on the MUST close list can it remain open – cleaning/distancing should be applied ‘where possible’.

What about critical workers?

The critical worker issue currently has no bearing on the above matters (i.e it is not just critical workers who are allowed to work).

Where it may be relevant is whether you can send your child to school – which is a separate issue:

It may be in future that we have a tighter lock down which means only critical workers can go to work and all other businesses must close – but that is not the case yet.

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