Supporting employees who are shielding during Covid-19 Pandemic
The government has advised everyone to practice social distancing however they have also advised that this is even more important for those who are at a greater risk of experiencing severe illness from catching Coronavirus, which they refer to as ‘critically vulnerable people’. For these people who are at a higher risk, they have been specifically asked to shield from other people and to stay at home at all times.
People in a vulnerable group include but are not limited to those who:
- have a long-term health condition, for example asthma, diabetes, heart disease, hepatitis, Parkinson’s disease or multiple sclerosis (MS)
- have a weakened immune system as the result of medicines such as steroid tablets or chemotherapy
- are pregnant
- are aged 70 or over
- are seriously overweight (a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or above)
Whilst we begin to see a gradual reopening of the economy and some restrictions begin to be lifted we must be aware that this does not apply to those who are shielding. In fact, those who are shielding in Scotland have been advised that they will be required to continue doing so until at least 31 July 2020.
Employers must therefore be considerate in how they support an employee who is in a vulnerable group and shielding, and how their workplace may have to adapt going forward. When discussing an employee who is shielding, employers must keep all employee details relating to their medical condition confidential, unless the employee has agreed for it to be shared.
Communication is key to supporting employees who have been asked to shield, as they go through a distressing time. Likewise, it is important for employees to notify their employer as soon as they have been told to shield or think they may be told to shield. If an employee has been asked to shield they should stay at home for as long as they are advised to. It may be possible for the employee to work from home, however the employee and employer should communicate about their options surrounding this. If an employee has been asked to go out to work and they believe they are at a greater risk or if they cannot follow guidance on social distancing at work or during travel to work, they should notify their employer immediately.
An employee is protected by law against unfair treatment and dismissal, irrespective of length of service, if it’s because of pregnancy, age or a health condition that’s considered a disability under the Equality Act. It could be unlawful discrimination on the grounds of pregnancy, disability or age if an employer either unreasonably tries to pressure someone to go to work or unreasonably disciplines someone for not going to work.
If an employee has been told to stop shielding as it is now deemed safe, the employee should notify their employer and discuss the plan for their return to work. However, if the employee can continue to work from home the employer should continue to support this as an option.