Public Health England has issued new guidance which confirms that from 1 April 2021 those people who are considered to be “clinically extremely vulnerable” will no longer be required to shield.
Shielding individuals (“shielders”) are those in the clinically “extremely vulnerable” category who are at very high risk of severe illness from Covid-19, including people who have had organ transplants, those with specific cancers and leukaemia, those undergoing treatments that affect the immune system and those with severe respiratory conditions.
The guidance states that extra precautions are still advised, including keeping social interactions to a minimum. However, those who have been shielding (and are not furloughed) will no longer be eligible for Statutory Sick Pay and will be expected to work from home, if they can, or return to the workplace, if working from home is not an option.
This is likely to be a complex area for employers to manage, as former shielders have been expected to stay at home and minimise all contact since shielding was reintroduced in December 2020 (after the requirement to shield was lifted in August last year), so there may be some fear on their part in returning to a workplace.
We have covered this in a previous blog post, but to reiterate, the key things for employers to consider immediately are:
- conducting individual risk assessments to take into account a former shielder’s individual circumstances. If they must return to a workplace and have to use public transport, consider allowing travel outside of peak times to reduce risk or providing parking and/or bike storage and changing facilities; and
- communicating with shielders and seeking agreement on the measures you are taking to ensure you are aware of their individual concerns and can, hopefully, alleviate these.
If a former shielder refuses to return to the office and you have made the workplace COVID secure and conducted individual risk assessments, this could be treated as a disciplinary issue. Be careful with this however, as a condition that led to shielding would likely be a disability under the Equality Act, and there could be discrimination issues which arise from an approach which is too forceful. Other options to consider are furlough (the scheme currently runs until 30 September 2021) or agreeing a period of unpaid leave.
This may be a difficult area to navigate, so if you require any further advice, please contact Sarah Lee or another member of the employment team for assistance.
These notes have been prepared for the purpose of articles only. They should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice.