Shielding guidance updated
Individuals who are classed as clinically extremely vulnerable had previously been advised to shield by the Government, although this shielding guidance was paused with effect from 1 August. Updated guidance for those individuals has now been published, advising them to take into account local COVID alert levels.
The guidance sets out the steps clinically extremely vulnerable people can take to protect themselves at each local COVID alert level and is described as replacing the previous guidance.
Shielding guidance – the key points
The guidance clarifies that:
- in the future, the Government will only reintroduce formal shielding advice in the very worst affected local areas and for a limited period of time;
- the Government will write to individuals separately to inform them if they are advised to shield. Individuals are not advised to follow formal shielding advice again unless they receive a new shielding notification advising them to do so;
- individuals should refer to the new local COVID alert levels for their area. If they are travelling into an area at a different local COVID alert level (for example to go to work), they should follow the guidance for whichever area has the higher alert level;
- individuals are advised to work from home where possible;
- if an individual needs support to work at home or in the workplace they can apply for Access to Work, which provides support for the disability-related extra costs of working that are beyond reasonable adjustments;
- if an individual cannot work from home, they can still go to work;
- where the local COVID alert level is very high, individuals are “strongly advised” to work from home. If the individual cannot work from home, and they are concerned about going to work, the guidance suggests that they may want to speak to their employer about taking on an alternative role or changing their working patterns temporarily (for example, to avoid travelling in rush hour). However, where there is no alternative the guidance states that the individual can still go to work;
- where the individual lives or works in an area where formal shielding advice has been put in place, and they have received a new shielding notification, the Government advises that they do not go to work.
This new guidance states that it aims to strike a better balance between providing practical steps to help keep individuals safe while reducing some of the potentially harmful impacts on mental and social wellbeing that were associated with previous strict shielding.
Employers should be fully aware of the guidance, as they may have employees who are classed as clinically extremely vulnerable. Although the guidance states that individuals who were previously shielding can go to work (if they cannot work from home), employers should consider this carefully. Employees who were previously advised to shield may have a condition that falls within the definition of disability under the Equality Act. An employer will need to carry out a risk assessment before requiring the employee to come to work. This should include seeking medical advice from the employee’s GP or Occupational Health. Where an employee has a disability under the Equality Act, a requirement on them to attend work, or a decision not to pay or to dismiss them if they do not attend work, could lead to claims of disability discrimination. For issues relating to absence and pay, please see our separate post here.
16 October 2020
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