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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 that was in place during the 4-week period of national lockdown.

Shielding guidance – the key points

The guidance is set out in two parts.  First, updated advice on protecting the clinically extremely vulnerable, based on the 4 tiers.  Second, updated shielding advice that is more targeted and will only apply in some of the worst affected areas and only for a limited period of time.  Currently, clinically extremely vulnerable people in tier 4 areas are advised to follow shielding advice.  No other areas are currently advised to shield.

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. Currently, this only applies to those areas placed into tier 4 on 20 December 2020;
  • 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;
  • clinically extremely vulnerable people should not go to the workplace if they live or work in areas where shielding advice is active.  Currently this applies to tier 4 areas only;
  • if an individual in tiers 1, 2 and 3 cannot work from home, they can still go to work, as the workplace should be COVID-secure;
  • where the local COVID alert level is very high (tier 3), 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 local COVID alert level is “stay at home” (tier 4), the guidance states that they may want to speak to their employer about taking on an alternative role or change to working patterns temporarily to enable them to work from home where possible.  Individuals in tier 4 who cannot work from home should not attend work;
  • the guidance also states that if an individual cannot work from home and they cannot make alternative arrangements, the employer may be able to furlough them under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.


The 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.

The definition of clinically extremely vulnerable groups is set out at the end of the guidance.  This includes individuals with one or more of the conditions listed in the guidance; or individuals whose clinician or GP has added them to the Shielded Patient List because they are deemed to be at higher risk of serious illness if they catch the virus.  Individuals in this group will previously have received a letter from the NHS or their GP.

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. 

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Originally posted 16 October 2020. Updated 23 December 2020.

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