Public Health England and the Chief Medical Officer for Wales have issued shielding guidance that extremely clinically vulnerable employees will no longer be advised to shield from 1st April. It states that from this time, if an employee is unable to work from home, they should go to work. For those in Scotland, the advice differs slightly and the date the requirement to shield ends is 26th April.
Changes to Shielding Guidance (England)
This shift in guidance will require employers to think carefully about how they need to manage staff with long term health conditions and/or disabilities that have, up to now been required to remain away from the workplace.
In keeping with the UK’s current Covid position, it is still advisable to allow employees to work from home where possible. This will support those who are not too ill to work but are still mindful of their heightened risk due to health concerns. However, the situation with those who have been shielding and are now required to return to the workplace, needs to be managed sensitively.
With the roll out of the vaccine, most extremely clinically vulnerable and clinically vulnerable employees should have at least had their first set of injections and this will help people feel safer in their return to the workplace.
Communicating with Employees
- Employers will need to communicate with staff so that they are also aware of current risk assessments and control measures introduced into the workplace to reduce the spread of covid.
- If social distancing or other measures are not able to be maintained, a conversation should take place to see if the workplace can otherwise be made safe.
- If there is still a potential risk to the employee coming into the workplace, furlough is still available until September and HMRC have confirmed it can be utilised if needed.
- There may also be employees who have not been required to shield, but who may have been furloughed or off work in part due to sickness or ill health. With the wider opening of the workplace, there may also be a renewed focus on getting these employees back to work.
If a shielding or furloughed employee does not wish to return to work as required, there is no obligation on the employer to keep them on furlough. They would be free to submit a Statement of Fitness for Work if they felt their health was impacting on their ability to return. However, if the employee and employer have identified potential risk to the employee if they were to return, or otherwise agree, then furlough may still be an option.
Management of Ill Health
In any management of ill health, it is always advisable to keep communication open with employees, and this can be done by phone call, email or face to face, depending on what is agreed. Welfare meetings are advisable to try and meet face to face from time to time, or if this is not possible, remotely via zoom or teams or other such platform.
The aim of these meetings is to see if there is anything that can be done to support a return to work and to assess, if necessary whether there are any reasonable adjustments to be made to facilitate a return. We would advise to try and obtain consent to approach the employee’s GP or to make a referral to occupational health.
Ultimately, if an employee’s health is such that they are unable to return to work, with or without adjustments and support, an employer would need to assess the impact of any long-term absence on the operation of the business. Fit Notes would need to be submitted for those too sick to return and SSP would be payable. An employer may consider dismissal on the grounds of ill health in the event of long-term sickness, a formal process would have to be followed in such circumstances.
Need advice and support surrounding shielding guidance? Get in touch with our team of HR Consultants who will consider all the information available about the employee’s ill health before talking through your options.