The Government announced back in August that the “Shielding” arrangements for clinically vulnerable employees would be finished and that they could return to the workplace. However, since the reintroduction of the lockdown on the 5th November in England, new shielding measures have been announced that will apply nationally for 4 weeks up until the 2nd December.
The document now says that because Covid-19 case numbers are rising rapidly across the whole of the UK, new additional guidance for clinically extremely vulnerable people, has been published and this is intended to help protect them from Covid-19.
These new measures will apply nationally for 4 weeks up to 2 December. At the end of the period, they have said that they will look to return to a regional approach and will issue further guidance then.
They are advising (but not instructing) clinically extremely vulnerable people to stay at home as much as possible, except to go outdoors for exercise or to attend essential health appointments. They have said that such individuals may wish to meet up with one other person from outside their household or support bubble, for example, to exercise in an outdoor public place, but the Government suggests that they always try to do so as safely as possible, so it is not as restrictive as the previous shielding instructions.
With regards to work, those employees are strongly advised to work from home. If they cannot work from home, they have been advised that they should not attend work for this period of restrictions.
If you have employees who cannot attend work for this reason, they may be eligible for Statutory Sick Pay (SSP). The formal shielding notification they may receive can be used as evidence for you as the employer, that they have been advised to follow shielding guidance and should not work outside of their home for the period stated in the letter.
If they were on payroll before 30th October 2020, they may also be eligible for the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (on furlough), which is being extended until 31st January (it says 2nd December in the guidance – so presumably this may be updated in light of the further furlough extension announcement on the 5th December because this version predates that change.)
Other people who live with those who are clinically extremely vulnerable can still attend work if they cannot work from home, in line with the wider rules set out in the new national restrictions from 5 November. They will just need to adopt more stringent social distancing measures. Obviously if people are showing symptoms of the virus or are off sick, then SSP and sick leave would be appropriate.
I have had heard that some employees who are clinically vulnerable have asked if they can continue to come into the workplace where stringent Covid-Secure arrangements are in place, but that the employer’s insurers have refused to cover any liability should the employee (or their estate) later claim that they have contracted the virus from the workplace or died as a result. Therefore, if you are at all unsure, you would be advised to discuss the situation with your own insurer and if in doubt, take a cautious approach.
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