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Employment law for employees & Employment law for employers

Coronavirus bulletin: Shielding Revisited

‘Shielding’ refers to the strictest guidance for social distancing and lockdown for those individuals who received letters from either the government or their GP telling them that they are extremely clinically vulnerable to COVID-19. Shielding was suspended in England on 31 July 2020 but government guidance has recently been revised.

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This guidance aims to be less restrictive and strike a careful balance between the psychological impact of measures to protect the extremely clinically vulnerable and the physical health risks of the virus. People in this category are being advised to work from home wherever possible. Employers should continue to be mindful that workplaces must be ‘covid secure’ (see our 10 tips please click here).

Whilst the formal ‘shielding’ at the start of the pandemic has not been reintroduced nationally, it is expected that it could be reintroduced for areas subject to tier 3 for a limited amount of time. Those impacted will receive a letter informing them to shield and not attend their workplace under any circumstances. Where an individual who has been told to shield lives in tier 3 area but works in an area at lower risk, or vice versa, they should follow the guidance of the area in the higher tier.

It is important that employers do not discriminate against employees that have been told to shield and are likely to have a recognised disability under the Equality Act 2010. We would encourage employers to think carefully and be creative about how they could facilitate working from home. This could be something as simple as supplying the employee with specialised IT equipment, providing physical aids or suggesting alternative duties that are within their skillset and achievable. If this is still not conducive to home working, employers should consider exercising their discretion to extend enhanced sick pay for a limited time in appropriate circumstances.

A new round of shielding, even if localised and short term, is likely to be difficult not only for affected employees but also for employers. Without the furlough scheme, the financial burden for an employer paying an employee who cannot work through shielding will be much harder to justify. The Job Support Scheme is trying to shore up the difference and new announcements to extend this scheme could help in this regard. We will update you on this next week.

Discussions continue between those locally responsible for the worst affected areas and central government, and we will be keeping a close eye on the extent to which further financial support is provided.

If you have any questions about who can still go into the office, employees’ health and safety, working from home more generally or any other employment related queries then the Collyer Bristow Employment Team is on hand to help.

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Kathryn Burke

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kathryn.burke@collyerbristow.com