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Employment & Employment & HR

Coronavirus: What happens if you have a vulnerable person in your household?

This is a stressful time. It is even more stressful if you have a loved one in your household who has been identified by the government as ‘extremely vulnerable’. Many employees will be faced with this dilemma, and many employers will be worried about the effect that will have on their business.

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What it really comes down to is this: has your employee’s loved one received a letter from the government, or confirmation from a doctor, that they are extremely vulnerable? The answer to that question will determine what an employer should do- and the answer in either situation is by no means straight forward.

Someone in the same household has been classed as extremely vulnerable 

If the employee is living with a dependent in this situation they may well need time off to look after them during their 12 weeks of isolation.

Depending on why that individual is vulnerable, they could be classed as having a disability for the purposes of the Equality Act 2010. In those circumstances, if an employer only agrees to allow the employee to carry out their caring responsibilities by either taking paid annual leave or unpaid leave, the employer could be seen to be discriminating against the employee because of their association with a disabled person. It does not matter that the employee themselves is not disabled.

Furlough Leave

Even though furlough leave is ordinarily to be used in a situation where an employer cannot provide an employee with work due to coronavirus, employees may be able to be furloughed if they are disabled and consequently are vulnerable for Covid-19 purposes or are caring for another with a disability who has been classed as vulnerable due to coronavirus. An employer must make reasonable adjustments for an individual in these circumstances, and furlough leave could be seen as a reasonable adjustment.

Someone in the same household has not been classed as extremely vulnerable 

There will be people who are nervous about going to work because they regard someone in their household as vulnerable even if they have not been classed as such. This is more difficult for the employee and their options are limited but include asking if they can take:

  • any annual leave they have ( the employer does not have to agree );
  • unpaid leave ( the employer does not have to agree );
  • a ‘reasonable’ amount parental leave if they have a child who needs looking after (which they are entitled to, but there is no entitlement to be paid for this unless an employer’s policy states otherwise).

Furlough will not be an appropriate option in these circumstances because the employer can provide the employee with work, and furlough is not being used as a reasonable adjustment due to an employee’s disability or an employee’s need to care for another who has a disability.

Read our latest guidance on our COVID-19 resource hub.

If you have any questions about furlough or about any other employment related queries, the Collyer Bristow Employment Team is on hand to help.

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Tania Goodman

Partner - Head of Employment

tania.goodman@collyerbristow.com