Vulnerable people and those at high risk
The government advises anyone who’s at high risk of getting a severe illness if they catch coronavirus ('vulnerable people') to take particularly strict social distancing measures.
Employers must be especially careful and take extra steps for anyone in their workforce who is in a vulnerable group.
They include, but are not limited to, those who:
- have a long-term health condition, for example asthma, diabetes or heart disease, or a weakened immune system as the result of medicines such as steroid tablets or chemotherapy
- are pregnant
- are aged 70 or over
- care for someone with a health condition that might put them at a greater risk
Shielding for extremely vulnerable people
Some people will receive a letter from the NHS to say they should take extra steps to protect (or 'shield') themselves because of an underlying health condition. This is for people who are at higher risk of severe illness from coronavirus.
Employees should talk to their employer as soon as they can if they:
- have been told to start shielding
- think they might get a letter telling them to start shielding
If an employee receives a letter telling them to start shielding, they should stay at home for at least 12 weeks.
Employers should support staff following shielding guidelines. This might be a distressing or difficult time, so it's important for employers to keep in touch during any absence.
Any details about the employee's medical condition must be kept confidential, unless the employee says it can be shared.
Discrimination and unfair treatment
If an employee is still being asked to go out to work and they believe they're at risk because they're in one of the vulnerable groups, it's important they talk to their employer.
If they cannot follow guidance on social distancing at work or during travel to work, they should tell their employer they need to follow government advice and stay at home.
Unfair treatment and dismissal
An employee is protected by law against unfair treatment and dismissal, if it's because of:
- a health condition that's considered a disability under the Equality Act
It does not matter how long they've worked for the employer.
It could be unlawful discrimination on the grounds of pregnancy, disability or age if an employer either:
- unreasonably tries to pressure someone to go to work
- unreasonably disciplines someone for not going to work