Coronavirus: shielding and vulnerable people

People who are at high risk of getting a severe illness if they catch coronavirus (COVID-19) are 'clinically vulnerable'.

Although everyone is advised to practise social distancing, it's particularly important for those in a vulnerable group.

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, heart disease, hepatitis, Parkinson's disease or multiple sclerosis (MS) 
  • have a weakened immune system as the result of medicines such as steroid tablets or chemotherapy
  • are pregnant
  • are aged 60 or over
  • are seriously overweight (a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or above)

For more about social distancing:

Find advice on pregnancy and coronavirus from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.

Shielding for extremely vulnerable people

Some people will have been identified as 'clinically extremely vulnerable', which means they have a very high risk of severe illness from coronavirus.

Clinically extremely vulnerable people should take particularly strict social distancing measures ('shielding').

Anyone in this group will have previously had a letter from the NHS or their GP telling them this, and may have been shielding before.

In areas where there are local or national lockdowns, some people who are clinically extremely vulnerable will be contacted by a health professional with guidance on how they can protect themselves. This might include advising them to continue shielding or start shielding again.


The government's advice is that anyone who is clinically extremely vulnerable should work from home if they can during the national lockdown in England (from 5 November 2020).

If they cannot work from home, the employer should talk to the person about:

  • taking up an alternative role that's suitable and safe to do from home
  • not returning to work until it's safe to do so

If they cannot work, the employer may be able to put the person on furlough (temporary leave).

Otherwise, they may be entitled to one of the following:

For the latest government advice, see the shielding guidance on GOV.UK.

Scotland and Wales

The governments in Scotland and Wales are advising people who have been shielding to follow the same rules as the rest of the population, but take extra precautions.

For the latest government advice:

Going into work if employees live with people who are shielding

The government's advice is that employees and workers who live with people who are shielding should work from home if they can during the national lockdown in England (from 5 November 2020).

If they cannot work from home, they should go into work.

They should speak to their employer if they have any concerns.

For the latest government advice, see the shielding guidance on GOV.UK.

Returning to the workplace after shielding

Employees and workers who are no longer shielding may be able to return to the workplace if it's safe.

Anyone who's been shielding should talk to their employer as soon as possible about plans to help them return.

If they can continue to work from home, the employer should support this.

If working from home is not possible, options might include:

  • the employer putting extra measures in place to keep the person safe in the workplace
  • the person taking up an alternative role
  • temporarily changing the person's working patterns

If it's not possible for the person to return to work safely, options may include being put on furlough.

Find out more about working safely during coronavirus.

If someone's doctor advises them to stay at home

Someone's doctor may advise them not to return to the workplace if they're not fit to work.

An employee or worker affected by this should get a letter from their doctor to explain that they need to stay at home. They should share this with their employer. The employer should talk with the person to understand the issue and see how they can support them.

Discrimination and unfair treatment

If an employee or worker 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 do not feel safe returning to work because their employer has not taken measures to make the workplace safe, they should talk to their employer about it. Or they can talk to their trade union representative or health and safety representative, if they have one.

Find out how to raise a problem at work.

Unfair treatment and dismissal

An employee or worker is protected by law against unfair treatment and dismissal, if it's because of:

  • pregnancy
  • age
  • 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

Find out about dealing with a workplace problem.

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