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Shielding for the clinically extremely vulnerable

Updated: Feb 16

As was the case in March, there are two groups of people who will need to observe shielding procedures during the new lockdown measures. These groups are:

  • those that are clinically extremely vulnerable and at a higher risk of illness from COVID-19 and

  • those that are clinically vulnerable and at a moderate risk of illness from COVID-19.

Who is included in the clinically extremely vulnerable group?

People who are defined as clinically extremely vulnerable are at very high risk of severe illness from COVID-19. There are 2 ways a person may be identified as clinically extremely vulnerable:

  1. They have one or more of the conditions listed here, or

  2. Their hospital clinician or GP has added them to the Shielded Patients List because, based on their clinical judgement, they are deemed to be at higher risk of serious illness if they catch the virus.

If they do not fall into either of these categories, they should follow the restrictions as they apply to the general population.

People who think that there are good reasons why they should be added to the Shielded Patient List should discuss this with their GP or hospital clinician.

Anyone who falls into the category of extremely clinically vulnerable should follow the shielding measures for the 4 weeks up to 2nd December. Further guidance may be issued after this period.

What are the shielding measures?

The government has advised that clinically extremely vulnerable people should stay at home as much as possible. More information on the guidance and measures can be found HERE.

Should extremely vulnerable people attend the workplace?

Anyone who falls into the extremely vulnerable category is advised by the Government to work from home. If they cannot do so, they should not attend work for this period of restrictions. Therefore employers should consult and contact all affected staff so they know what will be happening regarding staff that are expected to be in, those working from home and those that will not be working at all.

Where employees cannot attend work for this reason, they may be eligible for Statutory Sick Pay (SSP), Employment Support Allowance (ESA) or Universal Credit. Other eligibility criteria will apply.

Employers should accept the formal shielding notification an employee receives as evidence of them falling into the extremely vulnerable category. They can also use this for the DWP when claiming the necessary benefits. Ultimately, the formal shielding notification will advise them to follow shielding guidance and that they should not work outside their home for the period stated in the letter.

If extremely vulnerable employees were on the payroll before 30th October 2020, the employer can consider placing them on the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (furlough), which is being extended until 31st March.

Other people they live with who are not clinically extremely vulnerable themselves can still attend work if they cannot work from home.

What about those who live with someone who is clinically extremely vulnerable?

Employees who live with someone who is clinically extremely vulnerable do not need to shield. They can continue to attend work as normal, provided of course that the workplace is COVID Secure and they absolutely cannot work from home. However, Government guidance states that people who live with those who are extremely vulnerable may wish to practise a higher level of reduced contact within the household to protect that person.

An employee has a legal right to a safe working environment. In particular, sections 44 and 100 of the Employment Rights Act 1996 protect employees from being placed at a detriment for raising health and safety concerns about their workplace.

A detriment could be not paying an employee, demotion or sacking them because they are refusing to return due to health and safety reasons.

Section 44 of the Act may be utilised even more so by employees in the situation where they are not extremely vulnerable, but they live with someone who is because it can be interpreted quite broadly as it states:

“…in circumstances of danger which the employee reasonably believed to be serious and imminent, he took (or proposed to take) appropriate steps to protect himself or other persons from the danger”.

Where it refers to ‘other persons’ this could be the extremely vulnerable person they live with.

What about clinically extremely vulnerable people in education?

Children whose doctors have confirmed they are still clinically extremely vulnerable are advised not to attend childcare, nursery or education during the period that this advice is in place. Employers need to be flexible around employee working patterns so that they can have appropriate childcare measures in place.

Children who live with someone who is clinically extremely vulnerable, but who are not clinically extremely vulnerable themselves, should still attend education or childcare.

Staff - for example, teachers - who are clinically extremely vulnerable are advised to work from home. Individuals in this group will have been identified through a letter from the NHS or from their GP and may have been advised to shield in the past. Employers need to speak to all staff who believe they will be affected by this and discuss how they will be supported, including whether they can work from home where possible.

All other staff should continue to attend work, including those living in a household with someone who is clinically extremely vulnerable.

Should those in the clinically extremely vulnerable group be furloughed?

In the first instance, the employer should assess whether it is possible for them to work from home. Where they can work from home, they should not be furloughed.

Where clinically extremely vulnerable employees cannot work from home, they may be eligible to be placed on furlough under the CJRS.

More detail on this is anticipated from the Government in the coming days to confirm the rules on furlough and those shielding who are clinically extremely vulnerable.

Who falls into the clinically vulnerable group?

This group is at moderate risk from coronavirus and full details of people included in this category can be found here

People in the clinically vulnerable group should:

  • be especially careful to follow the rules and minimise their contacts with others through social distancing;

  • work from home where their role permits them to do so;

  • where they cannot work from home, continue to attend the workplace providing it is COVID secure; and

  • continue to wash their hands carefully and more frequently than usual and maintain thorough cleaning of frequently touched areas in their home and/or workspace.

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