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Updates to Government guidance on shielding

Principal Solicitor, Paul McGowan

In light of the Prime Minister’s announcement on 4th January 2021 that England would be placed into another national lockdown, the Government has published further guidance on those who are required to shield. In addition to making it clear that everyone is to continue to follow the Stay at Home guidance issued following the PM’s announcement, it also confirms that those who are clinically extremely vulnerable are advised to stay at home “as much as possible” and that they will be given priority for any vaccination.

Who is classed as clinically extremely vulnerable (CEV)?

Those who are CEV are a very high risk of severe illness from COVID-19 and according to Government guidance, there are two ways someone is considered as CEV:

  1. They have a particular medical condition that is set out within the guidance. These include, but are not limited to, people with specific cancers; those who have severe respiratory conditions or those on immunosuppression therapies (the full list can be found here); or
  2. They have been added to the “Shielded Patient List” by their GP or clinician.

Generally, those who are CEV should receive a letter to confirm that they are categorised as being CEV, but employers should take note of the above guidance in the absence of employees receiving such letters.

What is the current guidance for the CEV?

The Government guidance (which can be found here) advises those who need to shield to work from home where possible due to the higher risk associated with any exposure to coronavirus. Where this is not possible, the guidance suggests someone who is CEV should not attend work and that they may wish to speak to their employer about alternative roles or a change in working patterns to facilitate working from home. Where this is also not possible, the guidance then suggests an employer may be able to furlough the employee under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, which will now run until the end of April 2021 and allow an employer to claim up to 80% of the employees’ normal wages, subject to the current cap of £2,500 and not including National Insurance or pension contributions.

How do we manage a situation where an employee has been told they need to shield?

Situations of this type should be treated particularly carefully, as from an employment law perspective there may be issues relating to the employee’s health and safety, as well as potential disability discrimination that may need to be considered. The steps set out in the Government guidance may be a useful framework for employers when considering what options are available to them and to form the basis for any discussion with shielding employees. However, employers may need to seek specialist advice where such options are not viable or where there are other issues arising from the employee’s condition which may affect their continued ability to work.

 

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