New guidance for the clinically extremely vulnerable
This week, the Government issued new guidance for those who have been shielding because they are categorised as clinically extremely vulnerable (CEV).
The advice to those who were told to shield was relaxed last summer. However, as a result of the number of cases rising dramatically in January 2021, the guidance for the CEV was then changed to recommend that they shield once again. This was due to be relaxed again in February 2021, but the Government took the decision to push this back until 31 March 2021.
A letter will shortly be sent to the 4 million people who are currently shielding to inform them that, from 1 April 2021, the advice will change from ‘work from home’ to ‘work from home where possible, but if you cannot do this then you should go back to the workplace’.
Employers still have a duty to ensure that the workplace is COVID-secure and should be consulting with employees (or their representatives) on any health and safety information or measures which they intend to introduce.
If an employee who is CEV still reasonably feels that their workplace is not safe to attend from 1 April 2021, they will still have the protection of Section 44 of the Employment Rights Act 1996 if they raise concerns about this with their employer, refuse to return or take some other reasonable steps. One option currently available to employers with CEV employees is to furlough them under the UK Government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS). However, it is unclear at present whether they will continue to be eligible for the grant under the CJRS rules after 31 March 2021.
The best advice to employers who have employees who are categorised as CEV is to support them in their return to the workplace wherever possible, and to be flexible with any arrangements as, if the number of cases rise again, the instruction to shield may be reintroduced. If an employer insists on ending homeworking without a fair reason or requiring CEV staff to work from unsafe premises, then they may open themselves up to various claims in the Employment Tribunal.