Rebecca Bennett
Solicitor
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Date Published:31 Mar 2021 Last Updated:21 Sep 2021

Shielding employees: what are the options from 1st April 2021?

Employment Law Advice

As of 1st April 2021, employees who are clinically extremely vulnerable are no longer advised to shield.

Despite being no longer required to shield, these individuals are being advised to take extra precautions to protect themselves especially in relation to travel, going to work and socialising.

Now that shielding is coming to an end, the onus will be on employers to come up with a solution for the employee to return to work. We recommend considering the following:

Working from home

The Government’s guidance remains that employees should continue to work from home where this is possible. You should ensure that you have explored all available options to enable safe working at home. Working from home is likely to be a reasonable adjustment expected of many employers.  A link to the Government’s guidance can be found here.

Returning to the office

Where working from home is not possible, employees who have been shielding are now able to attend the workplace.

You should ensure that the workplace is a safe environment and that you have taken steps to reduce the risk of exposure to Covid-19 in the workplace (i.e. by carrying out a suitable risk assessment – it is likely that employers will need to carry out an enhanced risk assessment for clinically extremely vulnerable employees). The steps that you have taken should be clearly communicated to all employees and in particular, those who have been shielding and who are due to return as this will enable the employees to raise any particular concerns they have about their return.

It is important that you remember that an employee who has been shielding is likely to feel apprehensive about returning to the workplace and therefore clear communication with the employee is key.

Making reasonable adjustments

An employee who has been shielding is likely to have a condition which amounts to a disability in accordance with the Equality Act 2010. You must therefore ensure that you comply with your duty to consider whether any reasonable adjustments should be made to assist the employee. Examples of reasonable adjustments may include the following:-

  1. A change of working hours to enable the employee to avoid busier times on public transport or to ensure the employee has less interaction with others;
  2. Redeploying the employee to a safer available role; or
  3. Providing the employee with additional PPE.

You should discuss any potential adjustments with the employee and ask if they have any suggestions.

What if an employee raises concerns about returning to the workplace?

You should encourage employees to communicate any concerns that they have about their return. Once these have been raised, you should address the concerns and consider if you are able to make any changes, depending on what is raised. You should also communicate the measures you have taken to minimise the risk of exposure to Covid-19 to reassure the employee that you have taken all necessary steps to ensure the workplace is safe.

Can an employee remain on furlough after 1 April 2021?

The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) has been extended until September 2021 and it is possible to continue to furlough employees who were previously shielding until this date.

The CJRS guidance specifically states that it is up to employers to decide whether to furlough employees who are clinically extremely vulnerable. This may therefore be an option where an employee is unable to work from home and has a number of concerns with returning to the workplace (particularly if the workplace would put them at a higher risk of exposure to Covid-19). Under the CJRS an employer does not need to be facing a wider reduction in demand or be closed to be able to claim for these employees.

Can shielding employees continue to receive Statutory Sick Pay?

As of  1st April 2021, employees who are shielding are no longer entitled to be paid SSP for absence from work. If an employee is currently shielding and being paid SSP you should make alternative arrangements (i.e. furlough or return to work) prior to 1st April 2021.

How can we help?

If you would like any HR or employment law advice please contact our employment partner, Kate Brooks on 01202 525333 or email kate.brooks@ellisjones.co.uk