What is shielding?
Shielding is a measure to protect extremely vulnerable people by minimising interaction between those who are extremely vulnerable and others. They should not leave their homes, and minimise all non-essential contact with other members of their household. This is to protect those who are at very high risk of severe illness from coronavirus (COVID-19)…
NHS letter instructing someone to ‘Shield’
Some people will receive a letter from the NHS to say they should take extra steps to protect (or ‘shield’) themselves because of an underlying health condition. This is for people who are at higher risk of severe illness from coronavirus, they should stay at home for at least 12 weeks.
What are the employers obligations?
ACAS is a good source of information.
They say that: Employers should support staff following shielding guidelines. This might be a distressing or difficult time, so it’s important for employers to keep in touch during any absence.
Any details about the employee’s medical condition must be kept confidential, unless the employee says it can be shared.
Read more about shielding measures on GOV.UK.
Discrimination and unfair treatment
If an employee is being asked to go to work and they’re at risk because they’re in one of the vulnerable groups, it’s important they talk to their employer. They should tell their employer they need to follow government advice and stay at home.
Unfair treatment and dismissal
An employee is protected by law against unfair treatment and dismissal, if it’s because of:
It could be unlawful discrimination if an employer either:
- unreasonably tries to pressure someone to go to work
- unreasonably disciplines someone for not going to work
So is someone instructed to shield on sick leave subject to SSP?
Simply no unless they are actually sick or been advised to self isolate for coronavirus.
Suspensions from work for medical reasons
An employer can suspend an employee from work if their health and safety is in danger. This can be either a:
- medical suspension..
- suspension for maternity reasons…
Before an employee can be suspended
Employers must review the employee’s risk assessment before suspending them.
Before employees can be suspended for maternity reasons
There are additional rules before an employer can suspend employees who:
- could become pregnant
- are pregnant
- gave birth less than 6 months ago or who are breastfeeding
The employer must…:
- Take reasonable steps to remove, reduce or control any risks to the employee and their baby….
- Try to temporarily adjust the employee’s working conditions or working hours.
- Offer the employee suitable alternative work on their normal terms and conditions.
- Suspend the employee on full pay. This will last as long as the employee, or their baby, is in danger.
Employees’ pay when suspended
The employee has the right to normal pay (including bonuses) for up to 26 weeks, as long as they’ve been in their job for a month or more.
…deduct tax and National Insurance… in the normal way.
This is not… Statutory Sick Pay. The employee does not have to be signed off by a GP.
Employees will not have the right to pay if they:
- are an independent contractor or agency worker
- refuse other suitable work from their employer without a good reason
- are not available when needed for suitable alternative work
Can you Furlough Shielding Employees
An employer can claim for furloughed employees who are shielding in line with public health guidance (or need to stay home with someone who is shielding) if they are unable to work from home and you would otherwise have to make them redundant.
So in summary
- Shielding is different to advised self isolation – the employee is not on sick leave but part of a vulnerable group who is at risk
- Employers need to allow home-working arrangements where possible
- If home-working is not available, then the employer can apply a medical suspension with full pay
- If the job is at risk of redundancy, the employer and employee can agree to furlough and be claimed through the coronavirus job retention scheme.
- Care needs to be taken to avoid an act of discrimination