People who are ‘shielding’ will be able to return to the workplace from 1 August, health secretary Matt Hancock has said.
From the end of July, clinically vulnerable people in England will no longer be asked to stay in their homes and will be able to return to their workplace if they cannot do their job from home, provided social distancing measures are in place.
At that point, they will no longer be entitled to statutory sick pay (SSP) if they are unable to work because of coronavirus-related concerns and employers will no longer be able to make a claim for an SSP rebate for payments made to them.
Employees are protected in law for refusing to come to work where they have a reasonable belief that it poses a serious and imminent threat to their health, and this is why communication is so important,” – Paul Holcroft, Croner
An estimated 2.2 million people have been asked by the government to “shield” since 21 March. On 6 July, they will be able to gather in groups of up to six other people outdoors and form a “support bubble” with other households if they live alone.
However, charities have warned it may still be unsafe for older, more vulnerable employees to return to work on 1 August.
Gemma Peters, chief executive of Blood Cancer UK, said the announcement “risks taking away people’s freedom not to go to work or to the supermarket if they do not feel it’s safe to do so”.
“The government needs to think again and continue to support those most vulnerable to becoming seriously ill from the coronavirus, or we could see people being forced to choose between their financial security and their health,” she told the Independent.
Sue Farrington, chair of the Rare Autoimmune Rheumatic Disease Alliance, said: “While an end to shielding is welcome, people are understandably wary and need to know that their concerns aren’t being brushed aside.
“We’re particularly concerned about people needing to return to work if their workplace is deemed ‘Covid-safe’. Over the last few months people have told us how the guidance for employers is already too open to interpretation. We really need to see specific guidance on how this will be enforced, how people will be protected, and how any issues will be addressed.”
Employers will need to reassure shielding staff that their workplace is as risk-free as possible and that their workplace is Covid-19 Secure, said Paul Holcroft, associate director at employment law consultancy Croner.
“Employers cannot compel someone to come to work, and those who refuse should be managed appropriately; this means considering their individual position, and making reasonable adjustments for employees who have a disability,” he said.
“Employees are protected in law for refusing to come to work where they have a reasonable belief that it poses a serious and imminent threat to their health, and this is why communication is so important. Employers are strongly advised to show employees that their health and safety is of paramount importance.”