As of yesterday, 19th July 2021, social distancing measures now no longer apply in the workplace, and there will no longer be a general instruction to work from home. This will increase the risks for the clinically extremely vulnerable, who may not respond as well to COVID-19 vaccines as others. From an employment perspective, the guidance states that employers have a legal duty to protect their employees and others from risks to their health and safety. Some employers may ask employees to undertake regular COVID-19 testing to identify people who are asymptomatic. Other measures may be necessary, and the clinically extremely vulnerable should consider adopting a more cautious approach as restrictions are lifted.
The guidance does not say that clinically extremely vulnerable individuals will have any additional rights to work from home beyond the 19th July. However, where they need support, they can apply for Access to Work, which is a government scheme that provides support for the disability-related extra costs of working that are beyond standard reasonable adjustments.
This proves to be an interesting update to the guidelines. With offices now starting to fill up again, what does it mean for the clinically extremely vulnerable? The law says you don’t have to work from home, but if your business does not adopt a hybrid working pattern or you cannot do your job from home, what are you able to do? As mentioned above there is support available via the Access to Work scheme, but does it do enough? Is there enough support in place for employees who are clinically extremely vulnerable? Do these employees really want to be testing themselves regularly because they are in a workplace environment that could pose a risk to their health?
We know employers have a legal duty to protect their staff, but it proves to be a tricky time for them as they juggle the return to the workplace, new ways of working within the workplace, keeping it COVID secure and looking to protect those clinically extremely vulnerable employees. It will be interesting to see what happens as businesses start to move more of their workforces back to the offices, especially considering the current rate of COVID cases.
The thing to take from this, is that as more businesses move from homeworking to being back in the office, it is really important that you take the time to communicate with your employees, especially those you know to be clinically vulnerable. Ask them how they are feeling, discuss any concerns or queries they may have. Open conversation is the key to ensuring happy employees, which in turn is a happy business.
If you have any queries at all then please feel free to get in touch with a member of the team.