A GROWING number of people are being asked to shield in the race to vaccinate people against the threat of Covid-19.

An additional 1.7 million people are to be added to the list of people advised to shield to ensure they are pushed up the priority order to receive vaccinations sooner, the Government has announced.

Letters will be arriving imminently informing these people they should be in the shielding group and their local GPs will prioritise their vaccination.

The expansion of the list follows the development of a new tool which takes into account extra factors rather than just health, such as ethnicity, deprivation (by postcode) and weight, to calculate the risk of someone becoming serious ill from the virus.  

Mini Setty, a partner in employment law at Langleys Solicitors in York, explains the options available to those now being advised to stay at home at all times:

What do I tell my employer now I’m considered vulnerable?

“For those who have now been added to the shielding list, they are being advised only to leave their homes for exercise or to attend a medical appointment.

This will undoubtedly include members of the public who were leaving the home for work, as recent government guidelines meant those who could not work from home could to go to work where safe.

Ultimately these workers are likely now to be concerned over what this will mean for their employment and whether alternative options are available to them.”

Does an employee who cannot work from home have to shield?

“While the government’s advice on who should or should not shield has never been mandatory, key health advisers have identified these additional 1.7 million people as particularly high risk, and to ignore government advice could bring serious harm to those people.

Additionally, it would be highly unadvisable for an employer to allow those who are shielding to return to work, as it could possibly invalidate their insurance policy if they were to go directly against government health advice.

This in turn could leave them liable if anything were to happen to the person in question.”

What an employer should do if their employees are added to the vulnerable persons list:

“There are options for those who are now unable to work in person, though the first thing employers should do is discuss with any employee that has been added to the list if there would be a possible way for them to either continue their current role from home or to switch to another role, for the time being.

If an agreement can be made allowing the employee to work from home, then an employer should prioritise setting up working from home arrangements that take into account the possible change to the mental health and wellbeing of their employee.

In the case that remote working would be unsuitable, the employer can place their employee on the furlough scheme, which has been extended to the 30th of April, allowing an employee to still be paid 80% of their wages while they are unable to work.”

What are the other options if an employee does not qualify for the furlough scheme?

“There are other options available for those unable to work while shielding.

Since March 13, 2020, all those asked to shield by the NHS are eligible for Statutory Sick Pay. Statutory Sick Pay is currently £95.85 a week and is available to those who are casual workers or on a zero-hours contract.

Additionally, there are other government schemes available to help those losing income while shielding, including the Employment and Support Allowance, that supplies both financial support for those affected but also additional support to help those get back to work following the end of the shielding process.

“Finally, an employee may also be eligible for Universal Credit, which is another payment that is made to help cover living costs. Universal Credit is offered to those who are under the State Pension age and have less than £16,000 in savings. It is also possible to receive both Universal Credit and Statutory Sick Pay at the same time.”