Shielding - Updated Guidance

Public Health England (“PHE”) has updated its guidance on shielding and protecting people who are clinically extremely vulnerable from Covid-19.

Shielding for the clinically extremely vulnerable was paused in England on 31 July and in Wales on 16 August. On 13 October, PHE updated its Guidance on shielding and protecting extremely vulnerable persons from Covid-19 (“the Guidance”). It aims to strike a better balance between keeping the clinically extremely vulnerable safe and reducing some of the potentially harmful impacts on their mental and social wellbeing associated with the previous strict shielding guidance. The Guidance sets out the steps clinically extremely vulnerable people can take to protect themselves at each local Covid alert level. The conditions automatically covered by the definition of "clinically extremely vulnerable" remain unchanged.

The corresponding guidance in Wales remains unchanged.

The government has stated that it will only reintroduce formal shielding advice for England in the very worst affected local areas for a limited time. This is to only apply to some, not all, very high alert level areas and is to be based on the Chief Medical Officer's advice. The government will write to individuals to inform them if they are advised to shield.

Those required to travel into a different local Covid alert level area for work should follow the guidance for whichever area has the higher alert level.

The clinically extremely vulnerable are advised to work from home where possible, but otherwise go into their workplace – unless they live or work in an area where formal shielding advice is in place and they have received a new shielding notification letter, in which event statutory sick pay will be available to those who qualify for it.

Those who are not advised to shield who cannot perform their normal role from home are advised to discuss temporarily changing their role or working pattern with their employer, for example, to avoid travelling in rush hour.

The Guidance includes a reminder that employers are required to take steps to reduce the risk of exposure to Covid-19 in the workplace, and that in the event that they fail to do so, the Health and Safety Executive and local authorities can take action which can range from the provision of specific advice, issuing enforcement notices, and stopping certain work practices until they are made safe – backed up by the potential for prosecution in the event that employers fail to comply with enforcement notices.

A point not spelt out in the Guidance, but which employers should keep in mind, is that a failure to make reasonable adjustments to enable a clinically extremely vulnerable employee to continue working might constitute a breach of the Equality Act 2010. There is reference, though, to the fact that employees with disabilities who need support to work at home or in the workplace can apply to Access to Work – which can also help assess whether an employee’s needs can be met through reasonable adjustments. Assistance may include a grant to help cover the costs of travel to and from work or practical support in the workplace (which can include the employee’s home); and confidential mental health support is also available.