How to protect vulnerable employees

James Potts - Associate Director of Legal

July 27 2020

From 1st August (and 17th August in Wales), vulnerable people in the UK ‘shielding’ from coronavirus can return to work.

They’ll no longer be entitled to statutory sick pay (SSP), and you won’t be able to claim for an SSP rebate.

But the risks to their health are still high. So you’ll need to take special measures to keep your staff safe.

Here’s what you need to do now to protect your vulnerable employees.

Study government guidance on shielding

Remember, shielding workers have medical conditions that risk serious COVID-19 illness. At the peak of the outbreak, the NHS told vulnerable people to stay at home at all times.

Ministers have since paused these measures. From the end of July, people who were ‘full shielding’ must now stick to ‘strict social distancing’. This means your vulnerable workers still need to:

  • Keep two metres away from anyone outside their home
  • Limit the shops they visit and non-essential journeys they make

With these rules in mind, let’s look at the steps you can take to support your employees when they return to work.

Offer alternative work

Though your vulnerable workers can go back into the workplace, the outbreak may have made their old work tasks too risky. For example, if their role involved serving the public, their chances of catching the virus soar.

In that case, think about ways you can change their duties to make the job safer. Can you give the employee a separate work area? Is there a behind-the-scenes role they could fulfil instead?

Though scientists are optimistic, it could be years before we get a coronavirus vaccine—if ever. So, to protect your vulnerable workers in the long run, you may want to make the changes to their duties permanent.

To do this, you’ll need to ask your employee to agree to the changes. If you try to impose them, they may be able to make a claim at a tribunal.

But what if you can’t offer your worker any alternative roles?

Introduce special safety measures

The government has set out general guidelines on how to make your workplace ‘COVID-secure’. But you may need to take extra care to support your vulnerable workers, and make specific changes depending on their conditions.

First, you could stagger the times when your staff arrive and leave, and provide separate entrances and exits with handwashing facilities.

You also need to try to keep vulnerable workers two metres apart. If you can’t, you should stick to the “one metre plus” rule and potentially install screens to create a physical barrier between people or provide masks or visors.

As a last resort, make sure people are working side-by-side rather than face-to-face. You’ll also need to regularly clean surfaces or objects that lots of people touch.

It’s important to make these changes to help stop the spread of the virus. But if a worker has a disability (which could include a medical condition that risks severe COVID-19 illness), you also have a legal duty to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to help them work.

But what if it’s still too risky for your vulnerable employee to come into work?

Set up your employee to permanently work from home

If home working is possible, it’s the best way to reduce the risk to vulnerable staff.

To set up your employee at home, you need to make sure they have the right tools, such as a phone, laptop or software, to do their job.

Your employee must also have the correct workspace. That means, if a longer-term working from home arrangement is required, they should have a suitable desk and chair as they would in the office. You may need to provide these if your employee doesn’t have them.

Remember: you have the same health & safety responsibilities for home workers as for any other workers. The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) says you must consider:

  • How you’ll keep in touch with your employee
  • The safety of the work they’ll be doing
  • Whether you need to put control measures in place to protect them

You also need to manage their workload, so it doesn’t cause ‘unreasonable’ stress.

Make no mistake—it’s going to be tough to support your workers and run your business over the coming months.

But there is a way you can make things a little easier…

Get expert advice

For specialist help with workplace safety, furlough, government grants, staff management issues and more, contact Peninsula for 24/7 advice on 0800 028 2420.

Not a Peninsula client? No problem. You can still claim your free advice call with an HR and health & safety expert today. Click here to book your call.

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