A number of the government's changes announced last month have taken effect this week.
As of 1 August, employers can ask employees who have been able to work from home since the lockdown to return to their workplace, provided necessary steps have been taken to ensure the workplace is coronavirus secure and social distancing measures are in place.
Also, the extremely clinically vulnerable are no longer advised to shield, with employers being told by the government to make sure that people who are shielding can work from home wherever possible, including moving them to another role if required.
One more change is to the furlough scheme which, as the beginning of a winding down process over the coming months, now requires employers to make higher contributions to wages of workers who have been placed on the scheme.
These changes are being viewed as somewhat of a perfect storm for those who have been shielding. As a result, a number of charities have written to the Chancellor of the Exchequer expressing fears that that employees could be forced to choose between their jobs and their health if asked to return to work. The group, including Macmillan Cancer Support and Age UK, asked the government to protect vulnerable workers against the risk of dismissal.
If a vulnerable employee's occupation is one which they cannot carry out from home, and if it is just not possible create a safe workplace safe for them, there are fears that they may be forced to choose between putting their health on the line by returning, or staying safe by giving up their job.
Pressure will also be placed on employers to find a lawful solution in what are unprecedented circumstances. Many clinically vulnerable employees will qualify as disabled for the purposes of the Equality Act which obliges employers to make reasonable adjustments for such workers. Requiring an employee to return to an unsafe workplace could entitle them to resign and make claims for constructive dismissal and/or, if they are disabled, a discrimination claim.
Given the range of difficulties facing all parties, the charities have asked Rishi Sunak to take action to both protect employees' jobs whilst supporting businesses, including setting up a new support scheme for the clinically vulnerable who are unable to return to work and suggesting the extension of the furlough scheme.
If you have any questions regarding vulnerable or shielding employees and their employment, please do not hesitate to contact the Kemp Little Employment Team.
Charities are calling on the chancellor to protect the jobs of workers who have been shielding during the pandemic.