Ask Alys: what are my rights as a vulnerable employee?
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Q: What are my rights as an employee who is in a vulnerable or at-risk group?
This week, Unite solicitor Alys Cunningham explains what your rights are as a worker who is ‘at-risk’ – that is, those who have certain health conditions like diabetes who make them more vulnerable to the Covid-19 virus.
A: The Government advises businesses ensure that employees who are in a vulnerable/at risk group are strongly advised to follow the social distancing guidance
On 16 March 2020 the Government provided the following detailed list of the groups they advise to be at risk, which includes those who are:
- aged 70 or older (regardless of medical conditions)
- under 70 with an underlying health condition listed below (i.e. anyone instructed to get a flu jab as an adult each year on medical grounds):
- chronic (long-term) respiratory diseases, such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema or bronchitis
- chronic heart disease, such as heart failure
- chronic kidney disease
- chronic liver disease, such as hepatitis
- chronic neurological conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease, motor neurone disease, multiple sclerosis (MS), a learning disability or cerebral palsy
- problems with your spleen – for example, sickle cell disease or if you have had your spleen removed
- a weakened immune system as the result of conditions such as HIV and AIDS, or medicines such as steroid tablets or chemotherapy
- being seriously overweight (a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or above)
- those who are pregnant
Note: there are some clinical conditions which put people at even higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19. Those in this extremely vulnerable risk category, will be contacted from 23 March 2020 by the NHS with advice on the more stringent shielding measures they should take for 12 weeks from receipt of their letter in order to keep themselves and others safe. For now, they should rigorously follow the social distancing advice in full. People falling into this group are those who may be at particular risk due to complex health problems such as:
- people who have received an organ transplant and remain on ongoing immunosuppression medication
- people with cancer who are undergoing active chemotherapy or radiotherapy
- people with cancers of the blood or bone marrow such as leukaemia who are at any stage of treatment
- people with severe chest conditions such as cystic fibrosis or severe asthma (requiring hospital admissions or courses of steroid tablets)
- people with severe diseases of body systems, such as severe kidney disease (dialysis)
If you fall into any of these above at risk groups, you should inform your employer of your health status immediately. The employer must perform a risk assessment to assess your likely exposure to COVID-19 and any mitigating control measures that can be enacted, then implement these as soon as possible to provide a safe working environment. This may require you to work from home, stagger working time – arrival and departure – where possible, or change job roles whilst the COVID-19 virus is at large in the population.
If an employee has a disability defined by the Equality Act 2010 which could compromise their immune system or pose a higher risk of developing severe COVID-19, the employer may have a legal duty under the Act to make reasonable adjustments to the employee’s working arrangements.
- Alys Cunningham is a solicitor for Unite