We’ve had a lot of questions about work here on the helpline. Some examples include
- I have multiple sclerosis (MS), I can’t socially distance properly at work, what should I do?
- I have MS, should I be working at all right now?
- What information does my employer need to support me?
People with a diagnosis of MS are within the section of society classed as ‘vulnerable’ under recent coronavirus government guidelines. It is very important that all those who are vulnerable strictly adhere to the social distancing practices and follow the stay at home guidance, working from home where possible.
Those with MS who are considered to be ‘extremely vulnerable’ or at much higher risk will need to be shielding for 12 weeks. This is where people will be strongly advised to not leave their home for at least the next three months.
The extremely vulnerable will have received a letter, text or phone call from the government informing them of the shielding procedure. If you haven’t been contacted and feel you are in this category please get in touch with your GP or MS team as soon as possible.
The extremely vulnerable includes those who
- have higher support needs, or who have significant swallowing and/or breathing issues
- have taken Lemtrada or Mavenclad within the last 12 weeks (these drugs greatly suppress the immune system). Self-isolation needs to only be from the date of your course. If you had your course six weeks ago, you will only need to shield yourself for another six weeks, for example
- have had HSCT treatment in the last 12 months
You may be recommended to follow the shielding procedure if your MS team feel it is necessary and are concerned about your risk.
People with a diagnosis of MS are protected by the Equality Act from the date of diagnosis and, in the eyes of the law, will be considered to have a disability. This means that employers should make reasonable adjustments to a role or a working environment. We strongly suggest that you have a conversation with your employer (and any occupational health services) about your MS and ask that they follow social distancing practices to allow the strictest possible adherence to the social distancing guidelines.
If you are in the extremely vulnerable group and need to shield, you should speak to your employer about whether they plan to place staff on furlough. This is where your employer can pay 80 per cent of your wages through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, which your employer can then claim back from the government. You employer can also make a choice whether to pay you the remaining 20 per cent of your salary.
The government has specific guidelines for employers which can be found at this link https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/guidance-to-employers-and-businesses-about-covid-19/covid-19-guidance-for-employees
For people who are not able to work from home, are in key worker roles, or involved in manufacturing, or food retail, ACAS (the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) has some information that will likely be useful.
They say on their website that ‘Employers must be especially careful and take extra steps for anyone in their workforce who is in a vulnerable group’.
ACAS go on to say ‘If an employee is [still] being asked to go out to work and they believe they're at a higher risk, it's important they talk to their employer. If they can show that their work or travel to work stops them from social distancing, they should tell their employer that they need to follow government advice and stay at home’.
For ACAS’s specific information for employees who are vulnerable or in a high risk group, please see this link www.acas.org.uk/coronavirus/vulnerable-people-and-high-risk
Specific guidance is being developed for those who work in healthcare and we will share this once it is available. However, those with compromised immune systems should make it known to their line manager as soon as possible to discuss the best course of action.
Being connected with others and gaining some peer support can be especially useful at a time like this. The Facebook group ‘MS & Work’ was set up by Rebecca Armstrong, who is a HR professional who also lives with MS. The group is a closed group meaning that if someone posts within it, it will not appear ‘publicly’ to Facebook friends and connections. The group is very supportive. Rebecca is also a regular contributor to MS-UK’s New Pathways magazine.
The Facebook group is intended to offer support and help to people with MS who are experiencing employment difficulties. Rebecca gives all support freely. She recently did a question and answer session within the group specifically about MS, work and the coronavirus. As a caveat Rebecca suggests that people should always obtain legal advice if they are ever in doubt over the support given.
Our helpline is still operating and is available. Please email us in the first instance as we will likely be able to reply to you more quickly than by telephone. Our email is firstname.lastname@example.org We will do our best to get back to you as soon as we can and within three working days.
Keep safe all,
Laura and Ryan,
MS-UK Helpline team