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Keeping safe when shielding ends

MSer and HR expert Rebecca Armstrong has advice on returning to work for those who have been shielding

Rebecca Armstrong2this one.jpgEveryone with multiple sclerosis (MS) is classed as vulnerable under the COVID-19 government guidance however, some people with MS have been considered extremely vulnerable and for the past three to four months have been shielding. The government has now decided that people should stop shielding from 31 July. For many people this is an extremely stressful time as the expectation shifts towards getting back to work. Firstly, we must remember that even though shielding is ending, the virus is still active in the country and people with MS are classed as vulnerable.

Duty of care

Employers have a duty of care for the wellbeing of their employees and are obligated under The Equality Act 2010 to make reasonable adjustments. Furthermore, the COVID-19 guidance requires that a full risk assessment is completed within every business (and where there are more than five people, this needs to be a written assessment). Within this, consideration needs to be made regarding how all staff will be kept as safe as possible, including those who are vulnerable. In addition to this, employers should be holding individual conversations with those returning from shielding to support this transition. This might include

  • Discussion on how you are feeling about returning to work
  • Sharing with you the risk assessment to give you a clear picture of how risk is being managed within the business
  • Discussion about what else can be done to support you, for example continuing to work from home where this is possible, temporarily adjusting your role so you can be in the safest job possible, and how they will support you to stringently maintain social distancing. This should be a conversation so you can ask questions, share your ideas and hear the company’s plans
  • Building on the above point, what reasonable adjustments need to be agreed to optimise your safety? This could involve, for example, changing hours so you can be dropped off and picked up by a family member so you do not need to travel on public transport

This is a challenging time for everyone. Employers are also navigating new guidance and working through how to support people. Discussion is the key to making this work and finding a way forward. Ultimately, safety is the most important part and, in line with government guidance at the time, employers need to ensure all measures are put in place. If you feel this isn’t the case and you are being put at unnecessary or unreasonable risk you can refuse to work, however, where possible, it is better to discuss this and try to resolve it.