From 1 August 2020 onwards, it is intended that the shielding programme will be “paused” in England so clinically extremely vulnerable people will no longer be advised to shield. From an employment perspective, this means that, if they cannot work from home, shielding employees can then return to their workplaces, provided they are “COVID-19 Secure”, i.e. they comply with the latest government guidance. Employers should ensure that robust measures are put in place to enable shielding employees to safely return to work, and that they comply with their statutory duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled employees. It is advisable for employers to speak to shielding employees on an individual basis in advance of their return to discuss the health and safety measures that have been put in place and to agree a plan for their return to work.
The easing of shielding measures is also likely to mean that shielding employees will no longer be entitled to receive statutory sick pay (SSP) from 1 August 2020 if continuing to shield. If so, amending regulations will need to be published to provide that shielding no longer constitutes deemed incapacity for SSP purposes. The exceptions, where the shielding employee would still be entitled to SSP, are where they are self-isolating because they have coronavirus symptoms, are waiting for a coronavirus test result or have tested positive for coronavirus, they live with someone who has symptoms, is waiting for a test result or has tested positive, someone in their support bubble has symptoms, is waiting for a test result or has tested positive or they have been told to self-isolate by NHS Test and Trace because they have been in contact with a person who has coronavirus. However, it is also possible that a shielding employee’s GP may certify them as unfit to return to work by issuing them with a fit note, and, in that case, they would then still be entitled to SSP under the normal SSP incapacity rules.
If they have been on furlough under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, shielding employees can remain on furlough from 1 August 2020.
The NHS will maintain the Shielded Patient List and, should levels of COVID-19 increase in communities, those at highest risk may be advised to take more restrictive measures in future to keep themselves safe.
Shielding has been extended in Scotland until 31 July 2020 and in Wales until 16 August 2020. In both cases, the Scottish and Welsh governments are keeping next steps under review.