Shielding employees who cannot work should continue to be furloughed – charity


Shielding employees who cannot return to work should continue to be furloughed at 80% of their wages, a charity has said.

Age UK is calling for greater protection for staff who are unable to return to work for health reasons and whose job cannot be done from home.

Earlier this month, Blood Cancer UK launched a similar campaign, saying some jobs are difficult or impossible to do while continually social distancing, such as those in shops, factories, nurseries, pubs, cafes and hospitals.

Shielding is due to end in England and Northern Ireland on July 31 and medics should then decide whether patients can reasonably be expected to work, depending on their workplace.

According to the Government, employers have been told to make sure the shielded can work from home wherever possible, including moving them to another role if required.

If employers cannot provide a Covid-safe working environment, those who are clinically vulnerable will be able to access financial support including statutory sick pay and welfare payments, it has said.

Age UK said its own analysis shows that around 319,000 workers aged 50 and over were advised to shield in March for health reasons, while others have health conditions that make working close to other people risky.

Others are also living with someone who is clinically extremely vulnerable and must take extra care, the charity said.

It is campaigning for furlough-style payments for these people and for full employment rights to be maintained.

It also wants extra protection from dismissal for people who are coming back from furlough or from shielding, and extensions to the right to work flexibly and from home.

The charity also says clinical practitioners or health and safety assessors should be in charge of workplace assessments, and further clarification is needed on Covid-secure workplace guidance.

People should also have easier routes to reporting health and safety breaches relating to Covid-19 in the workplace, it said.

Age UK’s charity director, Caroline Abrahams, said: “For the sake of employers as well as their staff, we call on the Government to implement a new furlough-style support scheme at the current 80% level for workers who are shielding or who are exceptional risk from the virus, if August 1 is too early for them to return safely to work.

“These people shouldn’t have to choose between keeping their jobs or compromising their health, and their employers shouldn’t have to choose between letting valued staff go or funding them to stay away, not working.

“It’s not just in the workplace where there may be a risk – it’s the travelling for those who are dependent on public transport to get to and from work.

“We fear that, unless the Government intervenes to help, this situation is a recipe for unemployment among older shielded workers to soar.

“Yet these people who have been shielding have made great sacrifices over the last few months to protect themselves, their families and the NHS, and it would be hugely unfair if they lost their jobs now as a result.”

A Government spokesman said: “We understand how challenging this pandemic is for people, especially those with long-term conditions and rare diseases, and we must do everything we can to support them.

“The decision on following shielding advice should always be based on conversations between doctors and their patients, as they will be best placed to advise on the needs of individuals during this time.

“The latest evidence shows that the chance of encountering coronavirus in the community continues to decline and this has allowed for the relaxation of our guidance.”