Updated: Aug 11
Amongst all of the uncertainty during the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown periods, perhaps those hardest hit have been the 2.2million citizens who are most clinically vulnerable to coronavirus. Most of these people have been entirely homebound since lockdown was implemented back on March 23rd, and since then, have had to adapt to an entirely new way of life. Their employers too, have had to adapt – launching new business practices where they’re able, or having to furlough their staff until they’re able to attend work again. But now that lockdown restrictions are ending, what happens to those staff? Let’s investigate…
There is no ‘one size fits all’
Whilst some ‘categories’ of vulnerability have been downgraded from requiring full shielding, others have been upped. There is no one size fits all for anyone shielding, and their individual personal health must be judged on its own merits.
If you have a staff member who is technically able to return to work but feels anxious or unwilling to do so, it’s critical that open and honest discussions around safety measures and potential compromises in working practices are had. Employers should act more cautious than not in order to best protect their employee’s safety.
If you have a staff member who is now technically able to return to work and wishes to do so, you must make arrangements for their safe return. Consider a phased return if appropriate, and check in with the staff member often to best judge their feelings and thoughts on the developing situation.
Social Distancing levels must be maintained where possible
Even if your usual working practices don’t allow for flawless social distancing at all times, it’s still imperative that this is adhered to for ‘shielding’ staff. The exact requirements for social distancing now vary between Scotland, England and Wales, but 2m is considered best practice.
Where possible, staff who have shielded should remain at home and work remotely. Some employers may, however, be a bone of contention amongst staff who are unable to work from home – so transparency is key to communications regarding differing working practices for different people.
Flexibility is key
No two businesses are the same and no two businesses appear to have the same policies on working during the coronavirus pandemic! If companies are able to offer more flexible working options to their staff, be they shielding or not, they should do so – providing, of course, it does not impact negatively or unsustainably on their ‘business-as-usual’.
If caution can be taken, it should be. You’ll have seen the phrase before, but indeed these truly are ‘unprecedented times’, and the journey out of the pandemic seems unlikely to be linear. For specific advice, regarding safe working practices or an individual’s case or bill of health, as well as practical suggestions, speak to an HR specialist and remain in contact with them as the situation develops and changes. It’s always better to be coronavirus safe than to be coronavirus sorry!