This document sets up guidance for managers on how to return employees to work who are in the higher risk and extremely high risk categories and are currently not at work. Please note those in the extremely high risk category should remain at home until Government guidance changes. The procedure that must be followed for both these categories are noted below.
Extremely High Risk (Shielding)
From 1 August, the Scottish Government are advising people who have been shielding that they currently no longer need to do so. This means that in general, people who have been shielding can now follow the same advice as everyone else in Scotland and can return to the workplace if required to do so.
Managers should return shielding employees to the workplace using the same protocol as for Higher Risk employees as detailed below. However, it is important that each shielding employee has an individual risk assessment carried out to ensure that the appropriate Health and Safety measures are in place to allow for their return. The Individual Risk Assessment can be found here.
In order to support the process for bringing shielding employees back to the workplace a COVID Age assessment should be completed by the employee. This assessment will help managers identify the level of risk an employee is at should they contact COVID 19 and will help inform the Individual Risk Assessment.
Managers should make arrangements to send the assessment and accompanying guidance to the employee prior to commencing discussions about their return. The assessment form and guidance can be found below along with a more detailed guidance for Managers on how to assess the information on the form.
Not all shielding employees will feel able to return to work due to the nature of their condition and the inability to apply necessary health and safety measures. Managers should contact Employee Relations for advice in relation to these cases.
Manager should note that employees that are shielding have extra protection under the Equality Act 2010 and the Employment Rights Act 1996. However, it is also important to remember that all employees (not just those who are shielding) who reasonably believe themselves to be in serious and imminent danger are entitled to take appropriate steps to protect themselves if appropriate measures have not been put in place to protect their health & safety.
Higher Risk (Clinically Vulnerable)
The second category includes those who are over 70, pregnant or who have an underlying health condition that puts them at increased risk of severe illness from coronavirus. The guidance for this group has changed as a result of the recent relaxation of lockdown measures and the guidance on the ACAS website for employers and NHS inform now states that:
Employers must be especially careful and take extra steps for anyone in their workforce who is in a vulnerable group.
Those who are in the vulnerable group, who are at increased risk of severe illness from coronavirus should strictly follow physical distancing measures.
The clear message is that where these employees can work from home they should be equipped and supported to do so. However those who cannot work from home, or are required to return to the workplace, should be enabled to return provided that steps are taken by employers to ensure that they can follow the strict physical distancing measures outlined. Where that is not possible in their current role, staff should be given the option to undertake alternative duties or roles which minimise their exposure to COVID 19.
Given the nature of the guidance it is clear that managers at a local level will now be required to assess the position of all staff in this category in terms of their ability to return to work in their previous work environment or role whilst maintaining strict physical distancing protocols.
This means that we now have a basis on which to return staff in this category to the workplace, particularly where they are required for essential services or unable to work from home, however adjustments will need to be made and situations will need to be carefully managed on a case by case basis by service managers.
Below is the process to be followed to begin to return these employees to the workplace, where they are not able to work from home.
Advice from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists states that generally there is no evidence that pregnant women are more likely to get seriously ill from coronavirus but pregnant women have been included in the list of people at higher risk (clinically vulnerable) as a precaution.
Pregnant women should follow the latest government guidance on staying alert and safe (social distancing) and avoid anyone who has symptoms suggestive of coronavirus.
The exception to this is a pregnant women is in her third trimester (more than 28 weeks’ pregnant) who should be particularly attentive to social distancing and should only be allowed in the workplace if this can be stringently adhered too.
Managers must ensure that they undertake a Maternity risk assessment for all pregnant employees whether they are working from home or in the workplace. For those employees that are more than 28 weeks pregnant if social distancing measures cannot be stringently adhered to in the workplace arrangements must be made for the employee to either work from home, carry out alternative duties in the workplace that will allow them to stringently socially distance or be placed on Special Leave until the commencement of their Maternity leave.
Key advice for pregnant women during the pandemic:
- Follow the guidance on staying alert and safe (social distancing) and staying safe outside the home including appropriate use of face coverings.
- Keep mobile and hydrated to reduce the risk of blood clots in pregnancy
- Stay active with regular exercise, a healthy balanced diet, and folic acid and vitamin D supplementation to help support a healthy pregnancy
- Attend all pregnancy scans and antenatal appointments unless advised not to
- Contact your maternity team if you have concerns about the wellbeing of yourself or your unborn baby.
BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) Employees
Growing evidence suggests that people of BAME origin are more at risk of COVID19 and therefore will be considered as being in the higher risk group as detailed above.
Where possible, and as detailed above for those in the high risk group, BAME employees should be allowed to continue to work from home and where this is not possible, you must ensure that they are able to comply with social distancing and all other health and safety measures required to ensure their safety and wellbeing in the workplace.
Managers should follow the same protocols as detailed above for those who are in the high risk category when considering a return to work for BAME employees.
Return to work procedure
- Line managers should consider which employees they have in the above categories that it is essential they return to the workplace and which ones can continue to work from home. The manager should talk them through relevant risk assessments and the safeguards that have been put in place to protect their safety and wellbeing and remind them that their health and safety is paramount to any decision we make or take. Should the manager or employee consider that individual health and safety measures are required in the workplace, due to the employee’s individual circumstances, an Individual Risk Assessment can be carried out. For employees in the extremely high risk category an Individual Risk Assessment must be carried out. Advice on completing this document can be obtained from the Safety and Wellbeing Team.
- Adjustments/arrangements should be made for any staff member in these categories who can be accommodated to work from home within the service but hasn’t been able to do so.
- The line manager should contact every employee they have in this category to provide them with an update on the service position and to agree their position. These discussions require to be recorded on the Record of Discussion form available which is available on myTeam and once complete, the employee will able to view this on mySelf. An infographic on how to access the form is available on myNL. Alternatively, an electronic version of the form is available below.
- The line manager should confirm when he/she expects the employee to return to work and the reason for this.
- The manager should talk them through relevant risk assessments and the safeguards that have been put in place to protect their safety and wellbeing and remind them that their health and safety is paramount to any decision we make or take.
- The line manager should also speak about infection control measures, ways of working that enable the employee to maintain physical distancing from colleagues/customers, and consider other options such as staggering start and finish times to allow travel on public transport during less busy times.
- The line manager should discuss any required adaptations to the individual’s role and working environment in advance of them returning to work. The manager should advise that he/she wishes to discuss the individuals job duties and working environment to establish: a) Is there any additional safe-working adaptations that could be made for the employee. b) Could they continue to work from home on a part time basis. c) Could flexible working hours be applied or change to working days – this may mean a staggered start to avoid public transport travel in peak times or changes to hours or days worked to accommodate caring responsibilities. d) Is it necessary to transfer them temporarily to an alternative role, and if so, what role might be available
- Ask the employee if their GP has given them any advice on adaptations/adjustments that are required to allow them to return to work. Managers can also seek advice in the first instance from the National Occupational Health Advice Line if there are any concerns about the employee returning to the workplace and they are not sure whether they should refer to HML e.g. employee concerned about wearing a face mask, manager unsure about the employee carrying out certain duties, is additional PPE required because of health condition, employee told they no longer require to shield can they return to work? The helpline number is 01273 555 666.
- If the employee or the manager has serious concerns about the employee returning to the workplace due to their underlying health condition/s or where the employees feels unable to return despite all Health & Safety measures being put in place the manager should make a referral to Occupational Health. Where the COVID age assessment determines that an employee is at very high risk a referral to Occupational Health must be made. Information on the referral process and how to register if not already can be found here.
- The line manager should discuss any other circumstances that are causing the employee concern about returning to work, such as caring or childcare responsibilities and offer options to support them, where possible. For information on what supports are available, see here.
- Through this discussion, agreement must be reached between line manager and employee on their return to work and all adjustments made prior to their return. These adjustments and any associated changes to hours or work patterns should be agreed on a temporary basis to ease the employee back to work and should be reviewed after 6 months.
- If despite all appropriate measures being put in place the employee still feels unable to return to work, the line manager should advise them that they will arrange to meet with them with a member of the Employee Relations team present. At this meeting, the line manager will discuss their position, the Council’s position and if not already done so make a referral to HML for advice and guidance on a safe return to work for the employee. Whilst the circumstances of each individual needs to be carefully considered, employees cannot remain absent from work indefinitely and decisions will need to be made and appropriate action taken. Managers must seek advice and support from Employee Relations in this regard.
- Line managers should seek support and advice from Employee Relations where health issues are causing concerns or to provide additional support around employee anxieties about a return. Further information and support can be found on WorkWell NL here.