As an employer, you have a legal duty to protect workers from harm. You should make sure you consider the risk to workers who are particularly vulnerable to coronavirus (COVID-19) and put controls in place to reduce that risk.
Supporting workers in higher-risk groups
The Public Health England report Disparities in the risk and outcomes of COVID-19 shows that some groups of people may be at more risk of being infected and/or an adverse outcome if infected.
The higher-risk groups include those who:
- are older males
- have a high body mass index (BMI)
- have health conditions such as diabetes
- are from some Black, Asian or minority ethnicity (BAME) backgrounds
Public Health England, supported by HSE and the Faculty of Medicine, have worked together to consider strategies to lessen workplace risks of COVID-19 for BAME groups. This work has been reflected in the Equalities Minister’s report.
There are currently no expectations of additional controls specifically for these groups. But make sure your existing controls (social distancing, good hygiene and cleaning, ventilation, supervision etc) are applied strictly. As an employer, you should support these individuals/groups in your workforce by ensuring:
- you emphasise the importance of individual and wider workforce engagement, buy-in and cooperation to ensure controls are applied stringently
- they have individual discussions with their managers around their particular concerns
- you/they discuss the risk management measures you have put in place to minimise transmission to keep them, and others, safe
- you explain the controls you will put/already have in place to protect them and other workers
If you work for yourself, you need to follow government guidance on working safely while maintaining a COVID-secure environment.
Accessing COVID-secure precautions
Employers should ensure all workers, including those in higher-risk groups, are able to access all the protections that are necessary, eg during night shifts, when working remotely or working alone. This might include access to personal protective equipment (PPE) stocks or cleaning materials.
Clinically extremely vulnerable workers
During the pandemic, the government has defined some people as clinically extremely vulnerable (previously described as shielded).
These workers are at increased risk of severe illness from coronavirus. From 5 January 2021 the government says that anyone who is clinically extremely vulnerable should not attend work and should only work from home, as coronavirus cases are rising rapidly across the country.
Supporting clinically extremely vulnerable workers at home
You should talk to clinically extremely vulnerable workers about their working arrangements and take every possible step to enable them to work from home. Consulting with workers will help you decide on the work they can do at home.
Make sure that you:
- think about tasks that could be done in another way that means you don’t need to go into work, for example customer consultations online, checking in with sites virtually, talking to managers about work that needs to be done using email, phone and conferencing
- agree on providing the IT and other equipment they will need to work remotely
- think about how you will keep in touch with people working remotely, to make sure they feel part of the team and involved
- think about using online resources to look after their mental health and wellbeing
HSE has a guide on talking with workers about preventing coronavirus.
You can find more advice on shielding and protecting vulnerable people on GOV.UK.
Further advice on employment rights is available on the Acas website or by calling the Acas helpline on 0300 123 1100.
During the pandemic, pregnant workers have been advised to follow strict social distancing to reduce the risk of severe illness from coronavirus.
There is a long-standing requirement for employers to put in place measures to ensure workplace safety where a significant health and safety risk is identified for a new or expectant mother.
Some pregnant workers will be at greater risk of severe illness from coronavirus. They are defined as clinically extremely vulnerable and they should stay at home as much as possible and work from home if they can (see Health Protection Scotland and Public Health Wales for any separate arrangements).
Employers will need to take this into account in their risk assessment.
If you cannot put the necessary control measures in place, such as adjustments to the job or working from home, you should suspend the pregnant worker on paid leave. This is in line with normal requirements under regulation 16(3) of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999.
HSE has specific, non-COVID advice for new and expectant mothers.
Page last reviewed: 05 January 2021
Next review due: 26 February 2021