Going back to work after shielding

As restrictions ease many of you who have shielded will be invited to transition back into work. The thought of returning to your work environment after shielding is likely to affect people in different ways. Some of you may feel relief in being able to return to some sense of normality and to see people; others of, you may feel anxious and apprehensive to go outside and into the workplace again. Whatever you're feeling is OK.   

Through this supportive guide we aim to help you to transition back into the workplace in a safe and comfortable way and arm you with information concerning your rights in returning to work both from an employee and employer point of view.

To help support you Immunodeficiency UK has worked with a coalition of 20 other charities to produce a letter for employers to help aid your discussions when considering a return to work. You can downlaod the letter from the Kidney Care UK website (the organistaion who spearheaded this work) or it is available as a word ducument here.

Measures the coalition are calling for include:

  • Follow the latest Health and Safety Executive Guidance
  • Conduct comprehensive risk assessments informed by medical advice
  • Ensure there is flexibility to make changes based on fluctuating local prevalence
  • Good ventilation throughout the workplace
  • Regular lateral flow testing
  • Make reasonable adjustments including flexible start times to avoid peak travel on public transport
  • Consider continuing to use facemasks and measures to enable greater social distancing indoors
  • Working from home as much as possible if individuals have previously been advised to shield.

Our top tips

Take small steps - Start with small steps that feel right for how you feel now and build your confidence from there.  It could be as simple as trying to go for a short walk along your road, spending more time outdoors, or mixing in a socially distanced way with friends.  Do the things that help you to transition back into a sense of normality in a way that feels right for you. This will help you to feel more prepared to re-enter your workplace when it is safe to do so. 

Only return to work when it is safe - You may feel eager to get back to work and see people, or you may feel anxious or pressured to do this, especially if you are feeling a sense of guilt where your colleagues have been working in your usual workspace and you have not been able to join them. Remember, shielding guidelines were there to protect you and following them was the right thing to do. Your personal safety is what is most important.

Talk to your manager - Your manager should be there to support you. Your employer has a legal duty of care to you.  Share how you are feeling with them. This could include the things you may be looking forward to when returning to work, and any anxieties that you may have. Your manager will be able to put you at ease by sharing how the workplace has been made safe to return to work, talking through any anxieties you still have, and putting in place any personalised measures to support you to safely re-enter the workplace. Keep this conversation going with your manager after you have returned.

Work flexibly, where you can - It may be possible to explore more flexible ways of working with your employer that will help you when returning to the workplace. Have the conversation with your manager or human resources team, if you have one, to see what may be possible.

Connect with your work colleagues - Whilst you have been shielding, you may have had less contact than usual with your workmates. As you return to work, it may be difficult to re-connect at first. Try to re-connect with your colleagues before you return if you can or make this your main priority on your first day back. Colleagues may find it difficult to understand what it was like to have shielded and how you are feeling having to transition back into the workplace. Talking about it helps. If you feel able to, try and share how you are feeling, what it has been like while shielding and then returning to work. This may help your colleagues to support you better when you return. 

Stay in tune with how you feel - We are all different and COVID has impacted on us in different and unexpected ways. You may experience mixed emotions, happiness to re-connect with colleagues and re-enter the workplace, or fear and anxiety from having to be in a place where you perceive you could be less safe than in your own home. It is helpful to notice these emotions and how they are making you feel, as acknowledging them helps you to deal with them.

Seek support when you need to - If you continue to feel anxious, it's ok to seek support. Speak to your manager and human resources team to explore what they can do to support you to feel safe and effectively return to work.  Be honest with family and friends about the stress you may feel as this may help you. If you have any medical-related questions, seek advice from your health-team. 

You are not alone and Immunodeficiency UK is here for you if you are struggling or have any questions. 

What are my rights about going back to work?

The Government guidance is that employers must support vulnerable and at-risk workers to protect themselves.  Immunodeficiency UK cannot advise you about specific employment scenarios, but you can find helpful guidance from ACAS about employment issues

This BBC news article is also helpful 'Coronavirus: Can my boss force me to go back to work?'

Remember that if you have a primary or secondary immunodeficiency you are automatically covered by the definition of disability in the Equality Act 2010. It is against the law to discriminate against you directly or indirectly. Please see our leaflet on 'Your employment rights'

Workplace testing for COVID

Regular lateral flow testing for Covid-19 is already widespread in many sectors, and anyone in England or Scotland can also order tests directly. There's more detailed guidance for specific industries including construction, hospitality and manufacturing.

Similar advice is available for employers in Scotland, Wales and Northern Irela.
If employees feel unsafe, they can contact their local authority, Citizens Advice or the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). The HSE has carried more than 200,000 inspections to check companies are following Covid rules, and can force firms to take action if not.

It is a voluntary decision for employers to offer testing for their staff. There is no government guidance that requires employers to carry out testing on all employees, but the government has emphasised that employers should regularly test their staff, and it is attempting to raise awareness and encourage more businesses to test.

Advice from the four nations

Scotland

Returning to work safely Coronavirus - support if you're on the shielding list - Mygov

England

For information visit working in England if you're clinically extremely vulnerable.

Northern Ireland

Information on returning to work is given at advice for clinically extremely vulnerable people in Northern Ireland

Wales

For information visit working if you're clinically extremely vulnerable in Wales.

Links to other useful sources of information from the Citizen's Advice Bureau

England

Coronavirus - if you're worried about working - Citizens Advice

Coronavirus - if you need to be off work to care for someone - Citizens Advice

Northern Ireland

We couldn't find a link to specific information but this link may be helpful:

Get advice in Northern Ireland - Citizens Advic

Scotland

Coronavirus - if you're worried about working - Citizens Advice Scotland

Coronavirus - if you need to be off work to care for someone - Citizens Advice Scotland

Wales

Coronavirus - if you're worried about working

Insight from the employers' perspective

It is always useful to understand how employers view their responsibilities with respect to the return-to-work process.

CIPD (the professional body for human resources and people development), recommends, where home working is not possible, businesses ensure they meet three key tests before bringing staff back to the workplace:

  • Is it essential
  • Is it sufficiently safe
  • Is it mutually agreed?

Read more at Coronavirus (COVID-19): returning to the workplace guide | CIPD

This website COVID-19: Employees Unable/Unwilling to Return to Work | Make UK provides information on the HR and employment law implications relating to issues at work/returning to work brought about by COVID which you may find helpful.

Updated 20th July 2021