Through this supportive guide we aim to arm you with information concerning your rights at work both from an employee and employer point of view concerning COVID-19 and safety at work.
To help support you Immunodeficiency UK has worked with a coalition of 20 other charities to produce a Safe at Work letter for employers to help aid your discussions when considering a return to work. You can download the letter from the Kidney Care UK website (the organisation who spearheaded this work) or it is available as a word document here.
What are my rights about being at work?
From 1 April 2022, the government removed the health and safety requirement for every employer to explicitly consider COVID-19 in their risk assessments and the existing set of ‘Working Safely’ guidance with new public health guidance. However, the duty for employers to protect people from harm remains. This includes harm from COVID-19. The government’s ‘Living with Covid’ plan also specified that employers should continue to consider the needs of employees at greater risk from COVID-19, including those whose immune system means they are at higher risk of serious illness.
Importantly, although the legal requirement to self-isolate following a positive Covid test has ended, Government guidance recommends people who test positive for COVID should stay at home for 5 days and avoid contact with people at higher risk from COVID for 10 days. Employers will play an important role in facilitating this.
Immunodeficiency UK cannot advise you about specific employment scenarios, but you can find helpful guidance from ACAS about employment issues.
Current government guidance
Work from home guidance has come to an end across the UK, including for people at higher risk from COVID-19 and their family members, unless they are advised otherwise by their clinician.
See individual country websites for more information:
Workplace guidance for each UK nation explains what employers should do to reduce the spread of respiratory infections, including COVID-19:
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has information on working safely during the pandemic. Although the requirement to carry out a specific COVID-19 risk assessment has ended, HSE reminds employers that they must, as always, comply with the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 for welfare facilities. There is specific guidance on providing sufficient general ventilation in workplaces.
Government guidance highlights that people at highest risk may be entitled to a Reasonable Adjustment under the Equality Act. The Equality Act 2010 requires an employer to make reasonable adjustments so that an employee with a disability has no obstacles to remain in work, for example their risk from COVID-19. 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’.
The specific changes will depend on your workplace and the type of work you do.
Reasonable adjustments may include:
- Continuing to work from home or work from home for part of the week
- Changing your working hours to avoid peak times on public transport
- Relocating you to a less crowded area of the workplace
- Reducing the number of people you work with, for example using fixed teams or partnering.
You might also like to:
- Consider whether there are any alternatives to public transport (e.g. car-sharing with one other person) or whether you can travel at quieter times
- Ask your employer/HR department to run a session on supporting vulnerable colleagues, so all colleagues are aware of appropriate actions to take
- Use social media/friends/other groups to find out what people in similar situations are doing.
- Support for additional costs to enable safer working
The Access to Work scheme can give practical advice and guidance to employers, to help them understand physical and mental ill health and how they can support employees and may help with funding.
Talking to your employer
Ask to discuss workplace risk management with your employer. Your employer must carry out a risk assessment to identify the steps they need to take to protect their workers from harm, and record the findings if they have five or more employees. You could ask to see this and also if they would consider doing an individual risk assessment, if this has not already been done.
Your employer may not be aware of how your condition affects your workplace risk from COVID-19, so information you choose to share could help. You might discuss how to manage your risk at work with your doctor (getting it in writing if possible) and share this with your employer.
The risk assessment process helps your employer consider reasonable adjustments to enable higher risk employees to work safely. Think about what adjustments might reduce your risk of Covid-19. Discuss potential changes with your employer and make a request for adjustments in writing (including any advice you have received from your doctor), asking for a written response in a reasonable timeframe, such as 7-14 days.
Links to other useful sources of information from the Citizen’s Advice Bureau
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
Updated February 2023