Do you live in an area affected by a local lockdown? The advice in these blogs is designed for people living in areas where shielding has been paused. The areas in local lockdown may be subject to different rules, including the extremely vulnerable being advised to resume shielding and restrictions on who can meet up and where. Please make sure that you follow all rules and/or guidance in your local area. These areas may also change. You can find out more information here: https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/local-restrictions-areas-with-an-outbreak-of-coronavirus-covid-19.
Please also get in touch for further information using the contact details at the bottom of this blog.
From 1st August, those of you who have been shielding are invited to transition back into work when it is safe to do so. The thought of returning to work after shielding is likely to affect you in different ways. You may feel relief in being able to go back to a sense of normality and to see your work colleagues, or you may feel anxious and apprehensive to go into the workplace again. Whatever you are feeling, remember that this is completely okay.
From 1st August you will no longer need to shield and may return to work as long as your workplace is COVID-safe. Every workplace is different: some involve working indoors all the time, some are mainly outside. The number of people you will come into contact with will also vary. Therefore, the steps needed to make a workplace COVID-safe will also vary. As a result, it is difficult for us to provide specific advice for everyone. This guide is designed to help you find the right information for your specific circumstances.
First three steps to take:
Step 1: Talk to your haematology team
While there is some data becoming available about how blood cancer patients have been affected by COVID-19 infection, every individual is different. It is important to remember that other factors affect your risk of severe illness with COVID-19 too, especially age and other illnesses such as heart and lung issues.
If you are not sure if you should be returning to work, the first person to speak to is your consultant. They are the best person to determine you own personal risk level.
If they do advise that it is not safe for you to return to work, ask them to confirm this in a letter so you can share this with your employer easily.
Step 2: Find out what the government advice is for your industry
In the government’s guidance on working safely, it states that businesses and workplaces should make every possible effort to enable vulnerable people to work from home as a first option. Where working from home is not possible, workplaces should make every effort to comply with social distancing guidelines set out by the government, allowing individuals to stay 2 metres apart from others, or 1 metre with risk mitigation in place, if 2 metres isn’t possible.
This link provides guidance on the basic things your employer must consider when making a workplace COVID-19 safe, but also information on working safely in a number of different workplaces. It is regularly updated and your employer should also update their risk assessments to reflect any changes in guidance.
Step 3: Start the conversation with your employer
Your employer has a duty to protect your health and safety. They will need to consult with you as an employee to find out what support you might need and undertake a risk assessment.
There will be two types of risk assessment:
- A general risk assessment of the workplace and the workforce. All workers should be consulted on this. For example, this will look at:
- Ensuring good ventilation in the workplace
- Staggering working hours and shifts, so that fewer people are in the workplace at any one time, and employees avoid rush hour on public transport
- Adding floor markings and signage to implement social distancing
- Setting up screens or barriers between workers
- Instructing employees to wash their hands as often as possible, for at least 20 seconds (and provide soap and hot water)
- Regularly deep cleaning the workplace
- A risk assessment for you as an individual. Once your employer has completed their risk assessment, they should share this with you and ask for feedback so that you can discuss and make any agreed adjustments. An example of risk assessments can be found here: https://www.hse.gov.uk/simple-health-safety/risk/index.htm
What could be adapted about my workplace to make it safer?
If you are not sure what sort of adjustments could be made, have a think about your typical working day and the risk each activity poses. For example, how many people would you be in contact with and for how long, would you have to take off a mask anywhere, what equipment do you use etc. This will identify your main concerns; your doctor may be able to help you work out what is high-risk for you.
Once you know your concerns, identify actions that could be taken to avoid each risk. This could include:
- Extra PPE
- Varying work hours or staggering your start time
- Continuing to work from home or be furloughed
- Limiting meetings or other interactions with others
- Temporarily changing your role if possible
- Using holiday or taking unpaid leave
An employer’s health and safety duty doesn’t automatically extend to travel to and from work, but if there is an obvious risk, exceptions should be made. The employer should consider how you get to work and discuss alternative means of transport with you so that you can return to work safely.
Someone diagnosed with a blood cancer is considered to have a disability under the Equality Act 2010 or Disability Act 1995 (Northern Ireland). This means that your employer should not discriminate against you because of your cancer. Your employer is also under a duty of care to make reasonable adjustments to help you at work. This protection is lifelong and applies during the COVID-19 pandemic too.
All the steps in the previous section may be considered a reasonable adjustment for you as a cancer patient at this time, depending on your workplace. Your employer has a duty to consider all reasonable adjustments. If your employer rejects a reasonable adjustment request, they need to be able to demonstrate why.
If you need support with writing a letter to request a reasonable adjustment, contact our Welfare Officer who will be able to support you with this.
You can find our employment rights toolkit here: https://www.leukaemiacare.org.uk/support-and-information/campaigning-and-advocacy/know-your-rights-toolkit/.
What should I do if I am still concerned or if I think my employer has not followed guidance?
Individuals need to be aware that if they refuse to attend work without a valid reason it could result in a disciplinary action. However, employers must be especially careful and take reasonable steps for anyone in their workforce who is in the vulnerable group. If you have concerns, try to raise these with someone you feel comfortable with. It might be possible to resolve the issue in-house.
For shielding individuals who believe their workplace is a health and safety risk and they are facing a dangerous working environment and there is imminent and serious danger which cannot be easily rectified, the employee has a right to leave or refuse to work. If they are unfairly dismissed for reporting the health and safety concern, they are protected by section 44-100 of the Employment Rights Act 1996. You can see this here: https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1996/18/section/44.
We would recommend taking specialist advice, such as from ACAS https://www.acas.org.uk/ or an employment lawyer, if you are worried about dismissal.
If your employer does not make the necessary health and safety changes to ensure the safety of employees, you can contact the local authority or the Health and Safety Executive. See the following HSE website https://www.hse.gov.uk/news/assets/docs/working-safely-guide.pdf. To speak to the Health and Safety Executive call: 0300 790 6787.
For more information about returning to work, please contact our Welfare Officer by emailing email@example.com or call 07903219525