Do employers have a duty to take special measures to protect those employees who are most at risk if they are exposed to coronavirus?
Yes, employers must carry out a risk assessment for all employees, taking into account factors that make some people particularly vulnerable from coronavirus (COVID-19), and take steps to protect their health and safety.
NHS guidance sets out health conditions that could cause a vulnerability to becoming seriously ill from coronavirus. People at particular risk include those with weakened immune systems, older workers, and those with long-term conditions like diabetes and asthma.
Individuals at the highest risk of serious illness from coronavirus will have received a letter from the NHS advising them to "shield". The government guidance refers to this group of people as "clinically extremely vulnerable". If an employee in this group cannot work from home, their employer should consider furloughing them and making a claim for them under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.
There is evidence that other groups have a disproportionate risk from coronavirus, including people from some black, Asian and minority ethnic groups and people with a high body mass index.
Employees who are at high risk because of an underlying health condition (whether or not they fall into the clinically extremely vulnerable group) are likely to be protected by the disability provisions of the Equality Act 2010. Where the Act applies, employers are under a duty to make reasonable adjustments, which may entail taking special measures to protect disabled staff, such as adjusting the role to allow them to work from home. Employers should consider such measures for all employees who have an increased risk from coronavirus, whether or not they are covered by the Equality Act 2010.
Employers must also ensure that they comply with their health and safety duties in respect of pregnant employees.