COVID-19 and disabled, previously shielding or other vulnerable workers

If you are disabled, pregnant, over 70 or have an underlying health condition you may want to take extra precautions to stay safe during the continuing coronavirus pandemic and may previously have been told to ‘shield’.

People who are immunosuppressed or immunocompromised may be particularly at risk and may not respond as well to  COVID-19 vaccines.

Can my employer refuse home working?

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 from COVID-19. People with Downs syndrome, Parkinson’s, Dementia and those who have had organ transplants may also be at added risk.

UNISON believes that working from home remains the most effective way of reducing workplace exposure to the virus for these groups of more vulnerable individuals who were recognised for ‘shielding’ earlier in the pandemic.

Employers have a legal responsibility to protect their employees and others from risks to their health and safety. This includes undertaking risk assessments and providing information and consultation to identify any additional steps they need to take to keep you safe.

Working from home should continue to be considered for disabled and pregnant and older workers and those with an underlying health condition.  This is particularly the case for those who are immunosuppressed or immunocompromised.

Refusal of home working for a disabled person might amount to unlawful discrimination under the Equality Act.

If your current role cannot be done from home your employer should consider whether you can be temporarily re-deployed to a role that would allow home working until it’s safe for you to return to the workplace.

Many employers have introduced new flexible / hybrid working policies since the beginning of the pandemic. ACAS has produced guidance that you can find here: include the link below.  


Alternatively, your employer should consider other types of adjustments if you cannot work from home.

If home working is not reasonable, disabled workers who are at high risk and those who are pregnant should be offered the option of the safest available on-site roles. Your employer should carefully assess what is an acceptable level of risk.

If your employer won’t let you work from home, or has not undertaken a satisfactory risk assessment, please contact your local UNISON branch for help.

If you need support to work at home or in the workplace you can apply for Access to Work. Access to Work will provide support for the disability-related extra costs of working that are beyond standard reasonable adjustments an employer must provide.

If you have been experiencing symptoms of ‘Long Covid’ or ‘post Covid syndrome’ then this could mean that your employer must treat you as a disabled person for the purposes of rights under the Equality Act 2010.  This includes the duty to make reasonable adjustments and other protections against unlawful disability discrimination.

Guidance for disabled members (PDF)

Advice for pregnant workers 

What if I was previously shielding and am at high risk of becoming seriously ill from coronavirus?

If you are ‘extremely clinically vulnerable’ you should have previously eceived a letter from the NHS with advice on “shielding” from  COVID-19.

Shielding ended in all four nations of the UK in April 2021.

The UK government’is expected to release new guidance for the workplace on 1 April 2022

In the meantime your employer should undertake (or update) a risk assessment and should continue to allow you to work from home or to take special paid leave if you have been shielding.  This is particularly the case if you are immunosuppressed or immunocompromised.

Speak to your UNISON branch if you think your employer is not treating you fairly.

What if I have family members who were shielding?

If you live with (or care for) someone who had been shielding it will be important that the employer avoids making a decision (or an omission) that is discriminatory due to your association with someone who has a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010.  For example, this might typically apply where you have a close association with someone who is disabled, pregnant or on maternity leave.

Your employer should individually assess the risks you might face and take steps to minimise your risk in the workplace,  which might also include considering the risk if you travel by public transport.

If your employer is not treating tou fairly speak to your UNISON branch.

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