Shielding is now paused across the UK. However, a range of regional restrictions are now in place. While those who were shielding have not been asked to shield again, the clinically extremely vulnerable are being asked to take some extra precautions to protect themselves from COVID-19. In England, where a national lockdown is in place between 5 November and 2 December, the clinically extremely vulnerable are being advised not to go to work if they cannot work from home for the duration of the new lockdown.
Elsewhere, those in the clinically extremely vulnerable group are advised that they can return to work providing their workplaces are ‘COVID-secure’. Further information on what a COVID-secure workplace means can be found in the ‘Work’ section below.
The Government's ’s furlough scheme has been extended until December 2020. The Government food parcel scheme has now ceased, however, some of the support measures in place for those who were shielding (such as the NHS Volunteer Responders scheme) continue to deliver food and medication where needed. Those who will still need help with shopping, medication or essential supplies are advised to call 0808 196 3646 (8am to 8pm).
Find more information on the current shielding guidance across the UK:
If you or your children are struggling to cope with worries about the virus, visit our page on mental and physical health during the COVID-19 crisis.
ACAS has provided some useful guidance for employees and employers, which is quite general but is also very clear and straightforward.
In terms of how this applies to people with CF, cystic fibrosis can be defined as a disability and this means that someone with CF has the right to request ‘reasonable adjustments’ (for example, to request to work from home if possible due to the shielding guidance). We would suggest discussing this with your employer. You can read more about CF at work, and find general information to explain the condition to employers, here.
When talking to your employer about how the coronavirus outbreak affects you, it is a good idea to provide information about CF from an official source (you could use our information above), show your employer the link to the Government's guidance on protecting those who are ‘extremely vulnerable’ and that this specifically mentions CF, and show them the UKCFMA’s latest advice on our website. You may be asked to provide medical evidence, in which case you could discuss the letter or text messages you will have recently received from the Government, advising you to follow the shielding guidance.
If you are worried about the financial implications of being unable to work, please speak to your CF specialist social worker or contact our Helpline, who can provide information on benefits and our welfare grant programme. The helpline can also arrange for you to have personalised advice from our Welfare and Rights Advisor or our Welfare Officer, who can support you to understand your rights and the options available. Further information about this can be found below.
For advice about Carers Rights at work, visit carers UK.
An important part of understanding your employment rights is knowing whether you are employed or self-employed. You can find useful definitions on the ACAS website.
As you will no doubt be aware, things are changing quite rapidly. The effect of COVID-19, the Government’s response and issuing of guidance and the existence of and application of employment legislation is under constant review. While we are trying to navigate the options available for employees, it is complicated and it is impossible to produce advice that applies to everyone, in all circumstances, that will be valid at all times. The explanation below is based on the brief information that has been published following the Government’s announcement on 31 October 2020 about the measures that will be put in place in England from 5 November 2020. Where possible, it will also relate to Wales and Scotland. This page will be updated when the further, more detailed guidance has been released.
This page is intended to offer general guidance, not legal advice and will be subject to further clarification as soon as possible.
The legislation relayed on this page is relevant to England, Wales and Scotland. Employment law in Northern Ireland is quite different from that in England, Wales and Scotland. If you are based in Northern Ireland, please speak to your CF team for details of the Advice Space service, which is co-funded by the Cystic Fibrosis Trust.
In March 2020, people with CF were identified as clinically extremely vulnerable and were therefore placed on a list of people who were required to shield. While shielding was ongoing, those employees, and members of their household, fell within the category of employees who could be furloughed by their employer. This meant their employer could receive funding under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS).
In England, Scotland and Northern Ireland, shielding was paused from 31 July 2020. In Wales, shielding was paused from 16 August 2020. Local lockdown provisions were put in place, but shielding was advised in a minority of cases only. Otherwise, employees were told that they could return to work if they were not able to work from home, provided that their place of work was COVID-secure.
On 31 October 2020, the Government announced the national restrictions which would apply to England from 5 November 2020. In doing so it advised the clinically extremely vulnerable to work from home, stating that if working from home is not possible, they should not go to work. The Government has not reinstated its advice for the clinically extremely vulnerable to shield. However, we expect detailed guidance to be released over the next few days.
A similar position was taken by the Welsh Government in its guidance relating to the firebreak lockdown, which can be found here. The Scottish Government has not reinstated shielding despite introducing its 5-tier framework of restrictions.
The Government also announced on 31 October 2020 that the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) had been extended for a month (until December 2020), under which furloughed employees will receive 80% of their current salary for hours not worked. If you are furloughed because your workplace is closed, you will be entitled to receive 80% of your pay in line with the new rules. This will apply to you whether you have CF or whether you are living in the same household as someone who has CF. Again, we expect detailed guidance to be released over the next few days.
We don’t know whether the extended CJRS will allow employers to furlough employees who are clinically extremely vulnerable and who are unable to work from home. We expect the detailed guidance within the next few days so please revisit this page for clarity.
The CJRS is UK-wide so, it will also be available to businesses in Scotland and Wales who are currently subject to different restrictions.
The scheme has continued to be available for employers and employees across the UK and has covered those who are required to adhere to the Welsh ‘firebreak lockdown’ which was put in place on 23 October and those affected by the more stringent levels of the Scottish framework. At the time of writing it is planned that the firebreak lockdown in Wales will end on 9 November 2020. Therefore, the extended CJRS should cover the entire firebreak lockdown period. We expect that written confirmation will follow.
The level of support for employers under the scheme from 1 November 2020 is more generous than what had been planned under the Job Support Scheme. It is also more generous that the support that was available in October for those who were furloughed. For October, the maximum Government contribution was 60% of normal pay (subject to the cap of £1,875), with the employer having to contribute 20% (up to £625). However, the extended furlough scheme will reflect what was on offer in August in that the Government will contribute 80% of wages (subject to a cap of £2,500). Employers have to pay employer national insurance and pension contributions for the hours the employee does not work. As before, employers can choose to top up employee wages but do not have to do so.
Flexible furlough will continue to be allowed in November 2020, so if you cannot perform all of your duties from home, there may be some scope to request that you perform those duties that you can perform at home, during reduced hours of work and agree with your employer that for those hours not worked, it can claim under the CJRS. This would be addressed on an individual basis by the employer.
If your employer agrees to furlough you, it won’t matter if you haven’t been placed on furlough before. In fact, even if your employer has not previously used the CJRS at all, it will still be eligible to benefit from it, as long as it has a UK bank account and uses a UK PAYE scheme. An employer that is affected by COVID-19 can furlough all employees, on any type of contract, as long as those employees were on the employer’s PAYE payroll by 23:59 on 30 October 2020.
If your place of work is not closed, and you have CF, you should work from home. If you cannot work from home and reasonable adjustments cannot be made to make it possible for you to work from home, you can follow the Government’s guidance and choose not to work at all. If you do so, you will be entitled to receive SSP or Employment Support Allowance. The information can be found here, specifically at paragraph 9.
At the moment, we don’t know the position for people living in the same household as someone who has CF if they are not otherwise furloughed. We hope the position will be clarified over the next few days and we would ask you to revisit this page for clarification.
If you are asked to carry on working beyond 5 November, despite Government guidance, and you are concerned about the risk of exposure and infection of COVID-19 or bringing the virus into your household by attending your place of work, you need to communicate your concerns to your employer in writing, explaining your circumstances.
You should provide clear information about CF, including information provided by the Cystic Fibrosis Trust and if possible, medical evidence from a relevant CF Centre. It is important that you clearly explain that, because of your/your household member’s CF, you/they have been identified by Public Health England as clinically extremely vulnerable and while shielding is not currently required, working from home should be permitted wherever possible. Further, you should explain that by travelling to and attending your place of work you are exposing yourself/your household member to the virus by potentially bringing it back into the home, placing them in serious and imminent danger, that can only be averted by staying at home with them, on the extended furlough scheme (if available – subject to clarification) or by working at home.
If you are a person with CF, you can request reasonable adjustments and it is recommended that you do this in writing without delay. We would suggest that you take a look at the Access to Work Scheme to see whether you are eligible to claim for financial assistance or specialist equipment to enable your employer to make reasonable adjustments to enable you to work from home.
The law setting out the rights of employees who have health and safety concerns is complex and the relevant sections of the Employment Rights Act 1996 were not purposely drafted with a pandemic in mind. How they apply in these circumstances hasn’t yet been tested by the Employment Tribunals or Courts and will be subject to interpretation.
However, if you are having this discussion with your employer you need to be aware of the following principles.
Section 44 of the Employment Rights Act 1996 (ERA) protects an employee from suffering a detriment if, in circumstances of danger, which they reasonably believed to be serious and imminent and which they could not have reasonably been expected to avert, they leave or refuse to return to the place of work or the dangerous part of the place of work. It also protects those who because of the same reasonable belief take appropriate steps to protect themselves or other persons from danger. Section 100 of the ERA prohibits dismissals under the same circumstances (specifically subsections (1) (d) and (1) (e)).
Further, the communication of concern to the employer is, in itself protected under the provisions that protect whistle-blowers. Under s.43B(1)(d) of the ERA, informing the employer that “the health and safety of any individual has been, is being or is likely to be endangered” constitutes a qualifying disclosure and protects the employee who raised it against further detriment.
A detriment can include but is not limited to, suspension, reduced or withheld pay, demotion, or dismissal. In taking any of these actions, the employer will expose itself to liability for compensation for injury to feelings, loss of earnings and potential claims of a detriment short of dismissal, constructive unfair dismissal, unfair dismissal or breach of contract. There is an interesting argument about reduction of pay if the employer reduces pay under the CJRS. If the employer reduces pay because it is entitled to, because it has authority to lay the employee off in the contract of employment and because it is applying the CJRS, that is fine. If the employer reduces pay following and because of a protected disclosure about health and safety concerns, that is a detriment and therefore shouldn’t happen.
We still don’t know how the Employment Tribunals will apply s.44, s.100(1)(d) and s.100(1)(e) of the ERA to issues involving COVID-19. The key will be to establishing that there was a risk of serious and imminent danger. It may be that Tribunals take the view that whilst we are dealing with a declared pandemic, there will be a constant risk of serious danger and that risk will always be imminent. This view might be limited to time frames where the Government’s advice is that the clinically extremely vulnerable should not work. Alternatively, the Tribunals may consider a more holistic approach to the medical risk, taking into account the environmental factors, workplace risks and the individual medical circumstances of the person at risk. Each case would then be assessed on its own, very individual circumstances.
Extremely clinically vulnerable employees are now being advised by the Government not to work, if they cannot work from home. This is expected to continue until December at the earliest.
Therefore, even if your place of work is COVID-secure, you should not be forced to attend work if you cannot work from home. If this happens you should communicate your concerns to your employer. The paragraphs below will be relevant to you.
When the restrictions are lifted, the focus will no doubt return to COVID-secure working. At that point, if you have any concerns at all, it is important that you make it very clear to your employer exactly what your concerns are. While the new restrictions are in place, a COVID- secure place of work is not sufficiently safe for you until the Government or respective Public Health departments advise otherwise. We expect to receive further detailed guidance within the next few days.
Once the restrictions are lifted again (at the time of writing, it is anticipated that this will happen at the beginning of December 2020), you will then need to consider whether the workplace is COVID-secure and if it is, whether COVID-secure is sufficiently safe to protect you/your household member, given individual circumstances as a result of your/their CF.
While we cannot answer this for you, we would suggest that you take the following steps to enable you to make a decision that is right for you:
- Have the discussion with your employer and set out your concerns in writing;
- Request a copy of your employer’s risk assessment and an explanation of the measures and structures that they have put in place to enable social distancing and allow hygiene infection control measures and their plan for communication to and surveillance of their work force in terms of adherence and detection of symptoms. See further information about risk assessments below;
- Read the Government’s guidance on what constitutes a COVID-secure workplace for the relevant sector. This is likely to change over the next few days. Those employers that can remain open, will have to adhere to the rules. There will of course be employers that cannot open during November at all;
- Assess and plan how you would travel to work and carry out your own risk assessment for the journey. If driving your own car, looking at any risks posed by the practicalities such as how, when and where you would park your car. This risk assessment can be communicated to your employer;
- Seek advice from a medical expert, ideally from a relevant CF centre. Your CF centre may factor in the latest and most up-to-date statement from the UKCFMA. You should be ready to provide a copy of your employer’s risk assessment or an explanation of the measures it is taking to make the workplace COVID-secure. You can ask for assistance in determining whether the COVID-secure environment is sufficient to protect you/your loved one, given their specific medical history;
- Read the details of the Access to Work scheme to see whether you or your employer can claim a grant to cover the cost of work place assistance or equipment to enable your employer to make reasonable adjustments over and above what your employer is required to do to make its workplace COVID-secure, including making changes to allow you to work from home.
- Seek legal advice on your individual circumstances.
The information set out below may assist you to follow the steps set out above.
The Government guidance as to what COVID secure means is set out in the eight separate sector specific sets of guidance which can be found here.
All sets of guidance were updated on 28 October 2020.
Health & Safety Executive
Further, more practical details and example risk assessments can be found on the HSE website.
Job Support Scheme
The provisions that had been planned by the Government in relation to the Job Support Scheme (JSS) are likely to be placed on hold until December at the earliest or until the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) comes to an end. We expect further clarification over the next few days. If you had signed a JSS Open agreement or a JSS Closed agreement, you should make it clear to your employer that you are happy to continue to work flexibly from home or be placed on furlough under the extended CJRS.
Parental leave is a form of statutory unpaid leave available to some working parents. The total amount of unpaid leave that can be taken per child is 18 weeks and this can be taken up to the child’s 18th birthday. The right to parental leave is limited to employees who have been continuously employed for a period of not less than one year, who have, or expect to have, responsibility for a child.
Some employers may offer enhanced, contractual parental leave which could include payment during some or all of the leave. It is therefore important to check your employer’s existing policies.
Time off for dependants
Employees have the right to take a reasonable amount of unpaid time off work to take necessary action to deal with situations affecting their dependants. The right applies to employees only but covers all employees irrespective of length or service, working hours or whether the employment is permanent or on a fixed term basis.
The right provides that an employee is entitled to take reasonable time off where it is necessary:
- to provide assistance if a dependant falls ill, gives birth, is injured or assaulted;
- to make care arrangements for the provision of care for a dependant who is ill or injured;
- in consequence of the death of a dependant;
- to deal with the unexpected disruption, termination or breakdown of arrangements for the care of a dependant; or
- to deal with an unexpected incident which involves the employee’s child during school hours.
Given that schools remain open for now, this will have limited scope. It will become more relevant if you are involved in a local period of lockdown, school closure or a period of isolation.
The Government guidance on this entitlement can be found here.
If you are, yourself displaying symptoms of COVID-19, or someone in your household is displaying symptoms, you will be entitled to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) for 14 days from the date on which the symptoms first started or until you are well enough to return to work.
If you are contractually entitled to receive company sick pay, you will be entitled to company sick pay, in accordance with your employer’s sick pay scheme. If you are in a household where someone within that household is displaying symptoms, and you are isolating, you may, potentially be entitled to receive company sick pay, but it will be at your employer’s discretion. This is because you, as an individual are not actually sick. If you go on to experience symptoms yourself, you will then be entitled to company sick pay. It is important that you keep your employer up to date with regard to your circumstances.
We expect further information about SSP during lockdown to be available over the next few days.
Only individuals with a qualifying disability (under section 6 of the Equality Act 2010) can request reasonable adjustments. Unfortunately, you cannot request adjustments because of someone else’s disability.
You can request adjustments that would allow you to work from home including the provision of specialist equipment. You can apply for support from the Government for the cost of funding such adjustments with your employer here.
The information contained above is not intended to constitute legal advice. Legal advice will vary, depending on an individual’s specific circumstances. This information has been produced by the Employment Law Department of Richard Nelson LLP.
With shielding being paused, there have been some changes to the benefits rules and procedures. We have also added some important dates if you’re claiming under the income support scheme for Self-Employment.
It is very difficult to give general benefits advice, as your entitlement depends on many things, like who you live with, if you have a partner in employment, your savings situation, and your National Insurance record.
Another major factor is whether you have a good relationship with your employer, and if you are entitled to any contractual sick pay. Your employer can also get support.
Sometimes there are difficult decisions to make, and while we don’t always have the answers, we can support you and make sure you are well informed to make your own decisions weighing up practical arrangements, finances and risks to health.
If you are currently receiving any legacy benefits (see below), we would stress the importance of seeking specialist advice rather than following what has been reported in the press about claiming Universal Credit, as this could mean you are at risk of losing something else you receive.
Legacy benefits are:
- Child tax credit
- Housing benefit
- Income-related employment and support allowance
- Income-based jobseeker's allowance
- Income support
- Working tax credit
Here are answers to some more specific questions that you might have about financial support and benefits:
The Government set up a scheme to support you if you're self-employed or a member of a partnership and have lost income due to COVID-19. This scheme will allow you to claim a taxable grant worth 80% of your trading profits up to a maximum of £2,500 per month for the next three months.
Find out more about eligibility and how to access the Self-employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS) here.
If you’re eligible and your business has been adversely affected, you needed to make your claim for the first grant on or before 13 July 2020.
This scheme is being extended. If you’re eligible for the second and final grant, and your business has been adversely affected on or after 14 July 2020, you’ll be able to make a claim from 17 August 2020. You can make a claim for the second grant if you’re eligible, even if you did not make a claim for the first grant. Find out more about the extension to the scheme.
If you are self-employed, you may also be able to claim support through the Welfare system. What you can claim will depend on your personal circumstances and your means/savings. You may be able to claim New-style Jobseeker’s Allowance, New-style Employment and Support Allowance and/or Universal Credit. However, please seek specialist advice before making any claims.
If you already get benefits like Tax Credits or Housing Benefit, tell the office paying you that you can't work because you're sick or unable to work due to the shielding guidance. You might be entitled to more money while you're off work.
If you are going back to work, you will need to let them know.
If you are employed and are on sick leave, you may be able to get contractual sick pay or Statutory Sick Pay.
In the UK, those who are deemed to be incapable of work by reason of coronavirus now also includes a person who:
- is defined in public health guidance as extremely vulnerable and at very high risk of severe illness from coronavirus because of an underlying health condition; and
- has been advised, by notification sent to, or in respect of, that person in accordance with that guidance, to follow rigorously shielding measures for the period specified in the notification.
However, shielding has now been paused and people with cystic fibrosis have been told they can return to work (if they cannot work from home0, providing the workplace is COVID-secure. This means that people with CF are no longer eligible for Statutory Sick Pay due to shielding.
You can read Government legislation on SSP legislation here.
You might still be able to get SSP after shielding has been paused if you can’t work from home and it’s not safe for you to go to work. You’ll need a fit note from your doctor to give to your employer.
If you are extremely clinically vulnerable and you live in a local lockdown area or you work in a local lockdown area but live outside it, you can claim SSP. You will be required to provide evidence to your employer that you are extremely clinically vulnerable. Further information can be found in the Work section (above).
Anyone not eligible to receive sick pay, including those earning less than an average of £120 per week, some of those working in the gig economy, or self-employed people, may be able to able to claim Universal Credit and/or New Style Employment and Support Allowance.
What you can claim, if you have no income, will depend on your personal circumstances and your means/savings. You may be able to claim New-style Jobseeker’s Allowance, New-style Employment and Support Allowance and/or Universal Credit. However please seek specialist advice before making any claims.
People receiving benefits did not have to attend Jobcentre appointments for three months, starting from Thursday 19 March 2020. However, from 1 July 2020, claimants can make an appointment to see their work coach at a Jobcentre if they can’t get the help they want online or over the phone.
People can still make applications for benefits online if they are eligible.
Jobcentres were open to support people who were not able to use phones or the internet, including homeless people. From 1 July, Jobcentres are further opening up, with appropriate safety measures in place for COVID-19, to enable them to safely see more claimants. Work Coaches will be working with claimants to start to help them in their work search and creating and agreeing their Claimant Commitment.
If you are already claiming Universal Credit and think you may have been affected by coronavirus, please contact your work coach as soon as possible. You can do this through your online journal or by calling the helpline.
You can find out more here.
From Tuesday 17 March, face-to-face assessments for all claimants on disability benefits were suspended for three months. This temporary move was taken as a precautionary measure to protect vulnerable people from unnecessary risk of exposure to COVID-19 and affected claimants of Personal Independence Payment, those on Employment and Support Allowance and some on Universal Credit, and recipients of Industrial Disablement Benefits. The suspension also covers new claims to those benefits.
Anyone who had a face-to-face assessment appointment scheduled from Tuesday 17 March onwards does not need to attend and will be contacted to discuss next steps and alternative arrangements, which could involve either telephone or paper-based assessments. Take a look at our PIP telephone assessment factsheet (1.046MB) for more information and how to prepare.
This suspension should not disrupt processing of benefits claims or actual payments, and we advise people to keep an eye on updates from the official Government web page.
The DWP has said that the suspension of face-to-face assessments for health and disability benefits is to continue.
From Tuesday 24 March, reviews and reassessments for disability benefits were suspended for three months. All awards and reassessments for health and disability benefits were extended. This included Universal Credit (UC), Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), Personal Independence Payment (PIP), Disability Living Allowance, Attendance Allowance and the Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit.
On 6 July, the Government announced that reviews and renewals will be gradually reintroduced.
The DWP will shortly be writing to some PIP and DLA claimants asking them to complete paperwork to resume their reviews, reassessments and renewals; and for PIP cases where paperwork has already been returned, claimants may be contacted by one of the DWP's Assessment Providers.
The suspension of face-to-face assessments for health and disability benefits is to continue.
Your Claimant Commitment can be tailored to your circumstances and can also be reviewed and changed if needed at any time, and requirements can be ‘switched off’. Work Coaches have a broad discretion to customise your Claimant Commitment to meet your needs. However, if you have to stay at home under social shielding guidance, or you are a carer, you need to let them know. Find out more information on Universal Credit’s Claimant Commitments or childcare.
It is possible to apply for an advance payment of Universal Credit, but this money does need to be paid back. You may be able to apply for a grant from the Cystic Fibrosis Trust, if you meet the criteria. There are also many other charities who offer non-repayable grants to help individuals on low incomes.
If required you can access advance payments upfront without needing to attend a jobcentre. Find out more here.
The Government will also provide local authorities in England with £500m grant funding to support economically vulnerable people who are impacted by the economic fallout of the virus in their local area. The Treasury expects most of this funding to be used to provide council tax relief, either through existing Local Council Tax Support schemes or through complementary reliefs. We do not yet know how accessible this help will be, but we will be monitoring the situation closely.
Please contact our Helpline if you need further information.
The Trust has always provided emergency grants (as well as a range of other grants) to those in financial need, in order to help everyone with CF stay as well as possible. We are expanding our grant programme to provide more emergency grants right now, to protect the health of those with CF who are facing financial struggles by ensuring they are able to afford the food and basic essentials they need. More information and the grant application form can be found on our emergency grants page.
Our Helpline team are on hand if you have any questions about our grants, and can also put you in touch with our Welfare and Rights Advisor.
Schools across the UK began reopening in August and September. Schools have put in place safety measures to minimise the risk of infection. Early years settings, nurseries and pre-schools have also reopened.
The Government guidance for parents / carers about schools reopening can be found here.
The Governments guidance for schools safely reopening can be found here.
Higher education institutions across the UK have also begun to reopen, with restrictions in place and many teaching courses online.
Government guidance on the reopening of higher education institutions and campuses can be found here.
This page is being regularly reviewed and updated as coronavirus advice and guidance changes.