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Work and MS in the coronavirus lockdown

This page has information about your rights at work during the coronavirus lockdown if you have MS or live with someone who does. There have been recent changes to government guidance in England and Scotland, and where there are differences between the UK nations, we try to explain these.

If you can’t find the answer here, or you’d like to talk to someone, give our MS Helpline a call on 0808 800 8000.

Should I be working if I have MS?

Across the UK, if you’re self-isolating or shielding you should only be working if you can work from home. If you’ve had a letter advising you to shield, you have the right to do so until the date that shielding ends.

Government messaging for everyone else – including most people with MS – varies around the country.

The message in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales is that people should stay at home as much as possible and only go to work for essential work, and not if they can work from home.

In England, people whose work can’t be done from home are being encouraged to return to work. The examples given are construction and manufacturing jobs.

Everyone with MS is included in the UK government’s definition of ‘clinically vulnerable’. It’s important that you strictly follow social distancing measures even if you are at work. UK government guidance for employers and Scottish government guidance for employers both say they should make adjustments to help with social distancing and hygiene for anyone who has to be at work.

My employer is asking me to come to work but I’m worried because I have MS

If the government or your doctor has recommended you ‘shield’, you have a right to do that for as long as the recommendation remains. This means you should only work if it’s possible to do so from home.

If you’re following government advice to self-isolate, you should not leave the house to work and your employer should support that.

Employers across the UK should still make all efforts to help people to work from home where they can. Your employer should discuss and agree safe working arrangements with you.

Where you cannot work from home, your employer has to do all they reasonably can to create a safe workplace and comply with social distancing.

Everyone with MS is included in the ‘clinically vulnerable’ group. And employers must be especially careful and take extra steps to protect anyone in their workforce who is in a vulnerable group.

They should discuss with you what reasonable measures could help you to be safe at work.

Reasonable steps might include:

  • agreeing with you a change of role to one which you can do at home or that reduces your risk at work
  • providing an isolated work station
  • changing work hours so you can avoid rush hour

Recent changes mean more people in England and Scotland are being encouraged to return to work. The UK government has guidance which employers in England must follow to protect staff in different types of workplace.

In Scotland, outdoor work, including construction work can restart from 29 May. The Scottish government has guidance for employers to protect people in the workplace. This includes links to the UK guidance.

The UK government guidance says all employers must:

  • make all efforts to help people who can work from home to do so
  • carry out COVID-19 risk assessments in consultation with their staff or trade unions to establish what guidelines to put in place to make work safe. They should publish this for you to see.
  • keep 2 metres apart in the workplace, wherever possible
  • manage the risk of infection where people cannot be 2 metres apart. For example, putting in barriers in shared spaces, and minimising the number of people in contact with one another.
  • clean workplaces more frequently provide handwashing facilities or hand sanitisers at entry and exit points.

Everyone with MS is covered by the disability provisions of the Equality Act (Disability Discrimination Act in Northern Ireland). Your employer may be required to make reasonable adjustments to avoid you being put at a substantial disadvantage compared to a non-disabled person.

In Northern Ireland businesses should follow this government guidance

In Scotland businesses should follow this government guidance

In Wales businesses should follow this government guidance

I have MS and work in healthcare - should I go to work?

The Association of British Neurologists (ABN) has published advice for people with neurological conditions working in healthcare.

They don't recommend that people with MS who work in healthcare need to avoid patients. But they do recommend you avoid courses of ocrelizumab, cladribine, alemtuzumab and HSCT.

What should I do if I don’t think my employer is keeping me safe?

You should discuss this with your employer and contact your trade union if you have one.

If you’re concerned your employer isn’t taking all practical steps to promote social distancing, you can report it to your local authority or the Health and Safety Executive online or on 0300 790 6787.

I live with someone who is ‘extremely vulnerable’. Do I have to go to work?

Whether or not you have a right to refuse to go to work will depend on your own situation. For example, it might be argued that by following the government advice on shielding, and strict social distancing at work, the risk is reduced and you should be at work.

All UK governments still say people should work from home if that’s possible. If it’s not, one option might be to ask your employer if you can be furloughed, under the government job retention scheme.

In its new guidance on working safely, the UK government says that particular attention should be paid to people who live with ‘extremely vulnerable’ people. The Scottish government guidance points to this same guidance.

Speak to your employer about any concerns you’ve got, and if you need to get advice:

In England or Wales, you can contact the MS legal officer. Call the MS Helpline on 0808 800 8000

In Scotland Citizens Advice can help you find a local law centre

In Northern Ireland you can get legal advice from Law Centre NI

The charity Working Families has more information about your rights at work

Can my employer fire me because I don’t feel safe at work?

If your employer fires you because you don’t feel safe to come to work, this could be an unfair dismissal and discrimination. Employees are protected from being treated unfavourably or dismissed if they refuse to go to work because they reasonably believe that the threat to their health is serious and imminent.

Whether coronavirus is a “serious and imminent” danger will depend on your particular role and workplace. And how much your employer is complying with the government’s guidance on working safely during coronavirus.

In England, Wales and Scotland, you can contact ACAS (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) which offers free and confidential advice for employees.

If you’re in England or Wales, you can also contact the MS legal officer. Call the MS Helpline on 0808 800 8000.

In Scotland Citizens Advice can help you find a local law centre

In Northern Ireland you can get legal advice from Law Centre NI

Remember you're not alone

We're here for you. If you’re worried about your MS and coronavirus and want to chat to someone, call our MS Helpline on 0808 800 8000. We’re here Monday to Friday, 9am to 7pm except bank holidays.

You can also sign up to our new Keep in Touch service, for a weekly catch up call with one of our friendly volunteers.

If you'd like to talk your worries through online with other people who know MS, visit our Online Community Forum today.

You can join one of our Time to Chat or Virtual Wellbeing sessions and connect online with other people living with MS across the UK. Or you could sign up for an information webinar. We've got plenty to choose from, take a look at our online sessions and see what suits you.

We added this page on Wednesday 13 May 2020

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