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Work and MS during COVID-19

This page has information about COVID-19 and your rights at work if you have MS or live with someone who does. There are laws and guidance for employers to keep you and your workplace safe. 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.

We last updated this page on Thursday 16 December 2021 to link to the latest guidance for employers in Scotland. 

My employer is asking me to come to work but I’m worried because I've been shielding

If the government or your doctor has recommended you self-isolate or shield, you have a right to do that for as long as the recommendation remains. This means you should only work if you can do it from home, and your employer should support that.

Where shielding is paused, you won't be able to claim Statutory Sick Pay on the basis of being "clinically extremely vulnerable" any more. This doesn't apply if you've been told to shield in your local area (for example iif there are different local restrictions).

Advice on shielding will depend on where you live. Each nation has their own guidance around work, including where to get more information and support.  

I've been classed as "clinically extremely vulnerable" or "highest risk" and restrictions say I should work from home but I can’t

In this case speak to your employer. If you have a letter from your GP or the NHS saying you’re at highest risk (or clinically extremely vulnerable), use this with your employer (or the DWP) as evidence you can’t work outside your home.

You can claim Statutory Sick Pay if you meet the usual requirements for this benefit.

Your council will have details of any local restrictions around work. Find your council at gov.uk

    What should my employer be doing to help me at work?

    Whether or not you’ve been shielding, employers in all UK nations should help people to work from home where they can. 

    The Scottish government have repeated their message for everyone who can to work from home - at least until mid-January 2022 - and they've updated their guidance for employers.

    In England, UK government advice is also that everyone who can should work from home.  

    Employers should discuss and agree safe working arrangements with you. This could include making reasonable adjustments so you can safely work from home - for example, making sure you’ve got the right equipment. 

    If you need to go into the workplace, 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 what was called the “clinically vulnerable” group. In the different nations, that’s now called “vulnerable”, “increased risk”, or “higher risk". 

    Employers must be especially careful and take extra steps to protect anyone in their workforce who is in this group. They should discuss with you what reasonable measures could help you to be safe at work. Exactly what’s ‘reasonable’ could depend on the kind of workplace. 

    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

    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 so you're not put at a substantial disadvantage compared to someone who isn't disabled. If your employer doesn’t agree to make reasonable adjustments, you can complain. You might be able to show they’ve discriminated against you.

    You might be able to get help from Access to Work for adjustments so you can keep working. 

    Read more about reasonable adjustments and what you can do if you think you've been treated unfairly   

    Find out more about an employer’s duties to avoid discrimination during COVID-19 on the Equality and Human Rights Commission website 

    What should my employer do to keep me safe at work?

    Employers have a duty to protect people from harm. This includes taking reasonable steps to protect their workers and others from coronavirus. To do this, they must carry out a COVID-19 risk assessment. This should take into account people with an increased clinical risk from COVID-19. 

    Employers have to:

    • identify work activity or situations that might cause the virus to spread 
    • think about who could be at risk
    • decide how likely it is that someone could be exposed
    • act to remove the activity or situation, or if this isn’t possible, control the risk

    Employers should carry out their COVID-19 risk assessment in consultation with staff or trade unions, and any employer with more than five employees should publish this for you to see.

    The exact steps organisations need to take will vary. There’s specific guidance for different kinds of work - for example, for education, healthcare and construction. General guidance includes:

    • keeping social distance in the workplace, wherever possible (the rules and guidance on this vary in the different UK nations)
    • managing the risk of infection where people cannot keep socially distant. For example, putting in barriers in shared spaces, and minimising the number of people in contact with one another.
    • cleaning workplaces frequently, providing handwashing facilities or hand sanitisers at entry and exit points.
    • reviewing risk assessments often and making sure measures are still working.

    Face coverings and PPE: guidance recommends wearing face coverings and using other personal protective equipment (PPE) in certain situations. This might be more common in some workplaces, like hospitals and care homes. Hairdressers and beauticians might, for example, need to use PPE including clear plastic visors. 

    If your MS or another condition means you can’t wear a face covering or the appropriate PPE, your employer should take this into account when checking the workplace is safe for you. There might be alternative measures that can work for you, or you might discuss changes to your usual role, to control the risks.

    You might be able to get help from Access to Work for adjustments so you can keep working. 

    Read the UK government guidance for workplace safety in England

    Read the Scottish government guidance for workplace safety

    Read the Northern Ireland Executive guidance for workplace safety

    Read the Welsh government guidance for workplace safety

    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.

    If you work in health or social care, there’s a tool to check your levels of COVID-19 risk on the Welsh government website.

    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 ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’. Do I have to go to work?

    Where shielding has paused, government guidance says you can return to work if your workplace is ‘COVID safe’ and it’s not possible to work from home.

    All 4 UK governments say employers should help people to work from home where possible. And they all have guidance and rules on working safely.

    If your area currently has shielding in place, the 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.

    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

    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

    Is there financial support if I’m told to self-isolate?

    In England, Wales and Scotland, if you’re told to self-isolate by the test and trace service you might be able to get a support payment of £500, to help cover lost earnings. In Northern Ireland, you might be able to get other financial support if you’re told to self-isolate.

    Find out more about financial support if you’re told to self-isolate

    Can the Job Retention Scheme (furlough) or Statutory Sick Pay help me?

    The Job Retention Scheme (furlough) ended in September 2021. But Statutory Sick Pay might help you and your employer cover your costs. 

    Where shielding is paused, you won't be able to claim Statutory Sick Pay on the basis of being "clinically extremely vulnerable" any more. This doesn't apply if you've been told to shield in your local area. Your council will have details of any local restrictions. Find your council at gov.uk 

    If you have worries or questions about benefits you can get in touch with our MS Benefits Adviser by calling the Helpline on 0808 800 8000 or emailing [email protected]

    Find out about benefits and COVID-19

    What if I have to look for work?

    If you need to look for work, there are laws to protect you from discrimination because of your MS. We've got information on employment righrs, telling an employer about your MS, finding a disability-friendly employer, and what to do if you're treated unfairly. 

    Read more about work and MS

    If you’re facing redundancy, there’s a process that employers must follow. For example, they have to provide proper notice and the offer of a consultation with them. You might be entitled to redundancy pay.

    You must have been selected fairly for redundancy. Illness or disability can’t be a reason. This applies whether or not you’ve been on furlough. 

    You might be entitled to paid time off, to look for work and attend interviews. Some employers might not know about this right, so you may need to ask for it. 

    What support can I get to continue working?

    You may be able to get help from Access to Work to continue working or start a new job. You may be able to claim for:

    • extra travel costs such as taxis to and from work if you can't use public transport because of coronavirus (your doctor will need to confirm this)
    • personal protective equipment if you employ a support worker
    • equipment to help you work at your normal place of work, at home, or both.

    You may need to have an assessment of your needs by Access to Work. If you're already claiming Access to Work and your needs change you can contact them to discuss changes to the support you can get.
     
    Access to Work can also support you if you're self-employed, or need help getting to interviews.
         
    Read more information on Access to Work and how to claim on gov.uk

    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.

    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.

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