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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 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 updated this page on Friday 13 November with information on:

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, such as when a new lockdown has been called (like the one brought in for England on 5 November 2020).

Advice on shielding will depend on where you live. England was placed under lockdown on Thursday 5 November and there is new advice for shielders. At the end of this four week period, it’s expected there’ll be a return to a regional approach, with more guidance from the government once this lockdown ends.

In other parts of the UK a system of COVID-19 alert levels is in place. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have their own guidance for people returning to work when shielding is paused, including where to get more information and support.  

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

In this case speak to your employer. You might qualify for the Job Retention Scheme (furlough). You should have been sent a letter telling you to shield. Use this with your employer (or the DWP) as evidence you can’t work outside your home.

If you don’t qualify to be furloughed, you can claim Statutory Sick Pay. You should get this as long as 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 return to work?

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

    Where you can't 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. 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 2 metres apart in the workplace, wherever possible.
    • managing 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.
    • cleaning workplaces frequently, providing handwashing facilities or hand sanitisers at entry and exit points.
    • reviewing risk assessments often and and make sure measures are still working.

    Face coverings and PPE: guidance only 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 ‘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 UK governments still say employers should help people to work from home where possible.

    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.

    In its 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.When England began a new lockdown on 5 November the government published new guidance for people classed as ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’. It said that if you live with someone who is in this extremely vulnerable group, you can still go to work if you can’t work from home. 

    If you have caring responsibilities as a result of COVID-19, and this means you can’t work, then you can be furloughed by your employer. This includes employees who need to look after children.

    You can be furloughed as long as you were on the employers payroll before the end of October 2020. It doesn’t matter if you weren’t furloughed earlier, or your employer hasn’t used the furlough scheme before.

    This applies to all four nations of the UK. If you’re unable to be furloughed, you can claim Statutory Sick Pay

    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?

    Wherever you are in the UK, the Job Retention Scheme (furlough) or Statutory Sick Pay might help you and your employer cover your costs. And, if you yourself don’t work, the furlough scheme can help someone who has caring responsibilities for you that result from COVID-19, responsibilities that stop them working. This includes employees that need to look after children.

    Until the end of March 2021, if employers can’t provide a safe working environment, they’ll still be able to access the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (furlough)

    There are also government schemes which might help if you’re self-employed.

    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. Read more about your rights, telling an employer you have MS, finding a disability-friendly employer, and what to do if you’re treated unfairly 

    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.

    We last updated this page on Monday 16 November

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