Companies can furlough workers who are “clinically extremely vulnerable” if they are unable to work from home during the second lockdown in England.
Around two million people in Britain fall into the category and have been advised by the government to take extra precautions, including avoiding going into work until lockdown is lifted.
When did this come into effect?
As lockdown measures came into effect in England on 5 November, people who were told to shield during the first lockdown were sent new guidance advising them to stay home where possible.
However, unlike during the first lockdown, there is no formal requirement to “shield” as the government felt that this measure was too restrictive last time.
Now, people who are at a higher risk of severe illness as a result of catching Covid are being strongly advised to minimise contact with others, but are able to leave the house, including for outdoor exercise.
Who qualifies as vulnerable?
There are a number of reasons someone might be classed as extremely clinically vulnerable, including organ transplant recipients, various types of cancer and severe respiratory conditions.
According to the government’s guidance, adults with the following conditions are automatically deemed clinically extremely vulnerable:
Solid organ transplant recipientsThose with specific cancers:People with cancer who are undergoing active chemotherapyPeople with lung cancer who are undergoing radical radiotherapyPeople with cancers of the blood or bone marrow such as leukaemia, lymphoma or myeloma who are at any stage of treatmentPeople having immunotherapy or other continuing antibody treatments for cancerPeople having other targeted cancer treatments that can affect the immune system, such as protein kinase inhibitors or PARP inhibitorsPeople who have had bone marrow or stem cell transplants in the last 6 months or who are still taking immunosuppression drugsThose with severe respiratory conditions including all cystic fibrosis, severe asthma and severe chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)Those with rare diseases that significantly increase the risk of infections (such as severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID), homozygous sickle cell disease)Those on immunosuppression therapies sufficient to significantly increase risk of infectionAdults with Down’s syndromeAdults on dialysis or with chronic kidney disease (stage 5)Pregnant women with significant heart disease, congenital or acquiredOther people who have also been classed as clinically extremely vulnerable, based on clinical judgement and an assessment of their needs. GPs and hospital clinicians have been provided with guidance to support these decisions
Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced this week that the furlough scheme would be extended once again until March next year, meaning furloughed workers will receive 80 per cent of their normal wage, up to a maximum of £2,5000 per month.
The Treasury also confirmed that workers in the “clinically extremely vulnerable” category are able to qualify for support through the scheme if they cannot work from home, according to The Sun.
This also applies to staff who are unable to work due to caring responsibilities, although childcare facilities and schools are generally being kept open throughout this lockdown period.
Despite many being asked to shield during the first lockdown, people who are “clinically vulnerable” do not automatically qualify for the furlough scheme. This is because they are at a lower level of risk than those in the “extremely critically vulnerable” category.
As such, the government is advising that these people should continue to go to work if they cannot do so from home.
While people who were shielding previously could be furloughed through the scheme, research suggests a majority were not, with many feeling they had no choice but to carry on working.
Speaking to The Sun, expert adviser at Citizens Advice, Tracey Moss, said: “Speak to your employer to see if you’re eligible.
“If your employer can’t or won’t furlough you, you may be able to claim sick pay benefits to support you during this period of restrictions.”