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Work and MS in the coronavirus lockdown

This page has information about your rights at work during and after 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 last updated this page on Wednesday 2 September 2020

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.

When shielding is paused, you should still work from home where that’s possible but you can go into work as long as your workplace is COVID-secure.

Apart from local exceptions, shielding has been paused across the UK. 

Each nation has its own guidance for people returning to work when shielding is paused, including where to get more information and support.  

Read the UK government return to work guidance for people who’ve been shielding in England

Read the Scottish government return to work guidance for people who’ve been shielding

Read the Welsh government return to work guidance for people who’ve been shielding

The Northern Ireland Labour Relations Agency has information about returning to work for clinically vulnerable people 

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 it’s not, one option might be to ask your employer if you can still be furloughed, under the government job retention scheme.

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.

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

Furlough and statutory sick pay

If employers can’t provide a safe working environment, they’ll still be able to access the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme for employees, so long as you were furloughed for a full three-weeks before 30 June.

Where shielding is paused, you won't be able to claim Statutory Sick Pay on the basis of being clinically extremely vulnerable any more.

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 msbenefitsadvice@dls.org.uk.

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. 

In England, Scotland and Wales, ACAS (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) has more about your redundancy rights

In Northern Ireland, the Labour Relations Agency has more about your redundancy rights

Citizens Advice also has information about leaving a job. Select the Citizens Advice website for your nation from their home page.

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.

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 updated this page on Wednesday 2 September 2020

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