Last reviewed 18 March 2021

A letter from Health Secretary Matt Hancock and Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick is being sent to clinically extremely vulnerable people to inform them of a change in guidance (https://www.gov.uk/coronavirus) coming into effect on 1 April.

Available here the letter tells them that, if they cannot work from home, they should, from that date, attend their place of work.

“Your employer is required to take steps to reduce the risk of exposure to Covid-19 in the workplace and should be able to explain to you the measures they have put in place to keep you safe at work,” the letter goes on.

This change of direction is part of the Government’s roadmap out of the national restrictions for the whole population, it explains.

Furthermore, from 1 April, clinically extremely vulnerable people (including those who have had stem cell transplants or are having chemotherapy treatment for cancer and adults with chronic kidney disease) will no longer be eligible for Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) or Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) on the basis of being advised to shield.

The Ministers said that England's Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Dr Jenny Harries, had recommended the change based on the latest scientific evidence and advice. “Although clinically extremely vulnerable people will no longer be advised to shield,” the letter states, “we still recommend that you take extra precautions to protect yourself while the virus is still spreading in our communities”.

The updated guidance provides practical steps that cover areas such as socialising, travel and going to work and school. These are not rules but advice, the Ministers emphasise, so people can choose whether they wish to follow them or not.

Comment by Kate Palmer, HR Advice and Consultancy Director at Peninsula

Although shielding will be officially paused in England from 1 April 2021, employers should bear in mind that doesn’t necessarily signify an immediate return to the workplace for those who have been shielding. Employers should open up communication now with affected employees about their return and be prepared for varying responses.

Some might be happy to get back to work but some may have concerns; they will have been at home for up to a year in some cases. Vaccination progress may be a key factor.

Employers should treat each case individually and consider any ongoing health and safety risks to the employee. It’s worth noting that shielding will also be paused in Wales from 1 April 2021; in Scotland, the relevant date is 26 April 2021.