Earlier in the week DWP issued clear instruction to all staff who fall into the vulnerable category that they should not attend work at a DWP office, though they can, if possible, work from home (See DWP/MB/032/20). They should follow NHS guidance to be particularly stringent in following the NHS social distancing guidance.
What do we mean by vulnerable?
Current NHS guidance defines vulnerable as follows:
- aged 70 or older (regardless of medical conditions)
- under 70 with an underlying health condition listed below (ie anyone instructed to get a flu jab as an adult each year on medical grounds):
- chronic (long-term) respiratory diseases, such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema or bronchitis
- chronic heart disease, such as heart failure
- chronic kidney disease
- chronic liver disease, such as hepatitis
- chronic neurological conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease, motor neurone disease, multiple sclerosis (MS), a learning disability or cerebral palsy
- problems with your spleen – for example, sickle cell disease or if you have had your spleen removed
- a weakened immune system as the result of conditions such as HIV and AIDS, or medicines such as steroid tablets or chemotherapy
- being seriously overweight (a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or above)
- those who are pregnant
Members living with vulnerable people – Do I have to go to work?
PCS has received a large number of queries from members who are worried about having to go to work when they are living with a relative who is classed as vulnerable.
Members have rightly voiced concerns that if they come to work they may contract the virus and then pass it on to their vulnerable relative when they return home after work. Members are therefore asking why they too cannot attend work to protect their vulnerable relative.
PCS has asked DWP to allow members living with a vulnerable relative to be allowed to also not attend work in order to protect their relative. DWP have replied as follows:
DWP will follow NHS advice. Currently this is that vulnerable people should be ‘shielded’ for 12 weeks by not leaving their home and minimizing personal contacts to an absolute minimum.
But the NHS is stating that people who live with ‘shielded’ people are not required to follow the same advice but instead should follow the personal hygiene and social distancing advice as they go about their business. Please see here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/guidance-on-shielding-and-protecting-extremely-vulnerable-persons-from-covid-19/guidance-on-shielding-and-protecting-extremely-vulnerable-persons-from-covid-19
Please especially note this paragraph and the subsequent list of social distancing actions: Whilst the rest of your household are not required to adopt these protective shielding measures for themselves, we would expect them to do what they can to support you in shielding and to stringently follow guidance on social distancing.
We are allowing as many people as possible to work from home and are working to expand our capacity to do that but we also need people to deliver our services. Therefore, we won’t be going beyond extant NHS advice but will ensure we follow it to the letter.
PCS is very disappointed at this response and we know that many members will be also. We will continue to press the department to adopt as flexible approach as possible to members who are living with a vulnerable person, to reflect both the extreme levels of anguish and distress that they are suffering from having to go to work in these circumstances and the danger posed to the vulnerable person.
PCS is clear that line managers should be as supportive of employees who care for vulnerable and disabled people as possible. Members in this situation should not be subjected to undue pressure to attend work and should report any examples of undue pressure being applied to their local union representative.
Cabinet Office guidance soon to be published, also highlights that "employees who are not themselves defined as vulnerable, but who live with and/or care for a vulnerable person are advised to stay at home as much as possible to limit the risk of infecting the vulnerable person they live with."
Any decisions taken within DWP regarding requests for staff to remain at home with a vulnerable person, should be taken within the spirit of the above advice. Members who have genuine concerns about any vulnerable person they live with or care for, and feel that by remaining in work you are placing the health, safety and wellbeing of the vulnerable person at risk, you should urgently speak to your line manager about the possibility of working from home, or if that is not possible, apply for paid Special Leave.
Managers should seek the advice of the CSHR Casework team if they are unsure as to awarding paid time off.
PCS will continue to maximise the pressure on DWP to ensure all workplaces are safe, properly cleaned, have the required sanitizing equipment and strictly follow NHS advice on social distancing.
DWP has said that it will follow NHS advice to the letter. We must ensure that they do.