Protecting vulnerable workers during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic


As an employer, you have a legal duty to protect workers from harm. You should make sure you consider the risk to workers who are particularly vulnerable to coronavirus (COVID-19) and put controls in place to reduce that risk.


A Public Health England report shows that some groups of people may be at more risk of being infected and/or an adverse outcome if infected.


The higher-risk groups include those who:

  • are older males

  • have a high body mass index (BMI)

  • have health conditions such as diabetes

  • are from some black, Asian or minority ethnicity (BAME) backgrounds

As an employer, you need to support these individuals/groups in your workforce. You should support them by ensuring:

  • you emphasise the importance of individual and wider workforce engagement, buy-in and cooperation to ensure controls are applied stringently

  • they have individual discussions with their managers around their particular concerns

  • you/they discuss the risk management measures you have put in place to minimise transmission to keep them, and others, safe

  • you explain the controls you will put/already have in place to protect them and other workers

During the pandemic, the government has defined some people as clinically extremely vulnerable (previously described as shielded). These workers are at increased risk of severe illness from coronavirus. Since August, clinically extremely vulnerable workers can return to their workplace as long as it is COVID-secure but should carry on working from home wherever possible.


Where it is not possible for workers to work from home, you must regularly review your risk assessment, and do everything ‘reasonably practicable’ to protect those workers from harm. It is important to explain what will be done to protect them, in making the workplace safe and COVID-secure. By consulting and involving clinically extremely vulnerable people in the steps you are taking to manage the risk of coronavirus in your workplace, you can hear their ideas and make sure changes will work, for example doing tasks where strict social distancing guidelines can be followed. This also applies to workers living with someone who is clinically extremely vulnerable.


During the pandemic, pregnant workers have been advised to follow strict social distancing to reduce the risk of severe illness from coronavirus. There is a long-standing requirement for employers to put in place measures to ensure workplace safety where a significant health and safety risk is identified for a new or expectant mother.


Some pregnant workers will be at greater risk of severe illness from coronavirus. They are defined as clinically extremely vulnerable and can return to their workplace as long as it is COVID-secure but should carry on working from home wherever possible. Employers will need to take this into account in their risk assessment.

If you cannot put the necessary control measures in place, such as adjustments to the job or working from home, you should suspend the pregnant worker on paid leave. This is in line with normal requirements under regulation 16(3) of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999.


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