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Here are some frequently asked questions about the ongoing global outbreak of monkeypox. You can also read the RCN’s position statement here 

Monkeypox is classified as a group 3 biological hazard, therefore your employer has a legal duty to carry out a suitable and sufficient risk assessment in accordance with the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations.  

Adequate control measures should be implemented by your employer, so far as is reasonably practicable, in order to prevent exposure.  

The minimum recommendation by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) on personal protective equipment for staff working with confirmed monkeypox cases includes fit tested FFP3 respirators, aprons, eye protection and gloves.  

For possible or probable cases, the UKHSA states the minimum recommended PPE for staff should include fluid repellent surgical facemasks, gowns, gloves and eye protection. However, for suspected/probable cases the RCN recommends the same control measures are followed as for a confirmed case.  Refer to your local policies for more information.  

For further advice and guidance about carrying out a COSHH risk assessment, please follow the advice in our COVID-19 risk assessment toolkit here

The vaccine strategy for monkeypox is available from the UKHSA Immunisation collection section for Monkeypox
There is no specific vaccine for monkeypox but the Smallpox Modified Vaccinia Ankara – Bavarian Nordic (MVA-BN) vaccine is recommended and approved for monkeypox. 

As with most vaccines, it should ideally be given to help prevent infection pre-exposure. The vaccine can give a rapid immune response and therefore may also be indicated post exposure.  

The vaccine is recommended for high-risk individuals only and staff involved in caring for people infected. Please see Monkeypox vaccination recommendations on the government website for detailed information and dose requirements, and Smallpox and Monkeypox: the green book, chapter 29.

It is important the risk of exposure to monkeypox is considered as part of your individual pregnancy risk assessment. See the risk assessment section of our Having a family toolkit for more information. 

There is limited information on monkeypox in pregnancy, however the World Health Organisation (WHO) states that monkeypox during pregnancy may lead to complications, congenital monkeypox or stillbirth. 

If you are pregnant and at risk of exposure to monkeypox, control measures may include redeployment or alternative ways of working. Speak to your manager about your concerns and if they are not resolved, contact the RCN for advice and support. 

If you contract monkeypox after caring for (or having been in close contact with) a patient who has monkeypox, your employer should notify the Health and Safety Executive or the Health and Safety Executive (Northern Ireland) by completing a RIDDOR report (Reporting of Injuries, Diseases, Dangerous Occurrences Regulations). Your employer should also capture this information on their internal incident reporting system, for example DATIX.  

Contacts of someone with monkeypox should be risk-assessed and advised to isolate for 21 days if necessary. 
In addition to the UKHSA top level principles, we are currently awaiting government guidance on the approach health care employers should take with regard to self-isolation. Nevertheless, the RCN expects its members not to be placed at detriment when complying with relevant safety measures.  

Where an employer requires a member of staff who is clinically well enough to work to stay away from their workplace, the expectation is that staff should receive the pay they would receive if they were at work. This arrangement should be treated as authorised absence, not sickness absence.  

Where possible, employing organisations should facilitate staff members to work from home and it may be appropriate for employers to consider reallocating duties to facilitate home working.  

In circumstances where staff are not well enough to work or home-working is not possible, staff should still receive the pay they would receive if they were at work and any absence be treated as an authorised absence.  

Speak to your manager about any concerns you may have and if they are not resolved, contact the RCN for advice and support

Any period of isolation or time off sick with monkeypox (as required under the UKHSA guidance) should not be counted towards formal sickness absence triggers.  
Any absence should be treated as an authorised absence by the employer. 

It is not appropriate for employers to apply sickness absence triggers or absence management procedures to any absence related to monkeypox, particularly if acquired through work related activities.  

Speak to your manager about any concerns you may have and if they are not resolved, contact the RCN for advice and support

There may be circumstances where staff are redeployed away from their normal role in order to mitigate risks from the monkeypox outbreak. Any redeployment in relation to monkeypox should be short term and temporary. Employing organisations could also require working from home as appropriate.  

The RCN’s expectation is that such arrangements are discussed and agreed with the post holder prior to implementation.  

See our redeployment guide for more, including: 

  • a redeployment checklist 
  • advice around competency, and 
  • advice around occupational health issues. 

Under equalities legislation, it is unlawful for employers to treat staff less favourably on grounds of protected characteristics. For further information see our advice guide on discrimination.   

If you believe you are being discriminated against, please contact the RCN for advice and support

The RCN’s expectation is that all employers will follow the UKSHA guidance, including carrying out a suitable and sufficient organisational risk assessment in accordance with the COSHH Regulations and ensuring adequate control measures are in place. 

If you are concerned about your employer’s approach to managing absence related to monkeypox you should contact the RCN immediately. You can also refer to the RCN risk assessment toolkit and ask to see your employer’s risk assessment. 
The RCN is monitoring the evolving situation closely and highlighting relevant advice to members as it emerges 

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Page last updated - 29/12/2023