Information and resources for healthcare professionals who are disabled during the COVID-19 outbreak
The legislation that protects disabled workers from discrimination (The Equality Act 2010, the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 Northern Ireland) continues to apply during the COVID-19 outbreak. Furthermore, allowing all staff to access reasonable adjustments at work (whether they meet the legal definition of "disabled" or not) brings many benefits.
If you are a healthcare professional who has (or needs) adjustments at work, or on student placement, then you are still entitled to these during the COVID-19 outbreak, including when you are redeployed. You should not face negative treatment because of your disability/impairment/health issue.
If you are a line manager or employer of healthcare professionals with impairments then remember the advantages that a diverse workforce with the skills and equipment needed to thrive in their roles bring to their teams and to patients.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission has produced advice for employers during COVID-19.
RCN Members can access support and advice on employment issues including discrimination by contacting RCN Direct.
You can see the RCN's full list of COVID-19 FAQs here, but below are some popular FAQs and links that refer specifically to disability issues.
Many health care professionals have impairments that could mean standard issue PPE is not effective. These include but are not limited to:
For some, PPE is a disabling barrier, for example, employees who communicate well through the ability to lip read will have this communication route disrupted if colleagues are wearing face masks.
Where there is a change in PPE requirements such as in response to a pandemic, new issues can arise for health care professionals who have not previously been disabled at work. It is essential that processes allow the opportunity for employees to discuss their specific needs regarding PPE and that they are supported by managers in this process.
The Equality Act 2010 (and in Northern Ireland the Disability Discrimination Act 1995) states that employers have a duty to make reasonable adjustments for employees who meet the definition of disabled. This applies to PPE equipment and the processes around administering PPE. The RCN believes that reasonable adjustments should be granted whether this definition is met or not, on the grounds that reasonable adjustments help us to work to the best of our abilities.
The RCN expects that all employers support their staff to make known their needs in respect of PPE.
Your employer should work with you to ensure that any risk of PPE affecting your impairment and ability to continue in your role is recognised and processes put in place to mitigate the risk. This may mean adjusting processes around donning and doffing of PPE, exploring options for adapted PPE and/or opportunities to fit PPE, and be confident that it is fit for purpose prior to use in a clinical setting.
The RCN expects that line managers undertake a workplace risk assessment and refer to Occupational Health for further advice if appropriate. Where adjustments cannot be made, temporary redeployment to work that does not require PPE should be considered.
The Health and Safety Executive also provides guidance for employers and employees on reasonable adjustments.
The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme is a temporary government scheme to support employers whose operations have been severely affected by coronavirus (COVID-19). This scheme has now been extended until the end of April 2021 and may be used by employees anywhere in the UK, including those who have not previously been furloughed.
The government expects that the scheme will not be used by many public sector organisations, as most should continue to provide essential public services. This means the scheme may not be relevant to members working in the NHS, but some members working for independent employers or those working via an employment agency may benefit from the scheme.
The scheme allows employers to ‘furlough’ employees (place them on a leave of absence) and then claim for 80% of the employees’ usual monthly wage costs, up to £2,500 a month.
Employees and workers do not have an automatic right to be furloughed - it remains a decision for employers and agencies to take whether to furlough staff based on the needs of their business. Employees can be furloughed more than once under the scheme, and as of November 2020 there is no requirement to have been furloughed previously in order to make use of the scheme. Each time you are furloughed you and your employer need to agree it in writing (an email exchange may be enough to count as this written agreement). If you think you would benefit from being furloughed then in the first instance you should speak to your manager about the scheme, details of which can be found on the government website.
The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme was extended to coincide with the latest lockdown in England, however the scheme applies across the whole of the UK. This means that if you live outside of England and believe that the scheme may be of benefit to you in your workplace you can still ask your employer whether they would consider furloughing you.
Before reading this section, please ensure you have also read the 'Furlough: the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme' information above.
The scheme is currently scheduled to run until the end of April 2021. There is currently no maximum or minimum time you can be furloughed within this period.
If you are currently on furlough and are concerned about being unable to return to work, for example because you do not yet have childcare available, then you should make your employer aware of these issues and discuss them with your manager in the first instance.
If you are furloughed then your employer will only receive 80% of your normal pay from this scheme. This will be calculated based on your pay when the scheme was introduced in March 2020. It will then be for your employer to decide whether to only pay you this 80% or whether to top up your pay to the full amount. The RCN encourages all employers to consider paying our members their full salary not just the 80% they receive from the government whenever they can afford to do so. If you are furloughed then you should speak to your manager about how much you are going to be paid.
Employees who are furloughed for part of their working time and are working their remaining hours as usual should receive full pay for the hours they work, even if they only receive 80% for the hours they are on furlough. Please note that while at work you should be paid based on your current salary, but for any hours for which you are on furlough your pay is calculated based on the average amount you were being paid before scheme was introduced.
If an employer or agency furloughs you then you cannot undertake any work for that organisation for the duration of the time you are furloughed. If you are on part time furlough then you should only undertake work for your employer for the hours you are expected to be at work, and not any of the hours for which you are furloughed.
If you work for more than one employer/agency then it may be possible to be furloughed by more than one organisation at the same time, since each one would only be claiming based on the amount that they usually pay you.
If you have been placed on furlough leave and want to start a new job (e.g. in the NHS, on the staff bank), you need to check this with your main employer. HMRC have confirmed that employees are permitted to work for another employer while furloughed provided their contract allows that. Therefore, please check with your main employer before agreeing to undertake additional work elsewhere.
Shielding is a measure to protect extremely vulnerable people by minimising interaction with others.
The situation around shielding is complex as the governments across the UK are easing or imposing restrictions at a different pace. Find the latest guidance below:
Guidance for 'clinically extremely vulnerable' and 'vulnerable' people and government statement outlining the changes from 26 December 2020.
The RCN believes that it is vital that health and care staff do not suffer any detriment or loss of pay for being away from work in order to protect public safety. Therefore, the RCN expects all health and care employers in the UK to ensure that when staff are shielding in accordance with national public health guidelines, they must be paid their normal pay and not suffer any detriment. This includes all health and care staff - regardless of who their employer is, or what type of health or care service they work in.
If you work within the NHS, please see the NHS employers guidance Supporting our most vulnerable people.
Speak to your employer about any concerns you have. If you feel that you are being disadvantaged or you are being placed at risk, please contact RCN Direct on 0345 772 6100 for further advice.
As the pandemic has progressed, we have seen more members with Long Covid presenting to the service. This is when, following a diagnosis of COVID-19, symptoms persist for longer than usual.
Don't be alone when you are facing the uncertainty of this new health condition. Speak to other members in a similar situation to give and receive non-professional support. In the first instance, you can join our closed facebook group for members affected by COVID-19. You must provide your membership number when prompted in order to join the group and reference that you are joining for support with Long Covid.
Governments from across the UK have published guidance for the NHS on staff health, safety and well-being issues, including for people who are most vulnerable. The RCN fully expects that employers and managers will adhere to this.
We fully expect that managers to be aware of and complying with the guidance and that there should be clear guidance on the redeployment of staff with disabilities across the health sector. There must also be systems in place to provide support to staff when making a decision on redeployment (e.g. occupational health services) and staff should be supported to raise concerns when appropriate and these concerns should be given priority.
Our members who identify themselves as disabled provide a vital contribution to the nursing workforce, and must be properly supported during the emergency period. In the current circumstances, individual members may be asked to move to a different clinical setting. It would not be acceptable for this redeployment to put their health and wellbeing at risk.
We continue to provide advice to our members with individuals issues through RCN officers, including the Peer Support Officer. If anyone is concerned they should contact RCN Direct.