WORKERS with underlying health issues might be wondering if they can ask to work from home as coronavirus continues to spread.
So far, 382 people in the UK have tested positive for coronavirus, also know as COVID-19, with six deaths reported at the time of writing.
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While most people are likely to recover from coronavirus, people with weakened immune systems and certain pre-existing conditions – including asthma, diabetes and heart disease – are more at risk of severe effects from the illness.
Having an underlying issue doesn’t mean you’re more likely to catch coronavirus, and the NHS is not recommending automatic self-isolation.
Current advice states that in most cases, you only need to self-isolate if you’ve tested positive for coronavirus or visited an affected country.
You'll also be asked to quarantine yourself if you’ve been in contact with someone who has the illness or has also visited an affected country.
Can I ask to work from home if I have underlying health issues?
Generally speaking, you don't have an automatic right to work from home if you’re worried about catching coronavirus – even if you have a pre-existing medical condition.
However, it's still worth having the conversation with your employer, as in most cases it'll be up to them to decide if you work from home or not.
If you're unable to do your job from home, you may be asked to take holiday or unpaid leave.
At the moment, the only reason employees are being sent away from their place of work is if they fall into the category of those who are being told to self-isolate, as mentioned above.
Matthew Bradbury, employment expert at Citizens Advice, told The Sun: "If your employer doesn’t agree to your request and you don’t attend work, your employer can treat this as unauthorised absence and could refuse to pay you or take disciplinary action against you.
"Your employer should be following any government guidance about health and safety precautions, particularly about travel to affected areas.
"If you have a pre-existing condition which would make you very vulnerable to Coronavirus such as an auto-immune illness, it might be more important for you to work from home."
If your illness qualifies you as a disabled person, Mr Bradbury says your employer might be required to consider this as a "reasonable adjustment" to your working environment under the Equality Act 2010.
What if I have asthma?
Asthma UK is telling sufferers to carry on as normal, making sure they carry any prescribed inhalers with them as usual.
Any time off, or the option to work from home, will need to be discussed with your boss.
What if I'm pregnant?
Current NHS guidance states pregnant woman don't appear to be more likely to catch coronavirus than the general population.
Health experts still don't know enough about COVID-19 to fully say if the symptoms are different for pregnant women, or if it affects unborn babies.
Like workers with underlying health issues, you'll need to talk to your employer about working from home if you're concerned about coronavirus.
What about elderly workers?
Like those with pre-existing medical issues, elderly people are more likely to become severely ill if they catch coronavirus.
But the rights for older workers are still the same – you won't automatically be allowed to work from home if you're concerned about COVID-19.
Speak to your boss about your options as soon as possible.
If you do end up needing to self-isolate due to coronavirus, here are your rights to sick pay from your boss.
This is how much statutory sick pay you can get if coronavirus stops you working and you're self-employed.
We've also explained what happens to zero hours workers if they take time off due to coronavirus.
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