Notes: This webpage provides guidance for employers and organisations on how to avoid discrimination and support employees to return to work as the lockdown is eased. It will be updated with more links and advice as more concerns and barriers to equality become known and understood.

It is clear that the COVID19 pandemic has already had an impact on the whole economy and personal finances[1], but we also know that groups of people with protected characteristics will have suffered disproportionate impacts due to structural inequality, ranging from direct health risks, loss of income and the wider repercussions of social distancing and other lockdown measures[2].

As of 28 May 2020, the lockdown restrictions in Scotland will be eased through a staged approach, as detailed in the Scottish Government’s COVID-19: A Framework for Decision Making routemap. Progress through the five stages will depend on the rate of infection continuing to decline and will depend on a review at each stage.


Organisations most likely to face an increased demand for their services and on their workforce include:

Lockdown (now, ‘Phase 0’)

  • NHS and allied Health
  • Social Care, Care Home providers
  • Supermarkets, local corner shops
  • Voluntary Support organisations

Phase 1 (starting 28 May 2020)

  • NHS services, covering primary, and community services including mental health.
  • Community Pharmacies
  • Emergency Dental Hubs
  • Sport, culture and leisure (outdoor parks)
  • Transport providers (Local, essential)
  • Schools and nurseries
  • Child Minders
  • Drive through food outlets, garden centres, plant nurseries
  • Courts, Tribunals, Children’s Hearings,
  • Social work, support services, respite/day care
  • Household Waste Recycling Centres

Phase 2 (not sooner than 18 June 2020)

  • Transport providers (local, not peak times)
  • Garages (note: garages are already opened but an increase in demand is likely)
  • Smaller Retail and outdoor markets
  • Pubs, Restaurants (outdoor spaces)
  • Sport, culture and leisure services (playgrounds, sport courts)
  • Places of worship (for private prayer)
  • Marriages and Civil Partnerships registrars
  • NHS services, covering chronic disease (pain, diabetes etc)
  • GP services

Phase 3 (not sooner than 9 July 2020)

  • Transport providers (peak times and regional)
  • Schools, universities and colleges (part-time/remote)
  • Larger Retail providers
  • Pubs, Restaurants (indoor with distancing)
  • Sport, culture and leisure (museums, galleries, cinemas, libraries)
  • Gyms
  • Hospitality (hotels, B&Bs, holiday homes)
  • Live events (with physical distancing)

Phase 4 (no clear timeframe)

It could be several months, or longer, until reaching Phase 4 this phase where the virus remains suppressed to very low levels and is no longer considered a significant threat to public health. All services and businesses would resume but with several precautions and changes to service design, including increasing use of digital services where appropriate.

Organisations extending their furlough scheme:

The UK-wide Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (known as the furlough scheme), runs in parallel to the staged approach to recovery in Scotland. This will have significant implications for employers and their workforce planning. As of 28 May 2020, there are 2 planned extensions to the scheme:

Extension 1 (up to 31 July 2020)

  • furloughed workers will continue to receive 80% of their current salary, up to £2,500 but must not work for the employer.

Extension 2 (from 1 August 2020 to 31 October 2020)

  • workers continue to receive 80% of their salary subject to the cap
  • employers will share the burden of paying salaries with the Government.
  • employees will be able to work part-time

What should employers do to ensure fairness in the ‘new normal’?

As progression through to Phase 4 is likely to take several months or more, employers should prepare for and adapt to a ‘new normal’. This includes making sure to avoid discrimination in adjusting to the extended furlough scheme as well as actively managing Health and Safety risks.

  • Engage early in discussions about mental health.
    As the pandemic and the lockdown will have affected everyone’s mental health differently, consider approaching employees about:
  1. The impact of social distancing on their wellbeing
  2. Any anxiety of employees in vulnerable groups
  3. Those who have a close relation currently ill with COVID19 and/or are bereaved
  • Assess and help manage in-work stress
    Consider the additional risk and stress due to service users, working conditions and the physical layout of your workplace (e.g. public parking and transport, disabled parking allocation, reception and open plan offices, any shared or communal areas as kitchen or toilets, congestion due to drop-in services etc). Encourage employees to take an ‘assess and manage’ as well as a learning approach:
  1. Assess the risk of work-related stress, e.g. use Health and Safety Executive Stress Risk Assessment tools
  2. Make use of resources and support for wellbeing at work, e.g. NHS Fife Health Promotion Service 
  • Avoid or reduce unnecessary risks by being flexible.
    This involves thinking about how services users and your workforce can adapt but still provide your services. Plan for:
  1. Staggered start times
  2. Allocated timeslots for communal area usage
  3. Detailed and accessible instructions for cleaning
  4. Flexible work patterns (including part-time and home-working)
  • Avoid discrimination and consider Equality Impacts of employment decisions.
    Many organisations are facing difficult decisions for their employees at this time and need make sure to act in a way that is fair and equal way when considering work options, extending the furlough schemes or in some cases redundancies.
  1. Pay diligent attention when taking any decisions that concern the protected characteristics of your employees. Any work options or employment decisions you make should not directly not make an employee worse off compered to another due to a protected characteristic.
  2. For example, employers should not furlough or make redundant a female employee who is pregnant in order to avoid making adaptations to her role or suspending her on full pay due to the risks to her health and safety during the pandemic.
  3. As well, employers need to make sure new policies or practices taken for the business interest also take into consideration the different impact on different protected characteristics.
  4. For example, consider first how a disabled employee can work from home and be flexible in adapting their current or a different role, worktime of shifts by making reasonable adjustments.
    Think carefully before putting in place new policies and practices which put all staff to take up frontline roles. You might be indirectly putting employees with underlying conditions (conditions recognised as a disability under the Equality Act 2010) or from minority ethnic groups more at risk.
  • Always, by best practice, pay consideration to what employees are able to do in their current situation.
    1. Involve employees in decision making processes in a way that takes into account their protected characteristics.
    2. Remember that furloughing requires agreement from both of the employer and the employee
    3. Communicate inclusively with all employees, for example include those on maternity leave and disabled employees requiring additional communications support
    4. Set up alternative working options in a way that does not disadvantage workers with different protected characteristics
    5. For example, make sure communication or home-working IT support is offered equally to disabled employees as for employees with language requirements
    6. Remember you are always justified to take positive actions for employees who are disabled. Make sure to use support schemes to remove barriers to employment e.g. Access to Work

Additional guidance on concerns and barriers faced by equality groups.

Across all employees:

Any changes in work patterns, redundancies or furlough scheme needs to be applied fairly, making sure protected characteristics do not influence employment decisions. At the same time, the indirect impacts on employees most susceptible to risk of contamination by COVID19 need to be taken into account

Key References:
EHRC Guidance for Employers

Employees who are parents, guardians, foster parents:

Several children and families facing financial insecurity as a result of the crisis and children who excluded from mainstream systems due to immigration status risk falling through the safety net. Children staying at home are at higher risk of abuse or neglect as well and those with special educational needs.

Key References:
The impact of COVID-19 on children and young people. The Children Society

Employees who are carers for disabled and older people in their households:

Older people have been disproportionately affected by disruption of services as they are the main users of health and social care services (e.g. cancer treatments etc) and are residents in care home which have been majorly affected. Also, older people who are living at home have been at higher risk of suffering from the impact of isolation on their health and wellbeing if their social care has been reduced due to staffing shortages or other measures.

Key References:

Employees who are disabled:

Disabled employees can ask for reasonable adjustments to be made so as to remove or reduce any substantial disadvantage they may face compared to non-disabled workers in the return to the ‘new normal.

When addressing a request or a barrier faced by a disabled employee, employers should consider the following:

  1. Can the policies and practices causing the barriers be adapted? For example:
    1. Redeploy an employee who suffers from anxiety to a non-customer facing role
    2. Allow an employee who is deaf or has a hearing impairment asks for a speech to text provider or providing specialist phone / a BSL interpreter to join video conference meetings
  1. Can the workplace be adapted to be more accessible or inclusive?
    1. For example, install a ramp for a wheelchair user who was relocated to a temporary office due to physical distancing
  2. Is there any extra equipment that could help the disabled employee do their job?
  3. An employee who is disabled person asks for assistive equipment to be able to work from home

To assess what is a reasonable adjustment, consider:

  • how effective the change will be
  • how practical it is
  • the cost to your organisation in relation to available resources and size
  • the available financial support to put in place additional equipment or physical changes to the workplace, such as the Access to Work scheme (

Key References:

 EHRC Guidance for Employers and Reasonable Adjustments

Employees who are pregnant or on maternity leave:

Employers need to make sure that the selection process, including selection criteria and scoring for furloughing staff or redundancies do not disadvantage an employee because of her maternity leave or a related reason.

Unless a pregnant employee needs adjustments to working conditions for health and safety or pregnancy related reasons, the employee should be treated fairly and the same as a as any other employee.

Key References:

Coronavirus (COVID-19) guidance for employers: Your duties on pregnancy and maternity

FAQs: Covid-19 – rights and benefits during pregnancy and maternity leave

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