Fixer: How can mask-exempt carer return to work?

We want all employees to feel valued but we need to put the safety of residents first

I am HR director for a small care home provider, and we obviously have stringent PPE policies. One of our carers is autistic and exempt from wearing a face mask as a result, but for obvious reasons we cannot allow them to provide frontline care to residents. Being protected by the Equality Act means we have no choice but to keep them at home on full pay. They are understandably frustrated with the situation. However, the pandemic isn’t going away any time soon, and I can’t see a scenario in which they’d be able to come back to work in the foreseeable future. Is there any other way around this?

This is undoubtedly an unfortunate situation, although it is important to keep in mind that you are only fulfilling your obligations as an employer and care home provider by following the current rules. However, you are left with this issue that requires you to act reasonably and fairly.

In these circumstances, as an employer I would always encourage you to go above and beyond and show an extra bit of kindness and compassion.

The option that carries the least risk, in my view, is to see if there is another role for the person to do even temporarily. Start at the beginning and speak to the employee about their strengths, potential, experience, talent, hobbies and interests, finding out as much as you can. It may not be as straightforward as ‘what do you want to do?’, but may well give you the answer. There are many stories of people who have found a different career, which started with an ad hoc conversation with a manager. 

It would be useful for the employee’s line manager to have this conversation with the employee, with your presence as the HR director. 

With this information, you could also carry out an exercise to identify gaps or business needs in your operations to see if there is a new role that is required. Or if there is a current vacancy, you can see if their skills and interests are a potential match. A temporary redeployment would still be a good interim option, and hopefully when things get back to normal, it will allow the employee to make a choice between the two roles.

An experienced HR professional, Idris Arshad is currently a people and inclusion partner at south-east London-based hospice St Christopher’s. He has previously worked with a number of faith-based charities, as well as with housing and homelessness organisations, and also lectured on a part-time basis at London Metropolitan University. He was recently mentored as part of CIPD’s Aspiring HR Director Mentoring programme. 

His replies are written in a personal capacity and do not reflect the views of People Management or the CIPD, nor are they a substitute for professional legal advice. Not all queries submitted can be answered, and personal replies are not possible. To pose an anonymous query, visit