Questions and answers for HSC staff

 

COVID-19 – FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS FOR HSC STAFF

Staff from across Health and Social Care have pulled together to help tackle the COVID-19 (coronavirus) outbreak preparations and continue to work tirelessly to ensure that our patients, clients, staff and public are as safe as possible. It is only through the ongoing teamwork of our HSC staff across our services that we will be able to tackle the spread of COVID-19 (coronavirus).

The following questions and answers are set out below to advise and guide staff regarding important employment related issues. The situation relating to COVID-19 (coronavirus) is continually evolving and therefore these questions and answers will be subject to ongoing review and amendment as appropriate.

Table of Contents

  1. GENERAL INFORMATION:
  2. 1. What is COVID-19(coronavirus)? (24/03/2020)
  3. 2. What do I need to be aware of in relation to patient/client confidentiality and COVID-19? (16/03/2020)
  4. 3. Will the seasonal flu vaccine be available? (UPDATED 27/08/2020)
  5. 4. How will social distancing be handled in the workplace? (24/03/2020)
  6. SYMPTOMS, SELF-ISOLATION AND CONTACT TRACING
  7. 5. My symptoms match those of COVID-19 (coronavirus). What should I do? (30/07/2020)
  8. 6. What happens if I am notified that I am a contact of a confirmed COVID-19 case in the community? (UPDATED 04/09/2020)
  9. 7. What if I have been notified that I am a contact of a confirmed COVID-19 case who is also a work colleague, what do I do? (UPDATED 04/09/2020)
  10. 8. Someone I live with has COVID-19 or has symptoms of COVID-19. I don’t have any symptoms, can I come into work? (UPDATED 04/09/2020)
  11. TESTING
  12. 9. How do I arrange to have a COVID-19 antibody test carried out? (NEW QUESTION 27/08/2020)
  13. EMPLOYEE CONCERNS AND PROTECTING EMPLOYEES IN ‘VULNERABLE’ GROUPS
  14. 10. If I am pregnant, can I continue to work? (UPDATED 16/09/2020)
  15. 11. I am now 28 weeks pregnant, does this change how I can work? (UPDATED 16/09/2020)
  16. 12. I have an underlying health condition, am I still required to be in work? (22/07/2020)
  17. 13. I am over 70 years old, should I still be coming into work? (22/07/2020)
  18. 14. What steps are being taken to protect Black Asian Minority Ethnic (BAME) staff? (10/07/2020)
  19. 15. I am afraid I might get infected with COVID-19 (coronavirus) and pass it on to someone in my home who is in a vulnerable category. Do I have to come into work? (15/04/2020)
  20. 16. Can I refuse to provide services to a patient or client who has COVID-19 (coronavirus)? (09/04/2020)
  21. 17. How do I ensure I am protected if a patient or client is suspected of or confirmed as having contracted COVID-19 (coronavirus)? (UPDATED 06/09/2020)
  22. ABSENCE – PROCESS AND PAY
  23. 18. Do I have to submit any documentation if I am absent from work due to having COVID-19 or due to someone in my household having COVID-19? (15/04/2020)
  24. 19. Is there any change in the process for submitting fit notes (sick lines) for any other kind of sickness absence from work? (15/04/2020)
  25. 20. What pay will I receive if I am absent from work due to COVID-19?  (09/04/2020)
  26. 21. I am a bank worker – what will I be paid if I am absent due to COVID-19?  (09/04/2020)
  27. 22. I am an agency worker – what will I be paid if absent due to COVID-19?  (09/04/2020)
  28. 23. Will sick leave associated with COVID-19 affect my sickness record or my pay? (09/04/2020)
  29. TERMS AND CONDITIONS
  30. 24. How will my annual/statutory leave be affected by the ongoing arrangements at this time? (24/06/2020)
  31. 25. Will I be paid overtime if I am part-time and work additional hours? (09/04/2020)
  32. 26. I have applied for term time – will this be affected by COVID 19?  (09/04/2020)
  33. 27. Are there contingency arrangements in place to ensure I get paid?  (09/04/2020)
  34. 28. If I am not paid correctly on my normal pay day is there the ability to secure a payment outside of my next scheduled pay date (09/04/2020)
  35. 29. Will my application for family leave be processed?  (10/07/2020)
  36. 30. Are Agenda for Change Clustering/Reviews/Regradings being progressed?  (09/04/2020)
  37. 31. I am working from home, can I claim costs associated with electricity, heat and broadband? (22/05/2020)
  38. WORKFORCE CAPACITY - REDEPLOYMENT, AND RETIREMENT
  39. 32. Am I likely to be redeployed? (09/04/2020)
  40. 33. If I am to be redeployed I am worried about how I will know what to do in a different role. Will I receive training? (09/03/2020)
  41. 34. If I, as a result of agreed temporary redeployment, am undertaking work of a lower band in another area, will my terms and conditions be protected and will I receive mileage expenses? (09/04/2020)
  42. 35. If I, as a result of agreed temporary redeployment am required by the service to work during periods which attract enhancements will I receive payment at an enhanced rate for these periods? (09/04/2020)
  43. 36. If I, as a result of an agreed temporary redeployment to another service have a different working pattern will I continue to attract the enhanced payments that I previously received.  (09/04/2020)    
  44. 37. If I am as a result of an agreed temporary redeployment working on another site managed by external organisation will I continue to be paid by my current Trust.  (09/04/2020)
  45. 38. As part of Covid-19 contingencies, I have returned to HSC employment having very recently retired. Am I able to work more than the 16 hours per week in the first four weeks following retirement? (24/03/2020)
  46. CARING RESPONSIBILITIES - SCHOOLS AND CHILDCARE
  47. 39. Will flexible working arrangements be available to support my changing childcare responsibilities? (NEW QUESTION 17/09/2020)
  48. 40. What symptoms should I look out for in my child? (NEW QUESTION 17/09/2020)
  49. 41. My child is now showing symptoms of Covid-19. What should I do? (NEW QUESTION 17/09/2020)
  50. 42. Can I get my child tested if they are displaying COVID-19 symptoms? (NEW QUESTION 17/09/2020)
  51. 43. In school, my child’s class is considered a ‘protective bubble’ and one of the other students in that bubble is now COVID-19 positive. My child is not displaying any COVID-19 symptoms but has been sent home to self-isolate for 14 days. What does this mean and can I still come to work? (NEW QUESTION 17/09/2020)
  52. 44. My child’s class/school or childcare setting is completely closed due to a COVID-19 outbreak with little or no notice. What should I do? (NEW QUESTION 17/09/2020)
  53. 45. Is a summary of the guidance regarding caring responsibilities and schools available? (NEW QUESTION 17/09/2020)
  54. COURSES, TRAINING AND CONFERENCES
  55. 46. What are the arrangements for training, course, conferences during this period of time? (07/07/2020)
  56. TRAVEL AND QUARANTINE
  57. 47. What are the quarantine arrangements in Northern Ireland currently? (UPDATED 04/09/2020)
  58. 48. Can I go on holiday to a country not on the country exemption list? (UPDATED 04/09/2020)

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GENERAL INFORMATION:

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1. What is COVID-19(coronavirus)? (24/03/2020)

 These viruses can cause mild symptoms ranging from a fever and cough to more serious conditions such as severe pneumonia, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties.

In December 2019, a new strain of coronavirus (COVID-19) was first identified in Wuhan City, Hubei, China. This virus has now spread to other countries. The UK Chief Medical Officers have declared the risk to the public to be high, but for most people, COVID-19 (coronavirus) will be a mild illness.

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2. What do I need to be aware of in relation to patient/client confidentiality and COVID-19? (16/03/2020)

The usual strict staff obligations in respect of patient/client confidentiality apply in the context of possible or confirmed diagnosis of COVID-19 (coronavirus). This duty extends to protecting the confidentiality of staff who are being treated as possible or confirmed COVID-19 (coronavirus) patients.

However, under The Public Health Act (Northern Ireland) Doctors in Northern Ireland have a statutory duty to notify the Director of Public Health if they are aware that or have reasonable grounds to suspect that a patient is suffering from one of the notifiable diseases. COVID-19 is now designated as a notifiable disease.

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3. Will the seasonal flu vaccine be available? (UPDATED 27/08/2020)

Flu vaccination offers the best protection against seasonal influenza (flu). Given the risk of flu and COVID-19 co-circulating, all frontline health and social care staff should receive a flu vaccination this year. Annual flu vaccination programmes normally commence early October and consideration has been given to ensure staff can easily and safely access vaccination clinics. Further information will be provided by individual HSC organisations.

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4. How will social distancing be handled in the workplace? (24/03/2020)

Managers should work with their staff to put in place social distancing in office environments to ensure staff can remain 2 metres apart. This may include spreading staff across any available offices or alternative shift patterns, eg early morning or evening working, or weekend working. Think this should be updated and more is needed here?

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SYMPTOMS, SELF-ISOLATION AND CONTACT TRACING

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5. My symptoms match those of COVID-19 (coronavirus). What should I do? (30/07/2020)

You must not come into work under any circumstances. Anyone with a new, continuous cough and/or high temperature and/or a loss or changed sense of smell or taste MUST self-isolate at home and follow the stay at home guidance at www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-stay-at-home-guidance/stay-at-home-guidance-for-households-with-possible-coronavirus-covid-19-infection.

Since the publication of the guidance above, local arrangements for staff testing have now been introduced as a priority to protect HSC staff.

Staff must contact their manager as soon as they are symptomatic. If this occurs at work, staff should self-isolate and immediately telephone their manager before they go home. Staff will be advised of local testing arrangements for COVID-19 by their line manager. 

Leave will be recorded as special leave on HRPTS using special leave category ‘Public Serv Duties Paid’.

Occupational Health advice is available as necessary.

If the test for COVID-19 is positive:

You can return to work on day 11 if you have had clinical improvement and have not had a temperature for 48 hours.  If a cough or a loss and/or changed sense of smell or taste is the only persistent symptom on day 11, you can still return to work (post-viral cough is known to persist for several weeks in some cases). Government guidance on returning to work can be found here.

The Public Health Agency have commenced contact tracing. If your test for COVID-19 is positive a representative from Public Health Agency will contact you by telephone to obtain details of recent household and community contacts you have had and also provide advice on any requirements for self–isolation amongst your household contacts.  If, as a consequence, you are advised by Public Health to self-isolate for 14 days you must do so. It is important you notify your line manager and Occupational Health as soon as possible.

If the test for COVID-19 is negative:

You can return to work, following discussion with your line manager and appropriate risk assessment, provided you feel well enough to do so and have not had a temperature for 48 hours.

You should keep in regular contact with your line manager. 

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6. What happens if I am notified that I am a contact of a confirmed COVID-19 case in the community? (UPDATED 04/09/2020)

The Public Health Agency has established a contact tracing service to minimise community (outside of HSC settings) transmission of COVID-19. It is designed to ensure that anyone who develops symptoms of COVID-19 can quickly be tested to find out if they have the virus. It also helps to trace close recent contacts of anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 and, if necessary, notify them that they should self-isolate at home to help stop the spread of the virus.

If you have had close recent contact with someone in the community who has COVID-19, you will be contacted by a representative from the Public Health Agency. If as a consequence you are advised by Public Health to self-isolate for 14 days you must do so. It is important you notify your line manager and Occupational Health as soon as possible. Where you can be facilitated to work from home you should do so. 

Note that those who have been identified as a close contact of a confirmed case or who are required to quarantine following their return from a higher risk country must continue to self-isolate even if they receive a negative test result when they were not displaying any symptoms.

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7. What if I have been notified that I am a contact of a confirmed COVID-19 case who is also a work colleague, what do I do? (UPDATED 04/09/2020)

If your colleague received a positive COVID-19 test result and following a risk assessment you are deemed to be a close contact, you will be contacted by your employer’s contact tracing team. The same guidance applies as if you are named as a community contact. Close contact excludes circumstances where PPE is being worn in accordance with current guidance on infection prevention and control. If you are advised to self-isolate for 14 days you must do so. It is important you notify your line manager and Occupational Health as soon as possible. Where you can be facilitated to work from home you should do so.

This highlights the need for social distancing in the workplace. If you do not follow social distancing, it increases the likelihood of a colleague being named as a contact and more people from your team potentially having to self-isolate. This could have a significant impact on patient safety and care.

Note that those who have been identified as a close contact of a confirmed case or who are required to quarantine following their return from a higher risk country must continue to self-isolate even if they receive a negative test result.

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8. Someone I live with has COVID-19 or has symptoms of COVID-19. I don’t have any symptoms, can I come into work? (UPDATED 04/09/2020)

If someone you live with has been confirmed as having COVID-19 or has symptoms of COVID-19, you cannot come to work.  Even if you do not have any symptoms of COVID-19 (as per question 3) you must stay at home for 14 days.

Staff should contact their line manager by telephone and must follow the stay at home guidance at www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-stay-at-home-guidance/stay-at-home-guidance-for-households-with-possible-coronavirus-covid-19-infection 

If someone you live with has symptoms of COVID-19, testing for COVID-19 of this individual can be arranged through your employer.  Your manager will be able to help you organise this. If the test is negative, this will enable you to return to work earlier than the 14 day self isolation period.  

Where you can be facilitated to work from home you should do so. Accommodation options can be discussed with your organisation. If this is not possible the absence this should be recorded on HRPTS as special leave category ‘Risk Assessment (Paid)’.

Occupational Health advice is available as necessary. 

If, following a negative test result of a household member, a HSC worker who has returned to work starts showing symptoms of COVID-19, they should follow the stay at home guidance and arrange to be tested themselves. (See Question 3)

Staff members who are asked to remain away from work due to health reasons should suffer no financial detriment.

Line managers should continue to send in timesheets for any enhancements and additional hours that a staff member would have worked had they been in work.

The 14 day period starts from the day when the first person in the house became ill. If you develop symptoms you must stay at home for a further 10 days, regardless of what day you are on in the original 14 day isolation period.

You should contact your line manager by telephone if and when symptoms appear.

Note that those who have been identified as a close contact of a confirmed case or who are required to quarantine following their return from a higher risk country must continue to self-isolate even if they receive a negative test result.

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TESTING

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9. How do I arrange to have a COVID-19 antibody test carried out? (NEW QUESTION 27/08/2020)

COVID-19 antibody testing can inform individuals whether they have been exposed to the COVID-19 virus. A positive antibody test demonstrates that an individual has developed antibodies to the virus. It is important to note that, as COVID-19 is a new disease, there is currently insufficient evidence to know how long an antibody test lasts, nor whether having antibodies means individuals can’t be infected again or transmit the virus to others.

To arrange a test you will need to complete a brief questionnaire and then have a blood sample taken. Each Trust has different arrangementsPlease refer to Trust communications and protocols to arrange testing.

 

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EMPLOYEE CONCERNS AND PROTECTING EMPLOYEES IN ‘VULNERABLE’ GROUPS

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10. If I am pregnant, can I continue to work? (UPDATED 16/09/2020)

All pregnant women should have a risk assessment carried out with their line manager. The link to this risk assessment can be found by clicking here.

The Royal College of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists (RCOG) guidance, ‘Coronavirus (COVID-19) Infection in Pregnancy, Information for Healthcare Professionals’, can be found at: www.rcog.org.uk/en/guidelines-research-services/guidelines/coronavirus-pregnancy

In addition to this guidance, the RCOG have provided further information in relation to ‘Occupational health advice for employers and pregnant women during the COVID-19 pandemic’. This can be found at www.rcog.org.uk/en/guidelines-research-services/guidelines/coronavirus-pregnancy

For pregnant women under 28 weeks, the RCOG guidance advises that “In light of the limited evidence, pregnant women of any gestation should be offered the choice of whether to work in direct patient-facing roles during the COVID-19 pandemic. This choice should be respected and supported by their employers”. The guidance also says that “where possible, pregnant women are advised to avoid working in these areas with patients with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 infection”. It goes on to say that pregnant women who choose to work in patient facing roles, after a risk assessment, prior to the third trimester of pregnancy, should be supported to do so by minimising risk of transmission through established methods. Occupational Health advice can be sought where necessary.

Further specific FAQs have been developed by the Department of Health Clinical Cell to further advise and inform new and expectant mothers – these are available by clicking here.  

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11. I am now 28 weeks pregnant, does this change how I can work? (UPDATED 16/09/2020)

For pregnant women from 28 weeks’ gestation, or with underlying health conditions such as heart or lung disease at any gestation, a more precautionary approach is advised:

Pregnant staff over 28 weeks gestation and able to work from home

The current guidance from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) advises that pregnant women, from 28 weeks gestation, should be at home and not in the workplace. Consideration should therefore be given to facilitating these staff members to work from home in their own role or doing alternative duties/role.

Normal maternity leave provisions will then apply from the date they advise their employer they wish to commence their maternity leave.

Pregnant staff over 28 weeks gestation and unable to work from home

If a pregnant woman, who is over 28 weeks gestation, is unable to be facilitated to  work from home, she should remain at home, not working, and will be recorded on full pay under Covid 19 special leave arrangements. She will continue to accrue annual and statutory leave entitlements.

For these women, their maternity leave will then start at week 36 in accordance with Regulation 6(1)(b) of the Maternity and Parental Leave Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1999).

Please note: if a pregnant staff member is sick and not available for work, they will be recorded as being on sick leave for the duration of their sickness absence. If they remain sick at week 36 their maternity leave will commence in line with Regulation 6 (1)(b) outlined above.      

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12. I have an underlying health condition, am I still required to be in work? (22/07/2020)

If you have a moderate risk underlying health condition, such as those listed here, it is important you speak with your manager at the earliest opportunity as they will need to carry out a risk assessment to ensure your safety in the workplace. The COVID-19 risk assessment has recently been updated to reflect the latest guidance and is designed to assist in evaluating risks and the identification of control measures to reduce risk within the workplace. If staff with underlying conditions can work from home they should do so. 

The Chief Medical Officer (CMO) issued a letter on 23 June 2020 advising individuals who have been shielding due to high risk health conditions such as those listed here, to advise that after 31 July 2020, providing the COVID-19 risk in Northern Ireland remains low, they will not have to shield and should return to work from 01 August 2020. Shielding staff can therefore return to work on the basis that a risk assessment is carried out and their place of work is COVID-safe. An action plan will be completed to reduce risks within the workplace as far as reasonably practicable. Managers may also seek further advice from Occupational Health.  

Shielding staff should however remain cautious and continue to follow public health advice as they are still at risk of severe illness if they contract COVID-19. The need to shield may have meant staff members could not physically go to work, or had to work from home. The CMO letter advises that “if it has been possible for staff members to work from home while shielding, staff members should continue to do this.  However, if employers have taken proper measures to ensure social distancing in their place of work, the fact that they have been shielding is not by itself a reason not to return to work”. 

Health and Social Care workers with underlying moderate or higher risk health conditions can continue to work in the workplace as long as they practice strict hygiene measures but are not suitable for work in areas or settings where there are known to be suspected or confirmed COVID-19 cases.

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13. I am over 70 years old, should I still be coming into work? (22/07/2020)

In the same way that staff who have been shielding can return to the workplace from 01 August 2020, staff who are over 70 years of age who have been away from the workplace, can return to the workplace providing a risk assessment has been carried out by the line manager and their place of work is COVID-19 safe. You will be encouraged to be as open and honest as possible including discussing any concerns you may have about returning/remaining in work. An action plan will be completed to reduce risks within the workplace as far as reasonably practicable.  Your manager may also seek further advice from Occupational Health. If staff over 70 years of age can work from home they should do so.  

Health and Social Care Workers over the age of 70 can continue to work in the workplace as long as they practice strict hygiene measures but are not suitable for work in areas or settings where there are known to be suspected or confirmed COVID-19 cases.

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14. What steps are being taken to protect Black Asian Minority Ethnic (BAME) staff? (10/07/2020)

A UK level inquiry has been launched to understand why people from BAME backgrounds appear to be disproportionately affected by coronavirus. There is as yet no UK or local guidance on whether BAME staff are vulnerable to more severe COVID-19. At present we are presuming there is vulnerability because of data observed. This is a precautionary step.

Please click here for more information on employer responsibilities and precautionary measures.

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15. I am afraid I might get infected with COVID-19 (coronavirus) and pass it on to someone in my home who is in a vulnerable category. Do I have to come into work? (15/04/2020)

The HSC is mindful of the increased anxiety levels of staff during an outbreak and of staff being fearful of putting vulnerable members of their household at risk.

You can find more information on how to help protect vulnerable people you live with at

www.nidirect.gov.uk/articles/coronavirus-covid-19-advice-vulnerable-people

If you live with an extremely vulnerable person you should follow the guidance at www.nidirect.gov.uk/articles/guidance-shielding-extremely-vulnerable-people

Staff who are concerned should have a conversation with their line manager to agree how they can be best supported to continue to work in these circumstances.  Managers can seek advice from Occupational Health as necessary.   

Alternative accommodation options to support staff in these situations are available by contacting your employer.

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16. Can I refuse to provide services to a patient or client who has COVID-19 (coronavirus)? (09/04/2020)

The HSC takes very seriously the health of its staff. If you do not fall into any of the higher risk categories you are generally expected to undertake your normal duties, taking all precautions as specified in relation to infection control measures. Staff working in areas likely to require the provision of services to COVID-19 positive patients or clients should discuss any such concerns with their line manager on a general basis rather than waiting for a request which can often be prompted by an immediate service need arising in the out of hours period when the line manager and Occupational Health advice may not be available.

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17. How do I ensure I am protected if a patient or client is suspected of or confirmed as having contracted COVID-19 (coronavirus)? (UPDATED 06/09/2020)

You will be fully briefed and trained on the use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and managers have a responsibility to ensure appropriate PPE is in place for you. Wearing of PPE is mandatory, however we appreciate it can be tiring for staff and therefore you and your manager should ensure that you receive adequate rest breaks to avoid fatigue. You must practise and role model hand hygiene measures, and ensure you follow PHA guidance relating to ‘Catch it, Bin it, Kill it’.

If your patient, client or colleague receives a positive COVID-19 test result and you have not been wearing PPE or PPE has been breached, and following a risk assessment you are deemed to be a close contact, you will be contacted by your employer’s contact tracing team. 

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ABSENCE – PROCESS AND PAY

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18. Do I have to submit any documentation if I am absent from work due to having COVID-19 or due to someone in my household having COVID-19? (15/04/2020)

If you are absent from work because you are sick or symptomatic due to COVID-19 you can submit a self-certificate to cover your absence. Most staff should be able to return to work within 1 to 2 weeks. We recognise however that some staff will feel unwell for a longer period of time and therefore if you remain absent after 2 weeks staff should then submit a GP fit note to cover the continued absence.

You can access self-certification forms here.

If you are absent from work because you are self-isolating as someone in the household has COVID–19, you do not need to submit a self-certificate to cover your absence.

For clarity, you will see on the PHE/PHA websites reference to visiting NHS111 online and the availability of an ‘isolation note’ for COVID-19 related absence.  HSC staff do not need to utilise this facility.

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19. Is there any change in the process for submitting fit notes (sick lines) for any other kind of sickness absence from work? (15/04/2020)

No. All other sickness absence should follow the usual process, i.e. self-certificate for up to and including 7 days and a GP fit note for subsequent periods as per the local attendance management procedure.

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20. What pay will I receive if I am absent from work due to COVID-19?  (09/04/2020)

Staff should receive the pay they would have received had they been in work.

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21. I am a bank worker – what will I be paid if I am absent due to COVID-19?  (09/04/2020)

Bank workers should receive full pay whilst self-isolating/ off on COVID-19 related sick leave for all pre-booked bank shifts that they would have worked had they not had to self-isolate.

Consideration will be given to paying bank workers who regularly undertake shifts, but do not have pre-booked shifts, a 13 week average for a period of self-isolation/ sick leave due to COVID-19. This will be assessed on a case-by-case basis dependent on the individual arrangements of the bank worker. 

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22. I am an agency worker – what will I be paid if absent due to COVID-19?  (09/04/2020)

Agency workers should discuss the arrangements for pay during periods of COVID-related absence with their agency. Managers should not sign off timesheets for periods when an agency worker is absent due to COVID-19.

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23. Will sick leave associated with COVID-19 affect my sickness record or my pay? (09/04/2020)

No, in order to mitigate any risks of COVID-19 (coronavirus) spreading across the organisation it is important that staff with symptoms do not come into the workplace. Sickness absence related to COVID-19 (coronavirus) will not form part of any absence triggers, and will not be viewed as such in relation to a member of staff’s sickness absence record. Line managers will record COVID-19 (coronavirus) sickness as special leave category ‘Public Serv Duties Paid’ on HRPTS, but this is strictly to allow us to monitor and report on the impact of absence(s) across the organisation.

Line managers should continue to send in timesheets for any enhancements and additional hours that a staff member would have worked had they been in work.

Staff should receive their full pay, that is, the pay they would have received had they been at work.

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TERMS AND CONDITIONS

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24. How will my annual/statutory leave be affected by the ongoing arrangements at this time? (24/06/2020)

The health and wellbeing of our staff remains a high priority for the HSC. Staff rest and recuperation at this time is vital and we must ensure that staff have enough rest in order to maintain their own physical and mental wellbeing. This applies equally to staff working from home.

The HSC acknowledges the significant impact of service demands on staff, particularly in these unprecedented timesFortunately, to date, the surge has not impacted as expected across all services. As part of surge planning, staff have, to date, been asked to be flexible in terms of leave/statutory leave arrangements and some staff have agreed to postpone their annual leave until a later date. We wish to thank staff for their flexibility and understanding in this regard. 

Given that the pandemic is anticipated to continue for a number of months, a range of general guiding principles for annual/statutory leave have been developed to address a number of situations regarding leave. Please click here.   

Managers and staff are asked to consider these regionally agreed guiding principles and manage annual/statutory leave appropriately, ensuring a balance between staff health and wellbeing and critical service need during this time. 

Please note, for those staff who are shielding, they will continue to accrue annual leave/public holidays, as per their contractual entitlements, from the date the period of shielding commenced. Staff who are working from home while shielding are encouraged to take leave to ensure they have some rest and down time. For those not able to work whilst shielding, accrued leave can be taken, by agreement, on return to work, subject to the needs of the service. COVID-19 carry forward leave arrangements will also apply to those shielding.

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25. Will I be paid overtime if I am part-time and work additional hours? (09/04/2020)

No. Part-time staff who work additional hours will be paid at plain time rates until their hours exceed standard hours of work, in line with their terms and conditions. (Standard hours of work: 37.5 hours per week for Agenda for Change, 40 hours per week for Medical and Dental)

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26. I have applied for term time – will this be affected by COVID 19?  (09/04/2020)

For those staff have a permanent term time contract you will not be affected.

For those staff who apply for term time on a yearly basis you manager will discuss you locally, this will be considered on a case by case basis, based on safe service need.

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27. Are there contingency arrangements in place to ensure I get paid?  (09/04/2020)

Yes there are contingency plans in place which will be invoked if required should there be reduced capacity in the BSO Payroll Services Centre and/or HSC HR Departments to complete key pay processing.

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28. If I am not paid correctly on my normal pay day is there the ability to secure a payment outside of my next scheduled pay date (09/04/2020)

There will be limited facility to process pay outside designated pay days This facility will be reserved for staff members who have received no pay. In most instances any adjustments will not be rectified until your next scheduled pay day.

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29. Will my application for family leave be processed?  (10/07/2020)

Applications for maternity, adoption, paternity and shared parental leave will continue to be processed. 

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30. Are Agenda for Change Clustering/Reviews/Regradings being progressed?  (09/04/2020)

These will not be processed during this time.

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31. I am working from home, can I claim costs associated with electricity, heat and broadband? (22/05/2020)

You may be able to claim tax relief for some of the bills you have to pay because you have to work at home on a regular basis. You cannot claim tax relief if you choose to work from home. From April 2020 the rate is up to £6 a week (£26 per month) to cover additional costs. For previous tax years the rate is £4 a week (£18 a month). You can only claim for things to do with your work, for example, business telephone calls or the extra cost of gas and electricity for your work area. You cannot claim for things that you use for both private and business use, for example, rent or broadband access.

Employees should seek guidance from HMRC as necessary - claims are made through a P87 form.

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WORKFORCE CAPACITY - REDEPLOYMENT, AND RETIREMENT

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32. Am I likely to be redeployed? (09/04/2020)

We are already seeing a scaling back of a number of services to ensure we are able to plan robustly for the outbreak. It is inevitable that only essential services will be provided in the days and weeks ahead, and therefore some services will be suspended. In accordance with contracts of employment, some staff will be required to redeploy and/or relocate to another service area within the Trust or to another HSC Trust to ensure the provision of essential services to our patients/clients, or to ensure HSC frontline staff are adequately supported to deliver health and social care in the most challenging of circumstances. Regulatory bodies are producing guidance for staff in these circumstances and can be accessed from their websites.

Your personal and health circumstances will be taken into account, and our terms and conditions will be adhered to, including provision of excess mileage at business rate.

Responding to COVID-19 is already necessitating the highest level of team working across our service, to ensure our patients, clients and staff are safely cared for. Working together will be more critical than ever before.

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33. If I am to be redeployed I am worried about how I will know what to do in a different role. Will I receive training? (09/03/2020)

Consideration will be given to what is reasonable redeployment and yes, necessary induction and where appropriate relevant training will take place to enable you to take on different duties, however please be assured that you will only be asked to take on tasks within your competence. Where you are working outside your normal role, you should be very mindful of the need to work within your scope of competence and not undertake work which you are not trained or competent to do.

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34. If I, as a result of agreed temporary redeployment, am undertaking work of a lower band in another area, will my terms and conditions be protected and will I receive mileage expenses? (09/04/2020)

Yes, your terms and conditions will be protected if you work in another area during your contracted hours. Staff who are asked to change base on a temporary basis which results in extra daily travelling expenses can claim excess mileage at business rate in line with their terms and conditions.

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35. If I, as a result of agreed temporary redeployment am required by the service to work during periods which attract enhancements will I receive payment at an enhanced rate for these periods? (09/04/2020)

Yes staff will be paid in line with their Terms and Conditions. 

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36. If I, as a result of an agreed temporary redeployment to another service have a different working pattern will I continue to attract the enhanced payments that I previously received.  (09/04/2020)    

Staff should suffer no financial detriment following a change in their working pattern. Payment should equate to what the staff member would have previously received.

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37. If I am as a result of an agreed temporary redeployment working on another site managed by external organisation will I continue to be paid by my current Trust.  (09/04/2020)

To support the regional HSCNI response to COVID-19 it may be necessary for staff to be deployed to work on other sites managed by an external organisation (e.g. another HSC Trust). Staff will remain on their current Trust’s payroll. Staff should suffer no financial detriment as a result of this redeployment.

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38. As part of Covid-19 contingencies, I have returned to HSC employment having very recently retired. Am I able to work more than the 16 hours per week in the first four weeks following retirement? (24/03/2020)

The legislation announced on 17 March 2020 temporarily suspends the 16-hour rule which currently prevents staff who return to work after retirement from the HSC Pension Scheme from working more than 16 hours per week in the first four weeks after retirement. It will also temporarily suspend abatement for special class status holders in the 1995 section of the Scheme, as well as the requirement for staff in the 2008 Section and 2015 HSC Pension Scheme to reduce their pensionable pay by 10% if they elect to ‘draw down’ a portion of their benefits and continue working.

These measures will allow skilled and experienced staff who have recently retired from the HSC to return to work, and they will also allow retired staff who have already returned to work to increase their commitments if required, without having their pension benefits abated. This will provide valuable capacity to the HSC.

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CARING RESPONSIBILITIES - SCHOOLS AND CHILDCARE

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39. Will flexible working arrangements be available to support my changing childcare responsibilities? (NEW QUESTION 17/09/2020)

Given the challenges to providing safe and effective service delivery, in these unprecedented times, the HSC believes it is even more important than ever to support key workers to balance their commitments in work and their own caring responsibilities. Whilst this guidance relates primarily to child care, the same principles apply to any caring commitment for other dependents. 

We aim to do everything we can to support employees to work as flexibly as possible whilst caring for children i.e. remote or home working and/or flexible working patterns and offer as much flexibility, compassion and understanding as possible balanced with service support and delivery.

You are advised to speak to your line manager regarding flexible working options should you need to avail of them to enable you to meet your childcare responsibilities. One new way of supporting you is allowing you the flexibility to work extra hours now to use as Time Off in Lieu if needed in the future, if the service can facilitate this.  (If these additional hours are subsequently not needed to support you for caring responsibilities, then they can be paid or given as time back at a later stage in accordance with terms and conditions depending on service needs/ constraints).  Managers should monitor the amount of time owing being built up to ensure it is not excessive and that staff are adequately rested.   

Your organisation’s Human Resources Department may also be contacted for support on how best to support family and work commitments during these times.

Please see below for further information on advice in relation to schools and colleges.

www.nidirect.gov.uk/articles/coronavirus-covid-19-advice-schools-colleges-and-universities

Please see below a Link to a letter from the Chief Medical Officer to parents / carers of school children:

CMO Letter

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40. What symptoms should I look out for in my child? (NEW QUESTION 17/09/2020)

The key COVID-19 Symptoms to be aware of are:

  • A new continuous cough (this means coughing a lot for more than one hour or 3 or more coughing episodes in 24 hours)
  • Fever/high temperature over 37. 8oC (this temperature is before giving any medication to reduce the temperature e.g. paracetamol, ibuprofen or any other antipyretic)
  • loss of, or change in, sense of smell or taste

Please see here for any updates to the key symptoms. The UK senior clinicians continue to keep the symptoms for case definition under review and will continue to use evidence to adjust these if it becomes necessary.

If a young person or a child in your care develops any of the above symptoms, they should immediately stay at home, self-isolate and you must follow the Public Health Agency guidance in relation to COVID-19, see www.publichealth.hscni.net/covid-19-coronavirus.

If displaying any of the above symptoms, you must get tested for Covid-19.

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41. My child is now showing symptoms of Covid-19. What should I do? (NEW QUESTION 17/09/2020)

It is critical that we all remain vigilant for the symptoms of COVID-19 and you need to know what actions to take if your child develops symptoms of COVID-19.

You should take the same approach as with any member of your household showing symptoms of COVID-19:

  • The person with symptoms should be tested.
  • Everyone in the household should self-isolate for 14 days.
  • The 14 day period starts from the day when the first person (child) in the house becomes ill.
  • If anyone else in the household develops symptoms, they can arrange to be tested. If their test is positive, they need to self-isolate for 10 days.

People who receive a negative test can stop isolating as long as:

  • everyone they live with who has symptoms of COVID-19 has tested negative – you all need to keep self-isolating if someone in your household tests positive, or develops symptoms of COVID-19 and has not been tested;
  • You feel well enough, and have not had a raised temperature for at least 48 hours.
  • You are not a close contact of a confirmed case.

If your child is showing symptoms for COVID-19 and requires to be tested, this can be arranged through your employer’s local testing arrangements.

Please refer to the PHA FAQS for more information on symptoms and what action to take on the PHA Website - COVID-19 Symptoms .

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42. Can I get my child tested if they are displaying COVID-19 symptoms? (NEW QUESTION 17/09/2020)

Children with symptoms of COVID-19 can be tested. They should not be tested unless they have symptoms. 

You should book a test as soon as possible through your local Trust/HSC Organisation testing arrangements, which covers testing of family members or via the details on the PHA website. You should only leave your house to get tested and you should stay at home until you get the test result. 

If your child has symptoms, the whole household should be self-isolating and you must only leave the house in the event of an emergency or to travel to be tested. You must not have visitors to the house.

If your child’s test result is negative after they were displaying COVID-19 symptoms and they have not had a temperature for 48 hours, this will enable you to return to work earlier than the 14 day isolation period i.e. an immediate return to work (provided you are not displaying any COVID-like symptoms yourself).

Note - If your child is a close contact of a positive case but has a COVID-19 test which is negative, or you have been advised by the PHA through the contact tracing team that your child needs to self-isolate, then your child must still isolate for the 14 day incubation period as COVID-19 symptoms may appear in any of those 14 days. 

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43. In school, my child’s class is considered a ‘protective bubble’ and one of the other students in that bubble is now COVID-19 positive. My child is not displaying any COVID-19 symptoms but has been sent home to self-isolate for 14 days. What does this mean and can I still come to work? (NEW QUESTION 17/09/2020)

Children who are within a bubble may be sent home from school when another child in that bubble has received a positive COVID-19 test result if they have been determined to be a close contact following a risk assessment by the school or the PHA. The child must then self-isolate for 14 days. 

The rest of the household do not need to self-isolate unless they have also been in contact with the person who has tested positive for COVID-19.  PHA guidance states that only symptomatic children should be tested.

If your child is not symptomatic but is required to isolate for 14 days due to contact with the person who tested positive for COVID-19, then the rest of the household including parents/guardians do not need to isolate (unless they have also been in contact with the person who tested positive) and can continue to attend work.

Isolation of the whole household would only happen if the child or another member of the household becomes symptomatic or tests positive for COVID-19.

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44. My child’s class/school or childcare setting is completely closed due to a COVID-19 outbreak with little or no notice. What should I do? (NEW QUESTION 17/09/2020)

As soon as you become aware of such a situation, you should alert your manager as soon as possible and discuss what options are available to you to enable you to remain in work if possible, while also providing childcare for your children.  

Your manager should take into account the fact there is little notice due to the criticality of the situation and do their best to support you in putting in place suitable childcare arrangements. However, if the child is of an age where he/she needs supervision and care, then parents will have to consider various flexible working options such as working from home, if possible.

It is recognised however that due to the nature of particular jobs, working from home is not always possible. Therefore a blend of the following options may be suited better to individual needs:

  • Carer’s/Dependent’s leave
  • Change of shifts/hours/compressed hours/ working times/weekend work/ use of TOIL already worked up
  • Ability to take time off and work it back at a later stage (within a six month period)
  • Parental leave (unpaid) during this period.
  • Use of Annual leave

You are advised to speak with your manager as soon as possible to see which of these options or which blend of options would be feasible and most appropriate, how best this can be accommodated and consider what other flexible, temporary working arrangements could be availed of, such as compressed hours, evening or weekend work such as different hours or work patterns may also help facilitate childcare support.

Your manager will be as flexible and innovative as they can in helping you deciding what options are best for you and the service you work in.

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45. Is a summary of the guidance regarding caring responsibilities and schools available? (NEW QUESTION 17/09/2020)

Yes, you can download a summary of the guidance here.

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COURSES, TRAINING AND CONFERENCES

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46. What are the arrangements for training, course, conferences during this period of time? (07/07/2020)

Following the enormous work of organisations in response to COVID-19, there continues to be a significant amount of work going on within the HSC in order to deliver on plans to rebuild and restart services. Rebuilding of services will be significantly constrained by the continuing threat from COVID-19 and the need to protect the public and staff from the virus.

With this in mind key principles to be adhered to include:

  • a need to continue to focus on the mandatory/essential training required to enable the upskilling/training of staff to include doctors and dentists in regulated training programmes, those with named educational roles, those redeployed to new roles and new starts;
  • for all other non-essential events and training consideration should be given to the role and any CPD requirements eg staff in training;
  • any training needs to adhere to social distancing guidelines or should now be delivered virtually.  Where there is a mandatory practical element that cannot be delivered in any other way then Professional Education Leads must provide for appropriate PPE and infection prevention and control; 

and

  • there will be no attendance at regional, national or international courses and conferences other than virtual events except where the course is a mandatory component of regulated training;
  • there should be no further work related travel booked outside of Northern Ireland, unless authorised by the relevant Director.
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TRAVEL AND QUARANTINE

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47. What are the quarantine arrangements in Northern Ireland currently? (UPDATED 04/09/2020)

Travel guidance for Northern Ireland is found at www.nidirect.gov.uk/articles/coronavirus-covid-19-travel-advice. You must self-isolate for 14 days if you return to Northern Ireland from a country outside the Common Travel Area (CTA) unless you are travelling from, or transiting through, a low to medium risk country that is exempt.

The CTA includes the following places, and only applies if you were there for 14 days or more:

  • England, Scotland and Wales
  • the Republic of Ireland
  • the Channel Islands
  • the Isle of Man

If you have been in the CTA for the last 14 days before entering Northern Ireland you do not need to complete the form or self-isolate.

Exemption rules

  • Country exemptions

From 10 July 2020 you may not have to self-isolate when you arrive in Northern Ireland, if you are returning from certain countries. This list is continually under review and self-isolation requirements could be reintroduced at any time for public health reasons. It is therefore recommended that you review this list if you plan to book any holidays.

You will need to self-isolate if you were in, or if you transited through, a country that is not on the list in the 14 days before your return to the Common Travel Area.

This applies to all travel to Northern Ireland, by train, ferry, coach, air or any other route. It also applies regardless of how you have arrived in Northern Ireland – directly, via Ireland, or via another UK region.

Note that those who have been identified as a close contact of a confirmed case or who are required to quarantine following their return from a higher risk country must continue to self-isolate even if they receive a negative test result.

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48. Can I go on holiday to a country not on the country exemption list? (UPDATED 04/09/2020)

Staff must be mindful that countries not on the exemption list are deemed to be higher risk in the context of coronavirus transmission. If the country is not on the list of exempted countries, there will be a requirement to self-isolate on re-entry to the UK. 

Accordingly, overseas travel should not be booked before an employee has agreed the duration of the leave required with their employer to ensure that they can comply with the self-isolation measures on their return to the UK from that country. Given that the list of countries can change rapidly, it is vital that staff contact their manager to discuss the situation as soon as they are aware that self –isolation will apply on their return home from holiday.    

Staff must advise their manager of the destination of their trip and comply with all self-isolation requirements on their return to ensure others are not placed at risk.  Knowingly failing to adhere to self-isolation requirements will be considered a very serious matter by your employer may lead to disciplinary action. Staff should be aware that under the Health Protection (Coronavirus, International Travel) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2020 they may be subject to a £1000 fine which could be payable if you leave the location where you are self-isolating.   

When considering a request for leave, managers should ensure they apply their decision making fairly and that it is reasonable in relation to individual circumstances with due regard for equality considerations. 

Options to consider for how the quarantine period could be treated may include:

  • The use of appropriate paid or unpaid leave to cover the quarantine period, eg:
    - take additional paid annual leave (from normal leave allowance)
    - take unpaid leave
    - a combination of the above (paid/unpaid);
  • whether the employee is able to work from home;
  • making up some or all of the 14 days’ leave over a period of time through working additional hours/shifts over their normal contracted hours.

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this issue so for those employees who cannot work from home during quarantine, employers could consider using a combination of some or all of the different types of leave options shown above and give sympathetic consideration to certain circumstances which could include an employee who has extenuating circumstances, such as a family funeral abroad.

Note that those who have been identified as a close contact of a confirmed case or who are required to quarantine following their return from a higher risk country must continue to self-isolate even if they receive a negative test result.

 

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