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Working with staff

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This page explains how to support and manage staff during covid-19. The page gives both practical tips for making sure staff can stay safe and well, along with an explanation of relevant government guidance. It's aimed primarily at senior leaders in voluntary organisations who have responsibility for human resources and employee engagement but may be useful for any manager.

On 21 February 2022, the government announced plans to lift all remaining covid-19 restrictions. The plan is set out in section three of the paper, Living with Covid-19 on GOV.UK.

Supporting staff going to the workplace

  • The government isn’t instructing people to work from home. Employees and employers should agree arrangements about returning to the office.
  • If staff are going to their workplace, employers are required by general health and safety duties to protect the health and wellbeing of their employees.
  • It’s no longer necessary for employers to explicitly address covid-19 issues in any risk assessments. Employers may still choose to cover covid-19 in their risk assessment. Employers should continue to carry out health and safety risk assessments and follow official public health guidance. Find out more in our guidance on managing covid risk.
  • To minimise the risk of spreading covid-19, employers can encourage staff to: 
    • get vaccinated – see our guidance on supporting staff and covid-19 vaccinations
    • avoid crowded spaces where possible
    • consider wearing a face covering particularly if you come into contact with people you don't usually meet and transmission rates are high
    • increase ventilation by opening windows when meeting indoors
    • try and stay at home if unwell
    • stay at home and avoid contact with others if you test positive
    • wash your hands regularly for 20 seconds.
  • For more information, read the guidance on living safely with respiratory infections including covid-19 on GOV.UK.
  • For some staff, covid-19 may continue to create concern about going to their workplace. They may be worried about an increased risk of catching or spreading covid-19, and how this might affect them and the people they live with and/or care for. The following steps can help.
    • Communication is key. Provide staff with clear and updated information on how to keep themselves and others safe including information about how to get the covid-19 vaccine. Explain the measures you're putting in place to keep staff, volunteers and beneficiaries safe. See our guidance on managing covid risk.
    • Where possible, tailor information to address specific needs. For more information on how you can do this see our guidance on equity, diversity and inclusion.
  • For some staff, covid-19 may continue to cause anxiety and stress. Read our guidance on supporting staff wellbeing.
  • Staff in front line roles, such as those working in health, care, emergency and education roles face a range of physical and mental health risks. Our Frontline offers round-the-clock one-to-one support, by call or text, from trained volunteers. You'll also find a range of resources, tips and ideas to look after your mental health.

Supporting staff to work from home

  • Employers have a legal duty of care to support the health, safety and wellbeing of their staff when working from home. This also includes making sure that there are reasonable adjustments for disabled employees. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has guidance to protect home workers.
  • Employers should be aware that working from home can create demands, challenges and issues for all staff. Individual circumstances can change over time. It's therefore essential to continue to regularly communicate, reassure and proactively offer support to staff who are working from home to ensure their health and wellbeing.
  • It's good practice for your organisation to have a written record of your approach to homeworking and make sure this is applied consistently for all staff.
  • You should seek to actively involve staff and any recognised trade union in developing your approach. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development has developed a homeworking questionnaire to help employers understand the needs of their staff team and plan any next steps.
  • Employers may want to continue to build in flexibility to respond to individual circumstances such as those who are at high risk from covid-19 and/or with caring responsibilities. This could include:
    • additional flexibility in working hours
    • relaxing 'core hours'
    • coordinating cross-organisational times where staff aren't expected to be available or in meetings
    • setting expectations of keeping in touch with team mates and managers  for example through a different pattern of team meetings.
  • Employers should make sure that managers know how flexibility can be applied to normal working practices to meet the different needs of their team.
  • Acas has developed advice and resources to help organisations set up and manage staff working from home. Read Acas’ guidance on working from home.
  • Mental Health at Work has produced a toolkit on coping with the challenges of working from home. This includes links to a broad range of additional resources, templates and guides.
  • Bates Wells has developed a guide on the legal aspects of homeworking and hybrid working
  • The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development published a range of resources for employers to enable their staff to work from home or work more flexibly.

Considering permanent changes to working arrangements

  • Some employers and employees may want to consider permanent changes to working arrangements.
  • Employers and employees may have found benefits in working from home such as: 
    • increased productivity
    • a healthier work-life balance
    • improved job satisfaction.
  • Employees can make an informal request for flexible working or if they're eligible by law they can make a formal request. Read Acas’ guidance to check if you're right to make a formal request.
  • Employers and managers should: 
    • encourage and be open to conversations around flexible working arrangements 
    • think about what jobs can be done flexibly 
    • work with employees to find a solution that works for both where possible.
  • NCVO members can contact WorkNest, an NCVO trusted supplier, for a free advice call for guidance on employment law and flexible working.

Tax and benefits implications of working from home and supporting staff

Supporting staff wellbeing

Supporting staff at high risk from covid-19

  • People at high risk from covid-19 are no longer being called clinically extremely vulnerable. Some people who were previously considered clinically extremely vulnerable are still considered at high risk from covid-19, including people with certain health conditions. You can learn more about who's at high risk on the NHS website.
  • Staff at high risk from covid-19 are advised to follow the same guidance as everyone else. They don't need to shield. There's advice for people at high risk of covid-19 on how they can keep themselves safe on the NHS websiteThey can also read guidance for people previously considered clinically extremely vulnerable from covid-19 on GOV.UK.
  • Staff whose immune system means that they’re at higher risk of serious illness from covid-19 should read the guidance for people whose immune system means they're at higher risk.
  • Staff at high risk, and those who live with them, may feel particularly worried when going into the workplace. Employers can provide reassurance by taking the following steps.
    • Explain any measures that have been put in place to keep them safe at work. Read our guidance on managing covid risk.
    • Provide access to occupational health and employee assistance programmes in the workplace. These can offer support with a range of physical and mental health needs.
    • Support those with a disability or health condition to get extra help with the government’s Access to Work Scheme. This might cover extra travel costs if you've been told to not use public transport, additional personal protective equipment or additional remote support services, such as video remote interpreting or British Sign Language interpreting.
    • Provide a regular space to raise concerns. Take any concerns seriously and provide feedback.
  • Employers can also support those who are at high risk to stay safe by encouraging them to take extra precautions, including: 
    • meeting people outside where possible
    • if meeting inside, making sure the space is well ventilated
    • wearing a face covering in crowded or enclosed places
    • washing their hands regularly with soap and water
    • maintaining social distancing where it feels appropriate 
    • getting vaccinated – see our guidance on supporting staff and covid-19 vaccinations.

Staff and covid-19 testing

  • There's no law in England that requires staff to be tested for covid-19.
  • From 1 April 2022 the government is no longer providing free universal symptomatic and asymptomatic testing for the general public in England. There's limited symptomatic testing for a small number of at risk groups including those who:
    • have a health condition meaning they’re eligible for covid-19 treatments
    • are going to hospital for surgery or a procedure
    • work in the NHS or social care.
  • Further details of groups that are eligible for free testing can be found on the NHS website.
  • If you want to get tested in England, you can buy a covid-19 test from some pharmacies and retailers in person or online. You can't order tests by calling 119.
  • Any member of staff with symptoms of covid-19 should try to stay at home and away from others.
  • If as an employer you want to require all staff to regularly test for covid-19, you should first talk with either: 
    • staff 
    • a recognised trade union or other employee representatives. 
  • You should agree:
    • how the expense of testing will be covered. If you're requiring employees to be tested, any cost should be covered by the employer.
    • how testing will be carried out.
    • how staff will get their results.
    • the process to follow if someone tests positive for covid-19.
    • about pay if someone is advised to self-isolate but can't work from home.
    • how someone’s absence would be recorded if they need to take time off work.
    • the legitimate reason for requiring employees to be tested; for example, if this has been identified as a necessary health and safety measure because of the nature of your workplace.
    • how testing data would be used, stored and deleted in line with data protection law (UK, General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)). Under GDPR, collecting health data is classed as ‘special category’ data due to its sensitivity. Your use of the data needs to be fair, relevant and necessary for a specific purpose. The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) outlines data protection considerations for collecting and processing testing data. If you want more support on data protection issues relating to covid-19, you can contact NCVO’s Trusted Supplier data protection specialists Hope and May on 0330 111 0013.
  • Any decision after that discussion should be:
    • put in writing, for example in a workplace policy 
    • made in line with the organisation’s existing disciplinary and grievance policy. 
  • If you can’t reach an agreement with staff, it’s a good idea to get legal advice before bringing in a testing policy. For more information read Acas’ guidance on workplace testing for covid-19.

Staff and covid-19 vaccinations

  • An effective vaccine is the best way to protect your staff from covid-19. To find out more about the vaccination programme, read our guidance on the covid-19 vaccination programme.
  • The covid-19 vaccine isn't mandatory for everyone in England.
  • On 31 January 2022 the government announced that the covid-19 vaccine requirement for workers and volunteers deployed for the provision of Care Quality Commission regulated activity (vaccination as a condition of deployment) would be paused so a consultation could take place.
  • The outcome of the consultation between 916 February 2022 along with the latest scientific evidence means that the government will bring forward regulations to revoke vaccination as a condition of deployment. The regulations came into force on 15 March 2022 ahead of 1 April 2022, when regulations extending the requirement to health and wider social care were due to come into force.
  • Employers may want to consider introducing a specific policy to outline their approach to vaccinations for staff and volunteers. Before doing so, employers should talk with staff or the organisation's recognised trade union to discuss what steps to take. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development has developed a template vaccination policy that reflects a voluntary approach.
  • Collecting health data is classed as 'special category data' due to its sensitivity. Your use of the data needs to be fair, relevant and necessary for a specific purpose. The ICO outlines data protection considerations for collecting and processing vaccination data. If you want more support on data protection issues relating to covid-19 you can contact NCVO's Trusted Supplier data protection specialists Hope and May on 0330 111 0013.
  • If an employee doesn't want to be vaccinated, you should listen to their concerns and keep these and their vaccination status confidential. Employees should be reminded to treat their colleagues with respect regardless of their decision over having the vaccine. 
  • Employers can support staff that are hesitant but not medically exempt to get the covid-19 vaccine by:
  • providing staff with paid time off to attend appointments for both doses of the vaccine as well as any booster and ensuring volunteers have the flexibility to do the same 
  • paying staff their usual rates if they're off with covid-19 vaccine side effects, instead of Statutory Sick Pay (SSP).

Staff: Self-isolating and sick pay

  • It’s no longer a legal requirement for staff to self-isolate.
  • Staff should follow public health advice and stay home, avoiding contact with other people if:
  • If staff test positive, they should stay at home for at least five full days and not attend work. They should continue to follow this advice until they receive two negative test results on consecutive days. If they’re not able to work from home, they should talk to their employer about options available to them. They may be eligible for SSP.
  • Staff may stay at home for up to 10 days from when their symptoms start but many people will no longer be infectious to others after five days. Staff can take a lateral flow test five days after their symptoms started and then another one the following day. If both tests are negative and they don’t have a high temperature, they’re less likely to pass covid-19 to others. Find out more about when to stay at home if you have covid-19 on NHS.UK.
  • If staff don’t have symptoms but test positive on a home lateral flow test, they should report their result and avoid contact with other people.
  • If a staff member lives with or has stayed overnight in the household with someone who has covid-19, they’re advised to work from home if they’re able to.
  • If a staff member is a contact of someone with covid-19 but doesn't live with them or didn't stay in their household overnight, they’re at lower risk of becoming infected and should carefully follow the guidance on living safely with respiratory infections, including covid-19.
  • If staff are eligible, and need some help with shopping, collecting a prescription or a friendly chat because they advised to stay at home, they can self-refer for help by calling the NHS Volunteers Responders on 0808 196 3646 (08.00–20.00, seven days a week). For more information see the NHS volunteers’ responders portal.
  • If as an employer you’re requiring employees with covid-19 to stay away from the workplace and they cannot work from home, they’re likely to be entitled to full pay on the basis that this is the employer’s decision to suspend the employee on health and safety grounds when they’re ready, willing and able to work. This is the case unless there’s contractual provision in the employees contract to permit otherwise.
  • For more information, Acas has issued guidance on sick pay for self-isolation during coronavirus.
  • NCVO members can contact WorkNest, an NCVO trusted supplier, for a free advice call for guidance on employment law and flexible working.

Planning international travel

  • If you’re planning to travel internationally, you should check what you need to do in order to do so. You need to check entry restrictions, testing or quarantine requirements. Read the guidance to plan for your travel on GOV.UK.
  • If you live in England and have had two doses of the vaccine you will need to be able to demonstrate your covid vaccination status using an app or letter to enter some countries or territories.
  • If you’re returning to England, you don’t need to take any covid-19 tests before you travel or after you arrive. Find out about travel to England on GOV.UK.
  • Employees aren’t entitled to statutory sick pay if they're self-isolating after returning from holiday or business travel and they can’t work from home.
Page last edited May 04, 2022

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