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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.

Under step 4 of the government’s roadmap out of lockdown in England, the government is no longer instructing people to work from home.

The government expects and recommends that a return to the workplace is gradual over the summer.

Supporting staff returning to the workplace

  • If staff are returning to their workplace, employers are required by law to identify and manage any health and safety risks including the risk of spreading covid-19. Find out more in our guidance on managing covid risk
  • Organisations that operate in the leisure and tourism industry, to support NHS Test and Trace, are encouraged to keep an accurate record of when staff and volunteers are working on premises, their shift times and contact details. Read our guidance on supporting NHS Test and Trace.
  • When travelling to and from their workplace, to minimise the risk of spreading covid-19, employers can encourage staff to: 
    • avoid crowded spaces where possible
    • avoid travelling at peak or busy times
    • wear a face mask when travelling by public transport
    • increase ventilation by opening windows where possible
    • try and keep a distance from others.
  • For some staff, returning to their workplace may provoke a range of concerns. 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. To help:
  • Some parts of England are receiving further support to stop the spread of covid-19. If your workplace and or staff are based in one of these areas, you should:
  • 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 will 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. HSE have guidance to protect home workers.
  • Some organisations will have decided to either:
    • continue to allow staff to work from home if they want to
    • require staff to continue to work from home as their workplace has not re-opened.
  • Either way, 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 home working 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 have developed a home working questionnaire to help employers understand the needs of their staff team and plan any next steps.
  • Where possible, employers should build in flexibility to respond to individual circumstances such as those who are clinically vulnerable and/or with caring responsibilities. This could include:
    • relaxing ‘core hours’
    • additional flexibility in working hours
    • coordinating cross-organisational times where staff are not 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 have developed advice and resources to help organisations set up and manage staff working from home. Read Acas’ guidance on working from home.
  • Bates Wells have 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.
  • Some employees may wish to continue to work from home part or all of the week even when workplaces fully re-open. 
  • Employees can make an informal request for flexible working or if they are eligible by law they can make a formal request. Read Acas’ guidance to check if you are 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. 
  • For HR guidance on flexible working, Croner, an NCVO trusted supplier, has a HR and employment law helpline available to all voluntary sector organisations, free of charge.  Call 0844 561 8133.

Tax and benefits implications of working from home and supporting staff

Supporting staff wellbeing

Supporting staff who are clinically extremely vulnerable

Staff and covid-19 testing

  • Everyone in England can access free, regular, rapid, covid-19 testing. Testing is most effective within three days of symptoms developing.
  • Organisations may want to encourage staff to take regular rapid lateral flow tests even if they do not have any covid-19 symptoms. There is no law in England that says that staff must be tested for covid-19.
  • Any member of staff with symptoms should order a PCR test and stay at home. If a member of staff does not have symptoms, they can find a rapid, lateral flow test site in their area. Alternatively organisations can pay an approved provider to provide tests or run a test site.
  • If staff are essential workers, they can be prioritised for testing through a self-referral portal. They must be self-isolating because either they or member(s) of their household have coronavirus symptoms. They can do this by uploading the names and contact details of self-isolating essential workers to the government’s secure employer referral portal. Access to this includes volunteer essential workers. Learn more about getting tested on GOV.UK
  • 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. 
  • It’s a good idea to discuss with staff:
    • how testing would be carried out
    • how staff would get their results 
    • the process to follow if someone tests positive for covid-19 
    • about pay if someone needs to self-isolate but cannot work from home
    • how someone’s absence would be recorded if they need to take time off work 
    • how testing data would be used, stored and deleted in line with data protection law (UK, GDPR). 
  • 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.
  • 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 testing data.

Staff and covid-19 vaccinations

Staff: Self-isolating and sick pay

  • By law, staff must immediately self-isolate if: 
    • they have symptoms of covid-19 even if the symptoms are mild 
    • they have received a positive covid-19 test result
    • someone they live with has symptoms or has tested positive
    • they have been told to, by the NHS Test and Trace service.
  • Staff will usually have to self-isolate for 10 full days if they have tested positive for covid-19 or have been in close contact with someone who has. They might need to self-isolate for longer if they develop symptoms or their symptoms do not go away. Find out how long to self-isolate for on NHS.UK
  • For more information read guidance about households with possible or confirmed coronavirus symptoms on GOV.UK.
  • There are certain circumstances where if a member of staff lives with someone who has symptoms of covid-19 or has tested positive, they will not need to self-isolate. These are:
    • if they are fully vaccinated - meaning 14 days have passed since their final dose of the covid-19 vaccine
    • if they are under 18 years, 6 months old
    • if they are taking part of have taken part in a covid-19 vaccine trial
    • if they are not able to get vaccinated for medical reasons.
  • Find out more about when to self-isolate and what to do on NHS.UK.
  • If staff have or develop symptoms of covid-19, they should:
  • If staff are self-isolating, and need some help with shopping, collecting a prescription or a friendly chat, they can call 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.
  • It's a legal obligation for workers to notify their employer if they are required to self-isolate when they are due to work anywhere other than the place they are required to self-isolate. They must do this as soon as reasonably practicable and before they're next due to start work within the isolation period. The rules also apply to agency workers who must tell either their employer, their employment agency or their principle. Whoever is informed by the agency worker must pass the information onto the other two parties. Any worker who fails to do so will face a fine of at least £1,000.
  • Similarly, it's a legal obligation for employers who are aware of the requirement of a worker to self-isolate to not knowingly allow them to attend any place other than where the worker is required to self-isolate, for any purpose related to the worker's employment. Any employer who fails to do so will face a fine of at least £1,000. It's advisable for employers to keep a record of the worker’s reported self-isolation records and dates they attend the workplace.
  • Employees who are unable to work because they're ill with covid-19 or cannot work from home whilst self-isolating, are entitled to sick leave and statutory sick pay from the first day they are absent from work if:
    • they have coronavirus
    • they have coronavirus symptoms
    • someone in their household has coronavirus symptoms
    • they've been advised to stay at home by a doctor because of underlying health conditions
    • they've been told to self-isolate by a doctor or NHS 111
    • they've been told to self-isolate by a government NHS Test and Trace service.
  • If you've been told to self-isolate because of covid-19 and cannot work from home, you might be able to get a payment of £500
  • To learn more, Acas has issued guidance on sick pay for self-isolation during coronavirus
  • If you're an employer, you may be eligible to use the Coronavirus Statutory Sick Pay Rebate Scheme to claim back employees' coronavirus-related Statutory Sick Pay (SSP). Employers can learn more in HMRC guidance and they can check online if they're eligible
  • Croner, an NCVO trusted supplier, has an HR and employment law helpline available to all voluntary sector organisations, free of charge. Call 0844 561 8133.

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 be able to demonstrate your covid-19 vaccination status using an app or letter to enter some countries or territories.
  • If you're returning to England, what you're required to do before you return depends on whether you are returning from a red, amber or green listed country. Find out how to prepare to return to the UK on GOV.UK.
  • If you break the quarantine rules, you may face a penalty of up to £10,000.
  • Employees are not entitled to statutory sick pay if they're self-isolating after returning from holiday or business travel and they can't work from home.
  • Employers have discretion to grant unpaid leave for emergency travel. For details on this and other employment rights issues read Acas’ guidance on self isolating after returning to the UK.

Meeting your equality duties as an employer

Coronavirus job retention scheme (furloughing)

    • The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) gives employers access to support from HMRC to continue paying wages and avoid laying off staff or making them redundant due to the covid-19 pandemic. The scheme was introduced in March 2020 and has been extended until 30 September 2021. 
    • As of 1 August 2021, the government will pay 60% of wages up to a maximum cap of £1,875 for the hours an employee is on furlough.    
    • For claims from 1 July 2021, employers must top up their employees wages to make sure they receive 80% of their wages (up to £2500) for the hours they are on furlough.  
    • Find out how the Coronavirus Job Retention scheme has changed as of 1 July 2021 on GOV.UK.
    • Employers do not need to have used the CJRS previously to access the extended scheme. Employers can claim for employees who were employed and on their PAYE payroll on or before 31st October 2020. 
    • Any of the following can be put on furlough whether they work full or part time: 
      • employees 
      • workers
      • agency workers
      • those on zero hour contracts 
      • apprentices. 
    • Employers can also furlough those who are temporarily unable to work because: 
      • they are clinically extremely vulnerable 
      • they have caring responsibilities resulting from coronavirus.
    • Find out which employees you can put on furlough on GOV.UK.
    • Employers can flexibly furlough employees. This means they can work for any amount of time and any work pattern. They cannot work for you when they have been recorded as being on furlough.
    • Furloughed staff can do volunteer work as long as it is for another employer or organisation. For a detailed overview of what furloughing means for those who want to volunteer or take on volunteers, read our blog on furloughing and volunteering
    • Furloughed staff can do training to keep their skills and learning up to date.  
    • If only some employees are furloughed, consideration should be given to capacity and demand. You must be careful not to discriminate and to make furloughing decisions based on roles, not on personal characteristics. It may be appropriate to use a similar selection process as in a redundancy situation. 
    • Public sector organisations and organisations receiving public funding specifically for salary costs are expected to continue to use that funding for salary costs rather than furloughing staff.
    • Get the last update on the CJRS from HR Services Partnership, one of our Trusted Suppliers.  

                Annual leave and furlough

                • Employees on furlough continue to build up:
                  • statutory holiday entitlements 
                  • additional holiday provided under their employment contract.
                • While on furlough employees can take holiday without disrupting the terms of their furlough. For example, if an employee is on furlough for four weeks and takes five days holiday during that furlough period, the start and end dates of that furlough period remain the same and will not be extended by five days. 
                • Employees on furlough can request holiday through the usual channels at work. 
                • Workers on furlough must get their usual pay in full, for any holiday they take while on furlough.
                • Standard notice requirements still apply if:
                  • requesting an employee to take holiday
                  • refusing a request for holiday. 
                • If requiring an employee to take holiday during furlough, consider any restrictions the employee is under. For example, social-distancing or self-isolation would prevent them from enjoying leisure time - a fundamental purpose of holiday. 
                • As of 27 March 2020, the law changed regarding carrying over annual leave into the next calendar year.   
                • Employees can  carry annual leave forward into the next two years. This is the case where the impact of covid-19 meant it was not ‘reasonably practicable’ to take leave in that year. Check what can be considered ‘reasonably practicable’ on GOV.UK.
                • For more information on holiday entitlement and pay during covid-19 on GOV.UK.
                Page last edited Sep 10, 2021

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