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The University of Southampton
Human Resources

Coronavirus (COVID-19) - HR Guidance

Introduction

Last updated: 12 August 2021

Coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to have a massive impact on people's working lives.  The information below provides answers to some of the common HR questions that have arisen due to the impact of COVID-19. The information is grouped under the following headings:

If you have a question that you can't find an answer to in the information below please contact Ask HR.

*See the Absence Summary Document for a quick overview of what action you need to take if you're having to take time off for reasons related to COVID-19.

Further information and support

General information and guidance: University's Coronavirus (COVID-19) information page

IT support for remote working: iSolutions Away from Campus webpage

Information on COVID-19 specific Health and Safety or via the helpline (+44 (0)23 8059 9000  Monday – Friday, 08:00 – 17:00)

Medical emergencies 

If a staff member has a medical emergency while working from home and their line manager or colleague needs to provide the employee's home address to emergency services, please contact Ask HR on 023 8059 7547.

Returning to campus

Following the lifting of most restrictions across England, the University is adopting a sensible, gradual, precautionary approach as it prepares for the start of the next academic year.  This will allow more time for staff and students to receive their vaccinations.

Staff who are able to, and who are not required to be on campus, should continue to work from home but are encouraged to visit their workplace to re-familiarise themselves with it before September.

Staff who need or want to be on campus can do so, using risk assessments and with decisions made at local level, by line managers.  It's recommended that any risk assessments previously conducted are reviewed in light of changes to guidance.

For the immediate future, the existing requirements around use of face coverings and social distancing will continue, but will be kept under review. 

Staff working on campus should follow the University's testing guidance.

Please see Health, Safety & Risk's guidance on steps being taken to ensure a safe return to campus.

Staff who are required to work on site but are reluctant to

The health and safety of our staff and students continues to be our top priority.

Individuals should discuss their concerns about returning to campus with their line manager in the first instance.

Your line manager can explain the steps taken to ensure your safety when returning to campus, as part of the overall risk assessments and controls, and determine with you whether there is a need for a personal risk assessment (PRA).

A PRA will identify any additional controls or adjustments required to protect you as an individual.

This guidance document has been produced to assist line managers with having a successful conversation regarding their staff’s return to campus.

More guidance on safe working during the COVID-19 pandemic can be found on the Health & Safety during COVID-19 page.

The University hopes that any concerns can be resolved at a local level through open dialogue and consultation.  It has been actively engaging with the trade unions on these matters.

In the unlikely event that, following these discussions, a return to work on campus can’t be agreed between staff and their line manager, staff should in the first instance escalate their concerns to the line manager’s manager for further discussion. The line manager or the line manager’s manager may seek advice from HR or Health and Safety at any point.

If, after these conversations, staff still feel unable to return to campus, they should contact Ask HR or raise a ServiceNow ticket, providing the following information:

HR’s role in this process will then be to facilitate a discussion and agreement for either the return or non-return to campus, based on the individual’s circumstances. HR will not act as the decision maker. If no agreement is reached following escalation through the line management chain and HR, staff may be required to take leave (including unpaid leave) for the period that they do not work.

Where staff are deemed not well enough or ‘unfit’ for work by their GP, then this period will be treated as sickness absence in line with the University’s policy.

The University is continuously monitoring the UK Government’s advice and may adjust this guidance accordingly.

What if the risk to me remains unacceptably high following a personal risk assessment?

In some very limited cases and as a result of specific (sets of) personal circumstances, the residual risk after implementation of controls may remain higher than desired.
 
The escalation process to follow is:

Where appropriate, adjustments may be made to support returning to work. These may include:

Continuing to work from home

Absence

Time off for vaccinations

The University actively encourages and supports all employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19. To ensure every employee has the opportunity to do so, the University is providing staff with reasonable time off work for the purpose of being vaccinated against COVID-19, without requiring staff to make back the time.  How much time off is reasonable should be discussed and agreed between the staff member and their line manager and consideration should be given to the location of the vaccination centre, as well as how the staff member will travel to/from it. 

Unwell due to side-effects of vaccine

Staff who need to take time off work to recover from any side-effects of the vaccine should record this as a sickness absence.  When selecting the sickness type, employees should pick the one that best reflects their symptoms. They shouldn’t select ‘COVID-19’ unless they have tested positive for the virus.

Such absences should be disregarded when considering whether an employee has exceeded absence management triggers.

Positive for COVID-19 or self-isolating

Employees who have symptoms, receive a positive test or are advised to self isolate should inform their line manager and complete the staff COVID reporting form. If they are unable to work as a result, they should record the absence on MyHR Dashboard, in line with HR's Absence Summary document.

Note from 16 August staff who are double vaccinated will not need to self-isolate if they are pinged by the NHS app or contacted by Track and Trace, but they're advised to take a PCR test as soon as possible.

Absences for long COVID

Where a staff member has had COVID-19 and continues to experience symptoms (i.e. long COVID) which means they are too unwell to work then they should record this absence as sickness in the usual way on MyHR Dashboard and select COVID-19 as the reason type.

If long COVID starts to impact upon the staff member's ability to carry out their role, a referral to Occupational Health is recommended.

Treatment of absences & pay

The Absence Summary Document provides an overview of what action you need to take and how the absence will be treated depending on your specific situation. Note this document only addresses COVID-19 related absences. 

Reporting and recording

If you are unable to work because you are unwell or because you usually work on site and you are unable to attend, on that day you need to:

1. Inform your line manager; and

2. Record the relevant absence via MyHR Dashboard.

For further clarity on reporting absences, please refer to HR’s Absence Summary document.

If the reason for your absence changes, for example you have been self-isolating and you become unwell, you need to ensure that this is recorded by updating your absence recording in MyHR Dashboard.

If you are absent due to COVID-19 symptoms or a positive COVID-19 test, you also need to complete the staff COVID reporting form.

Sickness (fit notes)

As per our usual practice, staff are expected to provide fit notes, if they have been absent from work due to sickness for more than 7 calendar days.

Holiday

Taking holiday

It is important that staff continue to take leave across the year as usual even where it might not be possible to travel for holidays as in previous years.  Taking time off work is important to maintain personal well-being.

Carry forward

You will only be able to carry forward a maximum of five day’s holiday into the new annual leave entitlement period in exceptional circumstances, as per the University’s usual policy.* It is important for staff to take leave, even in the current circumstances where our movements are restricted, to recharge and maintain their well-being. Staff taking holiday across the year as they normally would, will also be key in ensuring our resilience once restrictions are lifted and we face the challenges of a much-changed higher education landscape.

*In line with the Government’s announcement allowing the carry-over of statutory leave for key workers an exception will be made for those University staff in the front-line of medical support for COVID-19, who are unable to take leave due to the demands of their role in fighting the virus. Carry-over holiday requests from these staff will be considered on a case-by-case basis and authorised by their respective Dean.

Direction to take holiday

Line managers may direct staff to take their holidays e.g. during quiet periods.  They should discuss it first with their staff, but they can direct them to take holiday by giving them notice (twice the duration of the holiday period). 

Additional University Closure Days at Easter

Staff received two additional one-off University Closure days for Easter 2021 (8 and 9 April) . As with the additional University Closure Day on 23 December 2020, staff received additional holiday entitlement for these days, based on the proportion of the holiday year they work and their weekly FTE.

For full-time staff at Levels 1-2 this equates to 7.2 hours for each day and for staff at Level 3 and above this equates to 7 hours for each day. Those staff who are part-time and/or work only part of the holiday year will receive a pro-rated entitlement. 

If these closure days on a normal working day for that employee (according to their work pattern recorded on the HR system) the hours they would have worked on their day are deducted for the holiday.  If it's not one of their normal working days then the employee can take the additional holiday entitlement they received on another day.

Caring responsibilities

The University is sympathetic to the significant challenges faced by staff juggling working from home with caring responsibilities.  Where possible line managers should allow staff to manage their work life around their care obligations.  Employees and manager should be prepared to explore flexible arrangements to allow staff to fully work their hours.  These may include using a combination of work and leave and temporary changes to working patterns/hours and/or responsibilities.

Where staff are unable to work their usual hours (or at all) due to caring commitments, in spite of flexible arrangements, staff will need to use one of the following leave types to cover the absence:

Any absence should be agreed prior with the line manager and recorded via MyHR Dashboard

Please refer to HR’s Absence Summary document for clarity on reporting absences,.

For information on purchasing additional holiday, temporarily reducing hours, or taking a career break please see the Voluntary Measures website.

*For the current leave year, the University has extended the provision of four days Compassionate and Domestic Leave to two weeks (pro-rated for part-time staff) in order to support staff through the peak of school closures. This temporary extension ends 30 September 2021.

Any changes to individual working patterns as a result of work requirements will need to be discussed and agreed with the individual first.

Travel and quarantine

There are no longer any restrictions on leaving England to travel internationally, however to protect public health in the UK and the vaccine rollout, you should not travel to countries or territories on the red or amber lists.

Staff can find the University’s latest international and UK travel guidance as well as useful toolkits, on the Health and Safety SharePoint site.

Before travelling overseas, staff should consult the travel guidance on Gov.UK.

If you have travelled abroad and you’re delayed in returning to the UK, you should inform your line manager, who must notify Ask HR. If you’re unable to work remotely, then Ask HR will advise your line manager on the options.

If you are required to quarantine on your return to the UK and you’re unable to work remotely during the quarantine period, you will be required to take annual leave or unpaid leave to cover this time off.

Reimbursement of managed quarantine fees and testing

Reimbursement of costs associated with COVID-19 testing and managed quarantine can be claimed by staff who are arriving in the UK, from Amber or Red list countries to start a new role with the University, or when returning to the UK after travelling on University business. This includes staff travelling to University campuses outside the UK as part of an international collaboration. Staff should contact Ask HR to find out how to claim these costs.

The University will not reimburse these costs where staff have made a personal choice to travel or work outside the UK.

My work

Working remotely

Staff who are not required to work on campus can continue to work from home for the near future.

If a staff member is finding working from home difficult or it is having a negative impact on their mental well-being, they should discuss with their line manager. Line managers should consider requests to work on site on a case-by-case basis, taking time to understand the individual’s circumstances.  Line Managers will need to follow the guidance from Health, Safety and Risk to ensure that the work environment is secure and suitable.

IT Support

iSolutions has developed extensive guidance on working remotely. This includes information on what to do if your University laptop stops working. Please visit their Away from campus page.

Health and safety

The Health, Safety and Risk team have issued guidance for staff and managers on how to ensure that staff stay healthy and safe during this extended working from home period.  There is also information on their website on correct work station set-up (DSE).

Teaching remotely

The University’s specialist teams have created information designed to help you find the most appropriate options for you and your students.

Data Protection

Data protection and confidentiality are extremely important, particularly when working from home. Please read this short presentation from Information Governance.

You must NEVER give your password to anyone including colleagues or superiors. If you have done this, please immediately reset your password.

Longer term working from home

Staff can continue to work from home on a temporary basis, without this requiring a change to their employment contract.

There is currently no provision for staff to request working from home on a more permanent basis, although this is something the University may consider in the future.

Staff are encouraged to postpone discussions about more permanent arrangements until such time that the University has been able to put the necessary policy and processes in place.

Health and Safety

Health Safety and Risk have set out extensive information on their site Health and Safety during COVID-19

This site covers:

They have also produced the following guidance documents:

Appraisal

In these challenging times and with many staff working and being managed remotely, appraisals become even more important, to recognise success, support people to stay on track and agree realistic objectives. Below are some tips on appraising in the current environment:

For further guidance about holding appraisals during COVID-19, please see the appraisal pages on SharePoint

Personal Circumstances

Caring responsibilities

If you have caring responsibilities and are working from home, please see the section above under Absence for guidance on how to balance work commitments with caring responsibilities.

Using public transport

For staff who are back working on campus, using public transport may form part of an individual risk assessment, particularly where a member of staff has underlying conditions.  As part of this, options should be explored to minimise risk.  Examples of steps that can be taken can be found on the Gov.UK Safer Travel web page.

Financial

Absences: paid or unpaid?

Our Absence Summary document sets out the treatment of absences and whether they are paid or unpaid.

Deductions

Car Parking

The University has suspended monthly deductions for car-parking permits from May 2020 until the end of December 2021.  

Vehicles parked on campus will need to display a parking permit; 2020 permits will continue to be accepted. If you need to park on campus and do not have a current permit you will need to apply for one – but there will be no charge.

Sport and Wellbeing

Please speak to the team at Sport and Wellbeing: sportandwellbeing@southampton.ac.uk 

Childcare Vouchers

Please see the recently updated Childcare Voucher Scheme page on the HR website for more information.

Expenses

For staff working from home rather than on site, they may see a small increase in their household costs (eg power, heating etc.). For most employees, any working from home costs are likely to be cancelled out by savings from not having to be located on site for work.

In accordance with HMRC guidance, tax relief for working from home during COVID-19 can be claimed online without the need for a full self-assessment. The amount of tax relief is based on a sum of £6 per week so for those who pay 20% tax they would get £1.20 per week. Any claims above this figure will need to be subject to self-assessment and supported by evidence.

More information is available on Gov.UK

Purchasing equipment for working from home

Staff working from home are encouraged to make use of existing furniture and equipment available in their office (as opposed to purchasing it) and managers should help to facilitate this, wherever possible (more information is available in the Working From Home guidance)

The cost of additional equipment purchased for home working is unlikely to be reimbursed, although there may be some (few) exceptions to this – ensure that you speak to your line manager before making any purchases.

Recruitment

Starting a new piece of Recruitment

While it is still possible to initiate recruitment, you should consider whether the role is absolutely essential during the current period of uncertainty. The costs involved and the future of the vacancy should be carefully considered.

The COVID-19 outbreak has created unprecedented challenges for the University, and the Vice Chancellor has requested everyone carefully consider the need to recruit, in light of the financial challenges the University is facing as a result of the pandemic.

Recruitment in progress

Interviews

Despite the lifting of restrictions, you may opt to continue to hold interviews remotely.

Enter the interview details and dates/times into the e-Recruit system as normal and the Recruitment Team can send out invitations for the interviews. You can use Microsoft Teams (or similar) to invite candidates (even if external). You will need to send the direct invitation to the platform you are using to the candidates, so that you can both join the interview.

For guidance on how to conduct a successful video interview please see here:

https://sotonac.sharepoint.com/teams/Recruitment/SitePages/Interviewing-by-video.aspx

For guidance on how to invite candidates to an interview via Teams please see here:

https://sotonac.sharepoint.com/teams/Office365/SitePages/External-Teams-Meeting.aspx

Offers

The possibility of remote working and delayed start dates needs to be taken into consideration, particularly if offering a job to an overseas candidate.

We recommend start dates are not confirmed until you have understood the implications of potential delays/timeframes caused by COVID-19.

Hiring managers can contact Ask HR or their HR Business Partner for advice and should also keep in touch with their Recruitment Team Administrator. 

Pre-employment checks

Right to work checks have now reverted back to in-person checks. Information on the process for conducting right to work checks is available on the HR website:

https://www.southampton.ac.uk/hr/services/right-to-work/index.page

Remote working

If the role would usually be based on a University site, there is no need to change the location advertised or what is currently in our contract of employment.  Remote working is an interim measure in response to the COVID-19 crisis and not a longer term or contractual change at this time.

If you are recruiting whilst we are working remotely, you should keep in contact with any prospective candidates (at interview or after this stage) to alert them to the current situation and (if applicable to your vacancy) state that usually they would be required to work on site instead. 

Remote working overseas

Hiring managers will need to seek advice from their HR Business Partner before making any arrangements for new starters to commence work before their arrival in the UK.

HR Business Partners can investigate the viability of the candidate commencing work in their country of residence.  Please note that remote working overseas is not always possible and can incur significant costs for the department and the individual. The University will need to seek advice from external consultants PwC about the potential implications (tax, immigration, employment law and social security) and costs involved.  The minimum cost for seeking advice is £2,500. 

See the guidance on overseas working for more information.

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