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The University of Southampton
Human Resources

Coronavirus (COVID-19) - HR Guidance

Introduction

Last updated: 13 April 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: Health and Wellbeing's Coronavirus (COVID-19) Sharepoint site or their 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 the employee's home address so they can notify emergency services, please contact Ask HR on 023 8059 7547.

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. 

Staff who need to take time off work to recover from any side-effects of the vaccine should record this as a sickness absence. Such absences should be excluded from sickness 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.

More information on self-isolating is available in Health, Safety and Risk's guidance document which can be found on their COVID-19 Risk Management Page.

Shielding (clinically extremely vulnerable and clinically vulnerable staff)

With lockdown restrictions now easing in England, shielding no longer applies. This means staff who were required to shield prior to 1 April 2021 and who have now received their vaccination are permitted to return to work on campus, if they're unable to perform their work at home and the work is deemed business critical. Managers should follow Health, Safety and Risk's guidance on returning to work on campus before asking/allowing staff to return to work on campus.

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.

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

Cancelling holiday

Staff may want to use their holidays differently, given changes in plans and cancellations, and they may cancel existing holidays to enable that.

However, staff need to ensure that they are still taking leave during this period, both for their own well-being and from a sustainability perspective: it will not be manageable for all staff to take their annual leave entitlement between the end of this period of social distancing and the end of the holiday year.

Carry forward

You will only be able to carry forward a maximum of five day’s annual leave 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 annual leave 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

The University has announced two additional University Closure days for 2021 which will fall on 8 and 9 April . As with the additional University Closure Day on 23 December 2020, staff will receive 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 book off the additional holiday entitlement 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 manager 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.

With the current school closures, some staff with caring responsibilities have asked if they can be furloughed under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.  The University has made the decision not to access the scheme at this time. For more information about its reasons for this, please see the Furlough section below.

Travel and quarantine

Current government advice is that people can only travel internationally from England where they have a reasonable excuse to leave the UK, such as work. International holidays are not permitted.

Before travelling outside the UK or entering the UK, staff should consult the guidance on Gov.UK.

If you have travelled abroad and you’re prevented from returning, 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 during the quarantine period, you will be required to take annual leave or unpaid leave to cover this time off.

My work

Working on site

While the current Government guidance is that people should work from home where possible, some staff will be required to work on site to ensure the ongoing functioning of essential University operations.

Health Safety and Risk have set out extensive information on working on site within the Risk Minimisation Framework.  This includes controls already in place as well as the steps that line managers and individuals need to take prior to their return.

Please see the Personal Circumstances section if you have any concerns about coming back to site to work.

Unable to return to work on site

If an individual’s job requires them to be on site, but they’re unable to attend work for reasons such as needing to self-isolate or because they are Clinically Extremely Vulnerable, they may be assigned alternative work that they can carry out from home.

Where this is not possible, the absence may be treated as special paid absence.

For further information on the treatment of absences, please refer to HR’s Absence Summary document.

Critical worker and essential travel letters

Staff with school age children who are deemed critical workers can request a letter from their faculty/department to confirm they are a critical worker, so their child can continue to attend school during lockdown.  These letters will be issued by local faculties/departments, who will also determine if an employee is a critical worker.  To request this letter, staff should contact their Head of School or Director, or local nominated contact.

Staff who need to travel for work during lockdown can also request an essential travel letter.  Many staff were issued these during the original lockdown and can continue to use these letters.

If staff require an essential travel letter they should should contact their Head of School or Director, or local nominated contact.

To assist faculties and departments with identifying which staff are critical/essential workers, Health, Safety and Risk have developed the following guidance.

Working remotely

In line with Government guidance, most staff should continue working from home, to ensure the safest possible campus environment for those who do need to be there.

If this is difficult for some staff, they should discuss with their line manager. Line managers should consider these requests on a case-by-case basis, taking time to understand the individual circumstances.

It may be possible for staff to return to work on site if working remotely is causing them issues.  Line Managers will need to work with Estates and Facilities and Health and Safety to ensure that the work environment is secure and suitable.

https://sotonac.sharepoint.com/teams/HealthSafetyduringCOVID-19

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 are able to work from home for an extended period in line with Government guidance in response to the pandemic, without this requiring a change to their 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 want to introduce in the longer term.

Staff should continue to work from home on the current (extended) temporary basis as per government guidance during this period and 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:

Access to offices

Staff who are currently working from home, but who require access to their office for any reason (eg to pick up equipment to assist with working from home) should liaise with their line manager to make arrangements to access these sites.

Fixed Term Contracts

The impact of COVID-19 has not changed the process for the ending of fixed term contracts and contracts will not automatically be extended.  Requests to extend a fixed term contract should be submitted using the HR Request on ServiceNow.

Furlough

The University is not using the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) during this period of lockdown and doesn’t currently intend to do so. This is a position primarily driven by Department for Education (DfE) guidance (last updated 21 January 2021) which states that higher education providers should only furlough employees and seek support through the scheme if a number of conditions are met, including:

These additional requirements (over and above those in the CJRS itself) preclude the University from utilising the full scope of the job retention scheme. On this basis, we have opted not to use the scheme at this time, as it would be applicable only to a very small sub-set of our employees – a situation that would lead to inequities. Instead, the University has expanded its paid leave options available to all staff and is encouraging flexibility from line managers.

Furloughing staff with caring responsibilities

The CJRS allows for employers to furlough staff who are unable to work due to caring responsibilities arising from school closures.  However,  the University still needs to satisfy the wider requirements of the scheme, plus the additional requirements set out in the DfE guidance. As explained above, this limits the University's ability to use the full scope of the scheme and could lead to inequity of treatment, so it has made the decision not to access the scheme at this time.

Instead, and in response to the pressures staff with school-age children are currently facing, the University has again enhanced its paid Domestic Leave entitlement, encouraged line manager flexibility and made further options available such as purchase of additional holiday and temporary reduced working hours.

Staff should refer here for more information on the full range of options available to them.

Appraisal

In these challenging times, 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 Absences for guidance on how to balance work commitments with caring responsibilities.

Using public transport

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.

Staff who do not want to return to work on site

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

The University has developed a Risk Minimisation Framework that sets out the steps that need to be taken before colleagues return to Campus. Individuals should discuss any concerns they may have about returning to campus with their line manager in the first instance.

Your line manager will be able to share the steps that have been 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.

This will identify any additional controls or adjustments that may be 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 addressed and resolved through local dialogue and is actively engaged 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 (Ask_HR@soton.ac.uk) or by raising a ServiceNow ticket, providing the following information:

HR’s role in this process will be to facilitate an agreement for either the return or non-return to campus based on the individual 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 in this instance is:

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

Financial

Casual workers (UniWorkforce) - update

The University has once again agreed that any casual worker (normally paid through UniWorkforce) who had a commitment from a line manager for work between 4th January 2021 and 28th February 2021, will be paid for that work, even if the work was no longer required due to lockdown restrictions. Where this is the case, line managers should submit time sheets in the normal way and highlight the hours that the worker could not complete due to current restrictions.

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 April 2021.  

Vehicles parked on site will need to display a parking permit; 2020 permits will continue to be accepted until the new passes are issued in 2021.

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 collect existing workplace furniture and equipment (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

Advertising, or scoring/shortlisting applicants

Consider putting the vacancy on hold if it is not critical. Contact any pending/submitted applicants through the e-recruit system (contact your ‘HR Contact’ to arrange this). 

Interviews

Interviews will need to be held remotely during this period. 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 – see section on International Recruitment below.

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

Please see the flowchart for further guidance.

Pre-employment checks

The University is conducting right to work checks either via either the Online Checking Service (for people with Biometric Resident Permits or EU settled/pre-settled status) or by checking a scan or photo of the person’s right to work documents and then verifying identity over Microsoft Teams (or similar). The verification via video call is an interim measure only, to cover this period where in-person interaction is restricted.

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. 

International Recruitment

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a massive impact on the ability to recruit migrant workers due to travel and border restrictions and the closure of UK Visa Application Centres (VACs) and English Testing Centres.  

This table below is to help with understanding the current challenges and potential issues faced:

Stage of International RecruitmentIssues facedRecommendation
Candidate selected at interview.  No offer made or CoS issued

Potential delays with visa applications due to ongoing Visa Application Centre (VAC) closures and later with travel.

Risk that time limits will lapse for Resident Labour Market Test (RLMT) restrictions before CoS assigned. These are within 6 months of advert date for RQF6-level roles and within 12 months for PhD-level roles.  Home Office offer no guidance on ‘unissued CoS’.  

Research funding time constraints may not be met. 

Research VAC opening and travel status from the country where the candidate currently resides

Discuss with your HR Business Partner whether offer and issuing of CoS is currently viable and if not, alternative options

Consider a start date of “TBC” for the conditional offer rather than confirming a firm date

Certificate of Sponsorship (COS) issued by University

May not be able to complete visa application due to ongoing Visa Application Centre (VAC) closures.

Certificate of Sponsorship valid for 3 months and costs £199. If COS expires before visa application is submitted, it may be possible to issue another (at cost to the University), provided RLMT is still valid.  In many cases RLMT will no longer be valid and recruitment will have to start over.

UoS reporting responsibilities to the Home Office start the day the CoS is assigned.

Research VAC opening and travel status from the country where the candidate currently resides

Discuss options with your HR Business Partner

Visa secured and vignette to travel received

Potential disruption to travel to the UK to commence work and quarantine period on arrival. 

Starting work from abroad has potential tax and insurance complications and poses significant cost to the University (advice from PWC, running an international payroll). 

It is possible to transfer permission to a new vignette but there is a cost to the individual and risk that travel restrictions will remain in place for the duration of a subsequent vignette as well. 

Be flexible with regards to the start date if possible

Discuss options with your HR Business Partner

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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