BASW Advice and Representation and Social Workers Union Services
Joint member information on service variation during coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.
Updated 17th March 2020
Covid-19 presents a serious threat to health in the UK and globally. We are aware that our most of our members need to provide continuity of services in communities throughout the epidemic. We are committed to continuing to provide you with both advice and representation through this unprecedented crisis in the best, safest ways possible.
Current UK Government advice is that everyone should have no social/person to person contact outside of households unless essential (e.g. to carry out necessary work that cannot be carried out from home) to protect the health of individuals and minimise the risk of spreading the virus to those who are most susceptible.
To meet the requirements of this challenging situation and to serve members, we are changing our approach. We are stopping non-essential travel for BASW and SWU officers and putting in place strict protocols for their attendance at face to face meetings.
Where direct representation is needed, wherever possible we will do so via digital technologies – through teleconference, mobile phone, Skype, FaceTime, Zoom or other similar platforms.
We will request this of your employer and ask that you do the same. We will be writing to all local authorities and other employers of social workers to enforce the importance of this. This not only protects our staff, but also protects you, your workplace and service users from risk of spread of the virus.
In circumstances where remote attendance is not possible, we will request that the meeting is rearranged or postponed.
If neither option is agreed with your employer, we will undertake a thorough risk assessment before making a final decision about face to face attendance. This will include considering and negotiating around location, room size to allow for social distancing, length of meeting
Ultimately, we must and will be guided by ensuring we prioritise the safety of everyone.
We would like to reassure members that whilst the A& R team might have to work differently, we are still available to support members albeit with the possibility of this being remotely. Importantly, Advice and Representation will be doing all we can at this very difficult time for members to continue to support them in the best possible way that is available to us.
COVID-19 is already having an effect in workplaces. Large numbers are likely to be absent at any one time as the virus spreads. This will include not only those who become ill, or must self-isolate, but in the event of schools closing, many workers with children will find it impossible to go to work. Likewise, those who have partners or dependents who become ill may also stay at home. This would have a major impact on all aspects of health and social care, as well as on the economy as whole.
Self-isolation, or quarantine, is encouraged to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Anyone who has, or who may have, been exposed to the virus is recommended to limit the number of people they come into contact with for 14 days. The government and local health protection teams are advising people to self-isolate if they are:
- Waiting for a COVID-19 test result
- Identified as being a close contact of someone with coronavirus
- Returning from travel in certain locations. You can find an up-to-date list on the government’s website: https://publichealthmatters.blog.gov.uk/2020/02/20/what-is-self-isolati…;
The government has also set out guidance on measures to take while in isolation, including interacting with other people in your home: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/wuhan-novel-coronavirus-self…;
Some employers will also have their own recommendations and requirements for self-isolation.
One of the obvious precautions employers are likely to take in a major health crisis is to give staff the opportunity to work from home. This should generally be encouraged, but there must be systems in place to enable them to do so. That means looking at issues around IT, including broadband capacity and the management and coordination of work and issues to do with confidentiality and client information.
Dealing with sickness absence
Some employers are planning for high rates of absenteeism. This is on the basis that it will not only be those who are ill that are unable to come into work, but also those looking after family members who are ill or those with children in the event of schools being closed. In addition, in the event of a severe pandemic, some staff will be afraid to come into work for fear of contracting the virus. There may also be difficulties with public transport.
Statutory Sick pay
The law on sick pay is complicated and affects sections of the workforce differently.
To qualify for Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) you must:
- be classed as an employee
- have been ill for at least 4 days in a row (this can include non-working days), however the government has temporarily changed the rules on this meaning payment will come in from day 1 for COVID-19 symptoms or self-isolation.
- earn an average of at least £118 per week
Tell your employer you’re sick before their deadline - or within 7 days if they do not have one. The SSP payment is currently £94.25 per week. However, you will not qualify if you:
- have already received the maximum amount of SSP, which is 28 weeks
- are already in receipt of Statutory Maternity Pay
You will also no longer eligible for SSP if you have a continuous series of linked periods of illness that lasts more than 3 years.
If you fall into these categories, you may instead be able to apply for Universal Credit or Employment and Support Allowance, and the government has made temporary changes meaning you will not have to attend a Job Centre to do so. The government has also made emergency changes allowing small businesses with fewer than 250 employees to reclaim the cost of SSP payments from the government, in addition to a loan and grant which can be accessed for disruption of service.
Occupational sick pay
Most workers will receive sick pay as set out in their contracts, but there will be variations on this. Many employers will have an occupational sick pay offer, which will be more generous than Statutory Sick Pay. Some employers have been reported as asking workers to cover periods of self-isolation with annual leave or unpaid leave. This is completely unacceptable, and you should resist any moves along those lines.
Certification of sickness absence
Normally an employer will require a doctor’s certificate, or ‘fit note’, after 7 days absence. In cases of COVID-19, symptoms are likely to last more than 7 days, and if you're in isolation, symptoms can take says still to appear. Since anyone unwell or in isolation is recommended to not leave home, it can be difficult to obtain a doctors' certificate if your surgery is not online.
Government lawyers have ruled that an e-mail confirmation of diagnoses will be enough for COVID-19, and workers can now access these via the NHS 111 line. This will cover anyone unwell with suspected or confirmed COVID-19, or in isolation but not yet displaying symptoms.
KNOW YOUR LAW
Section 64 of the Employment Rights Act states:
(1) An employee who is suspended from work by his employer on medical grounds is entitled to be paid by his employer remuneration while he is so suspended for a period not exceeding twenty-six weeks.
(5) For the purposes of this Part an employee shall be regarded as suspended from work on medical grounds only if and for so long as he—
(a) continues to be employed by his employer, but
(b) is not provided with work or does not perform the work he normally performed before the suspension.
There is no legal right for employees to be paid under circumstances of workplace closure. Allowing home working where it is possible, or to consider absences under the sick pay policy. Taking time off to ensure the safety and health of themselves and their co-workers is a responsible measure and no worker should be penalised for it. Nor should they face a risk of going to work while ill and spreading the virus because they cannot otherwise sustain themselves. The UK government is yet to provide specific guidance on this, but this may change as emergency legislation is expected.
The ACAS guidance contains a little more in relation to employment rights/processes: https://www.acas.org.uk/coronavirus
Preparing for COVID-19: Making a plan
The employer must actually go through the process of considering what effect all the different possible scenarios would have on their staff and how they operate, right up to the worst likely situation of workplace closure, disruption to transport, and the disruptions to other services such as banking, the internet, supply chains.
What employers should do
In addition to providing adequate sick pay, there are number of other measures which can be taken to help limit the spread of the virus, including:
- The provision of hand sanitisers and for employers to maintain high levels of cleanliness in the workplace.
- The cancellation of any requests for workers to travel to locations the government has warned against visiting.
- Provision of ongoing information and advice from Public Health England and other relevant bodies to all employees.
any employers will plan to step up their cleaning regimes in the event of an outbreak. There may be proposals to switch off air conditioning systems in large open plan offices or workshops as a way of preventing the virus spreading. Be careful with this. Air conditioning can dilute contaminated air and provide a more comfortable environment, and generally the air being recirculated is the same that would ordinarily be in the room. Where someone in a workplace tests positive for COVID-19, employers should be expected to carry out a deep clean by specialist cleaning teams. Bear in mind, however, that the virus is only estimated to be able to survive outside of a human or animal for a few hours maximum.
Employers should work to protect their staff by safeguarding workplaces to the best of their ability. This can include the provision of hand sanitisers and other cleaning equipment, and for employers to maintain high levels of cleanliness in the workplace. Generally, providing facilities for workers to wash their hands is the most basic and most effective provision an employer can take. This is one area which employers can start taking action on straight away. Many people will simply think that the best way of preventing the spread of the virus is to stay at home while showing symptoms. While this is true, many people can be infectious without showing symptoms.
Personal Protective Equipment
In some workplaces, workers are being provided with additional Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) as precautionary measures. There is no evidence that, outside health care situations, the general use of facemasks has any actual effect on protecting people or reducing the speed of a pandemic’s development. In fact, the surgical paper masks most commonly seen offer little in the way of protection. They can reduce viral droplets being expelled by the wearer if they already have the virus, but they will not go a long way in preventing exposure. In a worst case scenario, these types of masks may even increase virus replication, as the breathe causes masks to become damp and humid.
Gloves do not prevent infection as people will still touch their skin with the gloves and then touch another surface or person. Latex gloves carry significant risks of producing an allergic reaction and were they to be used during an outbreak there would be problems of disposal. The use of hand sanitizing liquid is slightly different. It may be that some public organisations will make it available at key entry areas or where there is likely to be contact between people.
Providing information, advice and guidance
There is a duty on employers to keep workers informed with up-to-date, reliable information from sources like the Department for Health and Public Health England. There are various sources of misinformation circling, which can cause undue stress, or even lead to workers taking measures which may end up causing more harm, not less. Management should also ensure that relevant contact numbers are up to date and readily available, and that they have received any necessary training on understanding COVID-19 and the measures needed should an outbreak be suspected.
In most workplaces, the risk of an outbreak is low. However, there are many sectors that may require more specific precautions. Specific risk assessments under Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (COSHH) should be performed in such workplaces.
Where work involves visiting a person in their own home the employer should notify service users and customers that they should advise them if any person in the household is suffering from COVID-19 symptoms. If the work is non-urgent then no visits should take place for that period.
In the event of the visit being necessary, the employer should take steps to ensure that the employee is not put at risk with proper training and protective measures.
People returning from some areas of the world are being told to self-isolate depending on the location they have visited and their symptoms. People who have been in close contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19 are also being advised by the local Health Protection Team to self-isolate. People who are self-isolating and have no symptoms do not pose a risk to others. They are self-isolating to allow closer monitoring in order to identify early symptoms, and to enable prompt medical action if required.
If a person is in self-isolation, health and social care staff should ascertain if the individual has symptoms prior to their visit. It may become necessary to suspend some home visits and alternative arrangements must be put in place to maintain contact (e.g. telephone liaison). Health and social care staff performing non-deferrable essential visits (for example, child protection & adult protection) to households where there is an individual self-isolating, should follow the guidance below:
If the person receiving the home visit has no symptoms
As the person has no symptoms there is no need to change your approach.
If the person receiving the home visit has symptoms
If during a telephone consultation with a client or their family member / representative to assess their suitability for a domiciliary visit, it is thought that COVID-19 is a possibility then a domiciliary visit should be avoided. Instead, call the client’s GP or NHS 24 (phone 111) for further advice.
If during a home visit it is thought that COVID-19 is a possibility, then:
- avoid any further physical contact with the person, if you can. The person should remain in the room with the door closed.
- advise anyone with you not to enter the room.
- ask the patient or their family member/representative to call their GP or NHS 24 for further advice.
- inform your manager and contact your local Health Protection Team for advice.
- if the client or resident is seriously ill and requires urgent medical attention, phone 999 and inform the ambulance call handler of the potential links to COVID-19.
If after assessment the person has a negative COVID-19 test, then no further action is required. If after assessment the person has a positive COVID-19 test, then the local Health Protection Team will be in contact with you and will carry out a risk assessment, identify people who have been in contact with the case and advise on any actions or precautions that need to be taken.”
Other sources for information:
- NHS advice on Coronavirus (COVID-19): https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/
- World Health Organisation, Getting your workplace ready for COVID-19: https://www.who.int/docs/default-source/coronaviruse/getting-workplace-ready-for-covid-19.pdf
- Health and Safety Executive, Coronavirus (COVID-19), latest information and advice: https://www.hse.gov.uk/news/coronavirus.htm
- The ACAS guidance contains a little more in relation to employment rights/processes:https://www.acas.org.uk/coronavirus
- Helpful guidance to unions has also been issued by the TUC for trade union reps and it gives an understanding of the workplace issues in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Thanks to the Trades Union Council for additional Information.