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Staff FAQs

These FAQs should be read in the context of the following statement from the Chief Executive: 

Welsh Government guidance remains that all staff should continue to work from home – and that remains the default position, only returning when there is a compelling reason to be in the office. This is fundamentally around the business needs of a service; but also takes account of the personal circumstances of the individual.

Based on a careful analysis of the position and a survey of staff, we have decided to take the incremental step of allowing some staff to return to the office from 1 September. 

However, public access to the Civic Centre in Port Talbot (elsewhere buildings remain closed to the public for the most part) will be strictly limited and by appointment only in the vast majority of cases. These appointments will take place whenever possible on a Wednesday, although one or two services may use different days. 

We have identified some services (e.g. the receivership section) which require access to service users and others where the nature of the service requires, for example, the service user to provide proof of identity. Nonetheless and wherever possible, all services will deliver with the absolute minimum of face-to-face contact and strict social distancing. Accordingly, please direct service users to our digital and telephone channels wherever possible.

I do, of course, recognise that working from home has been more difficult for some than others during the lockdown and I am asking Heads of Service and Accountable Managers to adopt a case-by-case approach to this matter. However, I must stress that the personal preference of the individual will not be a determining factor. In other words, you won’t be allowed back to the office just because you want to return. Staff should discuss these issues with their line managers in the first instance.

The Council has a responsibility to all staff to provide a safe working environment; but we all have responsibilities to each other in this regard as well. Elected Members are playing their part insofar as the three political group leaders have already agreed that Council meetings will continue remotely in line with Welsh Government regulations.

I am determined to ensure that safety remains paramount to the maximum extent possible in the current circumstances. From my discussions with the trade unions I know that I have their full support for this approach. Accordingly, I am looking to everyone to play their part in making this work.

At present, the rates of community infection are very low; but these arrangements will be kept under constant review to ensure that they remain fit for purpose. I make no predictions for the autumn/winter regarding a second wave of the virus; but it is public knowledge that infection rates have risen in the last month (sharply in other parts of the UK) so we cannot be too careful. 

Much of this is common sense – regular handwashing, respecting social distancing and so forth. There is also comprehensive guidance (both Return to Work and Working from Home) available. But human beings are social animals and, for those returning to the office, there will be the temptation to congregate in communal areas, chat in groups to people you haven’t seen for months or have meetings instead of using the Teams facility. PLEASE DON’T.

The Elected Members and senior management have been extremely grateful for the outstanding efforts of staff during lockdown to keep essential Council services running. We are now looking to you all to adopt a similar approach to these new circumstances.

Steven Phillips

Chief Executive

 

Should an individual (management, employee or otherwise) have a query on Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council’s position regarding COVID-19 please refer to the below which aims to cover the majority of Frequently Asked Questions. The FAQ’s have been placed into groups with headings consistent to the topic matter.

The FAQ’s groupings are:

Useful Generic links

Quarantine Related FAQs

When requesting leave (and prior to departing on previously authorised leave), employees should notify their line manager of any intention to travel abroad. If an employee does not volunteer this information it is imperative that management ask whether the employee intends on travelling abroad during the leave period. Although it is not usually appropriate to ask where an employee intends on taking their leave, new rules require consideration to be given to any quarantine requirements put in place by UK Government.

Managers should discuss with the employee whether there is a need to quarantine on their return from travel and discuss any risks if the country impose additional restrictions on quarantine (for example the removal of an air bridge which may mean quarantine is introduced at short notice). Where possible, the options should be discussed and agreed for leave requests to all abroad destinations irrespective of whether there is a quarantine requirement at the time of the request. This will ensure any business disruption is kept to a minimum should the UK Government announce changes to quarantine requirements for exempt countries.

Any relevant information should be taken into account by management when considering leave requests as service delivery and business needs during both the leave period and any extended quarantine period needs to be considered. 

Options for the quarantine period could include one of or a combination of the below:

  • Using any remaining annual leave from the employee’s annual leave balance. This could include consideration for Additional Paid Annual Leave using the Annual Leave Purchase Scheme
  • Working from home if possible
  • Unpaid leave
  • Special leave (where that is appropriate in the particular circumstances)
  • An arrangement that the employee is to work back the time owed over an agreed period.

Any of the above, including a combination of more than one option must be clearly understood and agreed by both manager and employee prior to the leave being authorised and taken.

Managers should give sympathetic consideration to employees with exceptional circumstances, such as:

  • Attending a family funeral abroad,
  • Holidays booked prior to 8th March 2020, before any quarantine arrangements could have been envisaged, which cannot be cancelled without incurring financial cost (including holidays booked prior to 8th March 2020, which have been rescheduled to fixed date by the holiday operator).
  • Holidays booked after 8th June 2020 where, at the time of booking, the destination did not require quarantine on return to the UK however Government announcement later confirms that a quarantine requirement is now applicable.

NB: All requests for annual leave are approved at the discretion of the line manager and should take into account considerations such as service delivery and the need for key workers who have worked hard throughout the crisis to have time for rest and recuperation. In addition to the annual leave request the line manager will also have to consider any impact on service delivery and business need should the intended destination have a quarantine requirement on return to the UK.

The request could be refused if it is not possible to reach an agreement regarding working options and service delivery during the extended quarantine period.

The position regarding pay for employees during the extended quarantine period following return from abroad will differ depending on the circumstances and arrangements previously agreed. As outlined in question 1, should an employee be required to quarantine following travel abroad the below options should have been considered and a suitable option agreed upon by both management and employee prior to departure. Payment status is noted in Italics next to each option.

  • Using any remaining annual leave from the employee’s annual leave balance. This could include consideration for Additional Paid Annual Leave using the Annual Leave Purchase Scheme. This option will be paid in accordance with the annual leave policy and Additional Annual Leave Purchase Scheme.
  • Working from home if possible. This option will be paid provided arrangements to work from home are suitable and sufficient.
  • Unpaid leave. This will be unpaid.
  • Special leave (where that is appropriate in the particular circumstances). Application of special leave will be paid in accordance with the terms set out in the Special Leave Policy.
  • An agreed arrangement that the employee is to work back the time owed over an agreed period. This will be paid however it is important to note that failure to work back the time over the agreed period may result in a deduction from wages to claw back any overpayment received by the employee.

Sickness and Self-Isolation

Public Health Wales’ advice is that you should wash your hands with soap and water or hand sanitiser, for at least 20 seconds:

  • after breaks and sports activities,
  • before cooking and eating,
  • on arrival at work or home,
  • after using the toilet and before leaving home.

If you need to cough or sneeze catch it with a tissue, bin it, and wash your hands with soap and water or hand sanitiser. Try not to touch your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands. Do not share items that come into contact with your mouth such as cups and bottles. If you are unwell do not share items such as bedding, dishes, pencils and towels.

The Government have produced Guidance on social distancing for everyone in the UK and protecting older people and vulnerable adults  

The most common symptoms of coronavirus are:

  • a high temperature 
  • a new, continuous cough
  • loss of smell or taste (anosmia)

Refer to the Public Health Wales (PHW) and NHS Guidance for people with symptoms of the Coronavirus which tells you what you need to do – you do not need to call NHS111 to go into self-isolation.

If you have new symptoms/have a positive result;

If you have new symptoms as described above you should self-isolate at home, and follow the PHW and NHS guidance which can be found at https://gov.wales/self-isolation-stay-home-guidance-households-possible-coronavirus. Guidance will involve self-isolation and applying/arranging for a COVID-19 test to be carried out. A test for COVID-19 must be carried out within 5 days of the first onset of symptoms, please refer to https://gov.wales/apply-coronavirus-covid-19-test for information on how to apply for a test and for information regarding the follow up by the Track and Trace Service.

During the self-isolation period symptomatic employees should contact their line manager to discuss whether it is possible for them to carry out their duties from home (if they are fit to work).

During any working from home/self-isolation period the isolating employee will be required to maintain contact with their line manager and update them on their circumstances. During the self-isolation period if an employee is not well enough to work from home, then they should report as sick, following the normal sickness reporting procedures, keeping in touch with their line manager on a regular basis. 

Whether working from home or reporting as sick during the self-isolation period,  if symptoms improve over the 10 day self-isolation period employees will be able to refer to the PHW guidance which sets out when they can return to work;

  • 10 days after the onset of symptoms if feeling better and no longer have a high temperature.  
  • After 10 days, if there is no longer a high temperature individuals can return to their normal routine.
  • If previously symptomatic self-isolating employees still have a high temperature, they will need to stay at home until their temperature returns to normal.
  • If previously symptomatic self-isolating individuals still have a cough after 10 days, but their temperature is normal, they do not need to continue staying at home. A cough can last for several weeks after the infection has gone.

NHS advise to use the NHS 111 online coronavirus service if:

  • the symptoms are not manageable at home,
  • the condition gets worse,
  • the symptoms do not get better after 7 days

If other members of the household have new symptoms or a positive result;

Should a member of the same household experience new symptoms or should they produce a positive test result for COVID-19, PHW guidance advises that all other members of the household should self-isolate for a period of 14 days.

The 14-day period starts from the day when the first person in the house became ill or if they do not have symptoms, from the day their positive test was taken. If anyone else in the household starts displaying symptoms, they must stay at home for at least 10 days from when their symptoms appear, regardless of what day they are on in their original 14-day isolation period.

NB: Please refer to the above Stay at Home link for further guidance on self-isolation and recommended actions for symptomatic individuals and their households. This guidance includes recommendations regarding other members of the household including shielding members.

An isolating employee will receive their normal salary if they are ‘fit for work’. A self-isolating employee should report to their manager by telephone to let them know why they cannot attend work and to confirm the advice they have received. They will also be required to call the Authority’s sickness absence line on telephone number 01639 686834.

The relevant line manager can require an isolating employee to work from home and it is expected that an employee will do so if their job enables them to carry out duties from home. 

Any absence resulting from PHW advice to self-isolate will be recorded as ‘self-isolation’ for the purposes of Council wide monitoring on the scale of the impact of the coronavirus (managers should record this on the monthly absence return using code A008) and will not be recorded as sick against their sickness absence record. 

Self-isolating employees must also keep in contact with your manager on a very regular basis.

Should an employee be isolating due to symptoms of COVID-19 and should the symptoms render an employee unfit for work, the employee should follow the normal sickness reporting procedure and keeping in touch requirements as set out in the Council’s policies and procedures. The employee will then be paid in line with the Council’s sick pay scheme, and their sickness record will be updated using the relevant codes to show that they are absent from work as a result of the illness (Code C91S Coronavirus Confirmed or Code C92S Coronavirus Symptoms).

It is important to note that General Practitioner Surgeries may be extremely busy during this time therefore some degree of flexibility relating to the provision of ‘Fit Notes’ may be advisable.

Practical Queries for Managers

Firstly management should ask the employee to move to an area where they are isolated from other members of staff and open windows to keep the area well-ventilated. The recommended social distancing of at least 2 metres should be maintained at all times. Management should discuss any symptoms with the employee and if it is clear that the employee has any new symptoms of COVID-19 as outlined in question 1 management should ask them to go home immediately and begin self-isolation in line with the Public Health Wales Guidance (refer to question 1 for more guidance about home working, pay and absence reporting). 

Any surfaces that it is thought the employee may have touched must be wiped down with a disinfectant wipe and windows must be left open to keep clean air flowing through the workplace.

Whilst it is highly unlikely that any employee would refuse a request to go home because of concerns about the Coronavirus, in the exceptional circumstance where an employee does refuse to go home, and where management has a reasonable belief that they have one of the symptoms of Coronavirus, management are able to medically suspend the employee from duty, and advise the employee that they must leave the workplace and go home immediately to reduce any risks to the health of other employees.

They will remain on full pay until management has agreed that they can return to work (10 days after the onset of symptoms if s/he feels better and no longer has a high temperature, please see Self-Isolation FAQ section) or if the employee reports as sick they will receive sick pay in line with entitlements. If you have had to take this action of medically suspending an employee you should notify your Head of Service and copied to the Head of HR by confidential email. 

Please refer to the guidance note, The Coronavirus and the Temporary Redeployment of Staff.

If annual leave is authorised, the employee will need to be informed that it is conditional on the business being able to support the absence at the time. Employees can be asked to cancel or postpone annual leave if it is necessary to maintain service delivery. However, you must give the appropriate notice, for example, one week’s notice for one week’s leave (annual leave only).  Failure to give the requisite notice in these circumstances may constitute a breach of the Working Time Regulations 1998.

You may also agree to employees carrying over or being paid for leave they were unable to take by the end of their leave year; due regard should be given to individual circumstances and potential financial hardship that may result from booked leave being cancelled.

Contact the HR team 01639 686867 or email jobs@npt.gov.uk

In response to COVID-19, the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) have put temporary arrangements in place to provide DBS checks and fast-track emergency checks of the adults’ and children’s barred lists free-of-charge to healthcare and social care workers being recruited in connection with the care and treatment of COVID-19.

A full list of eligible emergency roles within NHS health services, social care services or social services functions in connection with the provision of care and treatment of coronavirus disease can be found in The Serious Organised Crime and Policing Act 2005 (Commencement No.16) Order 2020. Please note that roles eligible for fast-track emergency checks are different to those defined as ‘key workers’ for the purposes of childcare etc. Full details on this service can be obtained from the government website

Returning to the Workplace

NPT’s guiding principle is how we take care of our employees and safeguard their health and well-being. As such, NPT have devised a framework process within which services can commence their planning in relation to how they can return to their workplace and deliver their services in a safe and sustainable way, please refer to the Return to the Workplace guidance

This return to workplace document has been created in line with the Welsh Governments ‘Keep Wales Safe at Work’ Guidance

A risk assessment tool provided by the Welsh Government for employees who are vulnerable or at risk of contracting the Coronavirus, including Black and Ethnic Minority has been developed specifically for the NHS and social care. NPT is recommending this risk assessment tool to be applied across the Authority as best practice. The All Wales Covid-19 Risk Assessment can be found here

In addition to this, template Risk Assessments for Civic and Non-Civic Buildings as well as a Mangers checklist for a return to the workplace can be found at Appendices 1, 2 & 3 of NPT’s Return to Workplaces Process Following Covid-19 Lockdown guidance document.

Other useful links include:

Wellbeing and Support

Various sources of support and assistance are listed on NPT’s intranet and can be found at NPT’s Staff and Wellbeing page.

A list of external third party associations and charities can be accessed via this page. The page provides contact details of association and charities which can support a range of issues for example:

  • Physical wellbeing
  • Mental wellbeing
  • Domestic Abuse
  • Bereavement
  • Relevant Training

Employees are also encouraged to contact their line manager for support and to discuss the possibility of a referral to the Occupational Health Department if appropriate.

Annual Leave

If pre-booked leave has been cancelled following management request, this leave is able to be taken at another authorised time. Depending on circumstances it may be possible for this leave to be used in the next annual leave year if it is not possible to take it before then.  This is in line with NJC Guidance received on 6th March 2020.

Normally, annual leave entitlement should be used in the current leave year and not carried over into the following leave year (exceptions apply).  However, on 27th March 2020 the government announced that The Working Time (Coronavirus) (Amendment) Regulations 2020, will allow staff to carry over up to the statutory four weeks leave (this is the first 20 days of annual leave taken in an annual leave year) where it is not reasonably practicable for employees to take some, or all, of the holiday they are entitled to due to coronavirus. 

This means that staff may be able to carry over the statutory minimum of up to 4 weeks leave into the next two leave years, minus any leave that has already been taken in the annual leave year to date. This will be pro rata for part-time employees.

Therefore if employees have already taken 20 or more annual leave days in the current leave year, they will not be entitled to carry the remaining balance into the next leave year. In these situations it is advisable for employees to speak with their immediate line manager to discuss whether the leave can be taken before the leave year is out, or whether application of NPT’s discretionary 5 day carry over to be permitted. Please see Annual Leave Policy for further information.

Employers do have the right to tell employees when to take holiday and when the service requirements cannot accommodate an employee taking a holiday.  In these current unprecedented circumstances, this may be required on more occasions than would normally be the case. In the first instance, managers will seek to obtain a mutual agreement with the employee, however, where this is not forthcoming and in order to manage staff resources and provide services to the most vulnerable in the communities, some areas of the organisation may have to be more directive in their approach to allocating leave.

In such circumstances, as much notice as practicable will be given. However, as a minimum, if an employee has requested one week’s leave they must be given at least one week’s notice that the leave has not been approved.

If an employee no longer requires to take additional annual leave purchased, they can request to have any deductions refunded. The employee will need to complete the relevant form which needs approval from their line manager/Head of Service, the form is available here. Any pension bought back on the additional 5 days leave will be refunded automatically.

It is important to note that where part of the additional purchased leave has been taken, an employee will be unable to have part of their purchased annual leave deducted. The same rules regarding carry over will apply as outlined above.

Yes, if having to self-isolate, an employee can cancel pre-booked annual leave. The employee should ring their line manager (in line with normal reporting arrangements as outlined in the self-isolation FAQ section) to discuss and agree this. The same is applicable in relation to classification of absence and pay as outlined in the Self-isolation section.

Casual/Agency Workers

During this extraordinary period, it has been agreed that agency workers will be paid their normal rate for self isolation, this is to ensure that they do not turn up for work and put other colleagues at risk.   Service managers should make their accountants aware if this happens, as the payments should be re-charged to the COVID-19 cost centre CROV19.

If an agency worker has symptoms of Coronavirus or a confirmed diagnosis, during this period it has been agreed that sick pay will be paid in line with the Council’s sick pay scheme for ‘green book’ employees.  Again, service managers should make their accountants aware, so that payments can be re-charged to the cost centre CROV19.

If a casual worker has a minimum of 12 weeks continuous service and has symptoms of the Coronavirus or a confirmed diagnosis, during this period it has been agreed that they will receive sick pay in line with the Council’s sick pay scheme for ‘Green Book’ employees based on the average hours worked over the previous 12 week period. Managers/supervisors should ensure that the reason for the sickness absence is recorded on the time sheet as either ‘Coronavirus – symptoms’ (Code C92S ) or ‘Coronavirus – confirmed’ (Code C91S).

Historic

There are a number of different policies that can be accessed, in the first instance, an employee should discuss and agree an arrangement with their line manager. It may be an option for them to work at home. As an alternative, accrued annual leave allowance or accrued flexi leave can be used if an employee is entitled to it. Application of the Annual Leave Purchase Scheme can be considered.

The Council is operating on the principle of ‘no detriment’ financially or otherwise, as well as the expectation that managers and staff will do everything they can to support each other at this difficult time. We will expect employees to do what they can to manage childcare arrangements within the policies and procedures available to them, but it is appreciated that this is a difficult time, and that there may be times when some employees, whose jobs do not lend themselves to home working, who may need to ask to take some paid time off for childcare and the Council will encourage managers to accommodate it.

Zero payments will be taken for April and subsequent months in respect of staff car parking permits, this will be reviewed on a regular basis. Employees will be advised when payment deductions are intended to recommence. Current permits will remain valid until such time as the Council can issue new ones. 

Employees who are able to work from home, should do so in the normal way.  During this period, unless previously authorised by their manager there should be no accrual of flexi or overtime worked.

For employees who are not able to work from home, reasonable tasks should be allocated, where appropriate.  If there are no reasonable tasks available, then these employees should be told that they may be required to be redeployed to another service area. Please see attached guidance The Coronavirus and the Temporary Redeployment of Staff.

If council offices are closed, employees will be paid in line with their contractual pay if fit for work.

Schools Historic

The Council has determined that it will make arrangements to pay agency workers who are engaged in the wider Council outside of the school workforce, who need to self-isolate or who are sick as a result of the Coronavirus, and in order to ensure that they do not turn up for work and put other colleagues at risk. Whether or not agency workers engaged within schools will be paid until the end of their assignment and during the school closure period, is a matter for determination by the School Governing Body and for action by the Head teacher.

We know that our employees will do everything they can to help the Council and the local Community respond to the extraordinary circumstances that we find ourselves in.  However any requests to temporarily redeploy should be reasonable, and take account of:

  • your domestic and family circumstances being taken into consideration (and at this time, any health matters that need to be consider);
  • the nature of the work to be undertaken;
  • your knowledge, skills, experience and qualifications;
  • the hours of work