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Information for employees of Dorset Council

This information is for employees of Dorset Council only and will be updated daily. It is a fast-moving situation, so keep checking for updates.

Our role is to keep public services running and continue to support vulnerable people in our community.

The latest national guidance is:

  • only go outside for food, health reasons or work (only if you can’t work from home)
  • stay two metres (6ft) away from other people
  • wash your hands as soon as you get home

However, there are still some frontline services that we must continue to deliver, for instance adults’ and children’s social care, waste collection, schools, etc.

What this means for you as an employee of Dorset Council is:

  • if, as part of your role, it is essential for you to attend a workplace and/or work in the community, then continue to do so. If you have any uncertainty about this, speak to your manager
  • all other employees must work from home
  • if you are pregnant or have a significant underlying health condition, it is important you talk through your working arrangements with your manager as soon as possible

Looking after yourself

We’re aware that some of you might find all the information and advice about the coronavirus stressful and worrying. Looking after your mental health during the coronavirus outbreak is hugely important. The Mental Health Foundation gives helpful, practical tips on how to look after your mental health during this time. Every Mind Matters also has some tips for staying at home.

Further information can be found on the following trusted websites which are regularly updated with any new developments, advice and guidance.

Thank you for your hard work and for keeping frontline services running.

Working during the coronavirus emergency

We understand that you'll have many work-related questions.

Work and your health

Q1. What happens if I have an underlying medical condition that could make me more vulnerable to COVID-19?

A1. The government has advised that all citizens must follow the stay at home guidance. This is even more important for those whom the government have identified to be in an at risk group which is detailed within the Governments advice and guidance.

If you have been identified as a clinically extremely vulnerable person NHS England will be contacting you to provide further advice around shielding.  Shielding is a measure to protect extremely vulnerable people by minimising interaction between those who are extremely vulnerable and others. This means that those who are extremely vulnerable should not leave their homes, and within their homes should minimise all non-essential contact with other members of their household. This is to protect those who are at very high risk of severe illness from coronavirus (COVID-19) from coming into contact with the virus.

We hope that you will be able to work from home, however, if you are unable to work from home and are in a high risk group then you will receive full pay for the period that the governments suggested shielding measures are in place (currently at least 12 weeks).

You must advise your manager as soon as possible of the need to self-isolate. If you are unable to work from home during the period of isolation and have access to DES record the period of absence in the paid leave section and select the self-isolation/quarantine leave.  If you do not have access to DES your manager will do this for you.   It is important that this is recorded so the organisation is aware of the impact of self-isolation across the workforce.

If you hold responsibilities such as first aider or fire warden please make your manager aware so that we can mitigate any impact of absence from the workplace.

If you have not been identified as needing to shield, however, have concerns please contact your manager to highlight any issues that you may have.

Q2. I am unable to obtain a Fit Note/Med 3 Form from my GP due to surgeries being inundated with callers. How will this affect my entitlement to occupational sick pay?

A2. The normal requirement for a fit note (Med 3 form) will be waived in accordance with the recommendation from Public Health England. There will be no impact on occupational sick pay. Otherwise the normal absence notification procedures will continue.

Q3. I am pregnant and unable to obtain my MATB1 form due to my surgery being inundated with callers. How will this affect my occupation maternity leave and pay?

A3. You will be asked for an application for maternity leave with the expected date of confinement being accepted if you cannot obtain a MATB1 from your surgery.

Q4. Do I need to continue to work if I am being advised to ensure social distancing due to my age, an underlying health condition or pregnancy?

A4. Where you fall into one of the above categories the council recognises the need for you to do all you can to socially distance yourself from others.  

In such circumstances we would advise you speak to your manager about ways in which your role can be adapted to allow you to continue to work whilst ensuring appropriate social distancing.  This might include working in a different office location where you will be able to work without close contact with others, working from home or a temporary change of duties.  

If it is not possible for you to adapt the work that you do to allow you to ensure social distancing, we recommend that you remain at home.  If you are advised to remain at home, we will ensure that you continue to be paid during this time.

Work and self-isolation

A1. What do I do if I have the symptoms of the COVID-19? 

Q1. The most common symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19) are recent onset of:

  • new continuous cough and/or
  • high temperature

If  you or a member of your household have these symptoms you must follow the government guidance and stay at home for the recommended period.

If you have any concerns about your symptoms, please use the NHS 111 online coronavirus service.

Q2. What are the arrangements if I need to self-isolate?

A2. You will work from home when your job role allows you to and you are fit to do so.

You should use your normal time recording system. You should follow the guidelines to ensure that you are working safely in the home environment.

If you are unable to work from home as your job does not allow you to do so, paid leave will be given during the recommended isolation period. This will not be regarded as an absence due to sickness and will not count towards occupational sick pay provisions or for sickness absence monitoring purposes.

You must advise your manager as soon as possible of the need to self-isolate. If you are unable to work from home during the period of isolation and have access to DES record the period of absence in the paid leave section and select the self-isolation/quarantine leave.  It is important that this is recorded so the organisation is aware of the impact of self-isolation across the workforce.

If you hold responsibilities such as first aider or fire warden please make your manager aware so that we can mitigate any impact of absence from the workplace.

Q3. What if I become unfit for work during a period of self-isolation?

A3. If you are unfit for work during a self-isolation period, the days which you are unfit for work will be classed as sickness absence and normal sickness absence procedures will be followed.

Q4. What happens if someone in my household is required to self-isolate?

A4. If  you or a member of your household show possible symptoms you must follow the government guidance and stay at home (previously referred to as self-isolation) for the recommended period.

If you have any concerns about your symptoms, please use the NHS 111 online coronavirus service.

Q5. What happens if I have been told to self-isolate when I am on a period of annual leave?

A5. The period of self-isolation will not be regarded as annual leave and will not be deducted from your allowance.  You will need to inform your manager as soon as you have been instructed to self-isolate even although you are on leave.  Please also see work and leave section. 

Work and pay

Q1. Will I still get paid if I am a casual worker in a service that is closed?

A1. If you have worked with the council on a regular basis with a routine working pattern over the course of the last three months we will ensure you continue to get paid during any period of enforced closure due to COVID-19.  Pay will be calculated on the basis of your average earnings over the previous 12-week period.

If you have worked with the council on an ad hoc basis no payment will be made.

Q2. Will I still get paid if I am an agency worker in a service that is closed?

A2. If you are engaged in work on an agency basis and the duration of any agreed assignment is likely to exceed any period of closure the council will continue to honour the agreement to pay you for work during this period.

Q3. What exactly are the enhanced payments, and which roles are eligible to receive these?

A3. The enhanced payments are time and half for weekend working. Double time is payable for spring and late summer public holidays, triple time for Good Friday & Easter Monday.

The criteria for roles receiving these payments is “where it is necessary to deliver essential public services to vulnerable service users and where these enhancements are not available ,this may reasonably result in poor service or service failure”.

Q4. When will the enhanced payments for weekend and public holiday cease?

A4. The enhanced payments will stop and revert to the normal contractual when the government announce they are reducing the status to recovery. We will communicate the change of status at the appropriate time.

Q5. On what basis will I get paid if I am employed on a zero-hours contract in an area of service that is forced to close?

A5. Your pay during any period of closure will be based on an average weekly wage, calculated on the basis of your average earnings over the previous 12-week period.

Workplace and the coronavirus

Q1. Is there a chance that my place of work may be temporarily closed?

A1. It may be necessary to consider if there are health and safety concerns around keeping the building open, for example, the number of fire wardens on site or due to the recent governments’ new rules on staying at home and away from others.     It is hoped that you will be able to work from home during this period.  If this is not the case then paid leave will be given for the duration of the period that you are unable to attend work. 

You  should remain available for work and may be called to work at short notice.

Work and annual leave during the coronavirus emergency

Q1.What are the interim annual leave arrangements for carry forward of unused leave?

A1.In response to the Covid19 situation, the annual leave carry forward maximum of 5 days has been removed, and all unused annual leave  as at 31 March 2020 will be carried forward to the 2020-2021 leave year.

Q2.I have approved leave booked. Is there a possibility that I will be asked to cancel or postpone my leave?

A2.It may be necessary to ask you to cancel or postpone leave if cases of sickness absence and/or self-isolation affect our ability to deliver services. If this is required we will provide as much notice as possible and due regard will be given to individual circumstances and potential financial hardship that may result from booked leave being cancelled.

Work and family/caring for others

Q1. Now that schools have closed, how am I expected to balance my caring responsibilities with my job? 

A1. You should try to seek alternative care arrangements if possible, to enable you to undertake your role within the council.

If it is not possible to put in place alternative care arrangements, you should consider ways to work flexibly to complete your role (i.e. working from home and/or completing work outside of standard working times).

Where caring responsibilities continue to prevent you from being able to undertake your role in full or in part, you will continue to receive your substantive pay for any periods of school closure during school term time (i.e. excluding school holidays).  You should still attempt to complete as many of your substantive hours as possible during such times.

Please speak to your manager to agree the most appropriate working arrangement.

During school holiday periods you will not receive paid leave (this will not apply where the childcare establishment operated over 52 weeks and normal term breaks did not apply) but can consider flexible working arrangements, including working from home, adapting working patterns to care for children or dependants or taking time off, whether this is special leave, annual leave or flexible working or TOIL. Parental Leave may be applicable in some circumstances. Details of our family friendly policies can be found here 

Q2. Can I suspend my childcare vouchers until I can use them again?

A2. It’s possible to remain in the scheme with a low or nil payment, so that you won’t lose the entitlement to the salary sacrifice scheme as long as you reduce the contribution rather than leaving the scheme and re-join within 12 months to retain your membership.  Kiddivouchers  will be able to advise you. The Kiddivouchers website will have more information or you can email them at info@kiddivouchers.comor telephone them on 0800 612 9015 quoting the council’s scheme number S278391T.

Working at one of our schools

Note – this advice applies to Dorset Council Maintained Schools only. Where Dorset Council is not your employer, you will need to contact them directly as the advice may differ.

Q1. I will be attending school for the next 2 weeks as per the Government notification to provide childcare for keyworker children but if I do not have cover for my own children due to their own children's school not being open, will I need to take unpaid leave?

A1. As a key worker in a school, your role has been identified as critical to the Covid-19 response. 

If you can safely leave your child at home please do, to limit the amount of social interaction.

However, if due to school or childcare provider closures, you are unable to make alternative arrangements for your own child/children for you to continue in your role, you will be eligible under the educational provisions allowing your child/children to attend an appropriate setting.

In the first instance please talk to your child’s normal school/childcare provider who will be able to provide you information.

In the event that your child’s normal location is fully closed please contact Dorset Council Children’s Services who can help redirect you to a school/childcare provider in your area that your child/children can attend.

Q2. I have been told not to come to work due to my own health conditions eg. diabetes, severe asthma, pregnancy for 12 weeks. Will I remain on full pay?

A2. Yes.

Q3. I am a teacher and will be working during the Easter holidays. How will this be paid as it, potentially, falls outside of scope of the STPCD (i.e. 1265 hours per annum).

A3. There may be provision for your Headteacher to allow you to take the additional time you have worked later in the school year, but you will need to speak to your Headteacher or Business Manager about this matter. For example, a number of schools are organising the situation in-house so that they have roster arrangements, ie. some staff have 2 weeks off now, some work over the Easter holidays and some work 2 weeks after the Easter holidays.

If it is necessary for you to work over Easter and you haven’t been able to take time off the current working practice is that TOIL would be given for additional hours undertaken. Headteachers and Governors will manage this locally at present, although it is recognised that some national guidance may emerge on this matter.

Q4. I am a member of support staff in a school and have been asked to work through the Easter holidays when I would not normally be in school. How will I be paid for the extra hours I will work?

A4. There may be provision for your Headteacher to allow you to take the additional time you have worked later in the school year, but you will need to speak to your Headteacher or Business Manager about this matter. For example, a number of schools are organising the situation in-house so that they have roster arrangements, ie. some staff have 2 weeks off now, some work over the Easter holidays and some work 2 weeks after the Easter holidays.

If it is necessary for you to work over Easter and you haven’t been able to take time off you will be paid additional hours, this will be paid at plain time.

If you are going to paid for extra hours worked over and above your normal contracted hours, then this will need to be claimed via submission of the Time and Travel system (TTE) in the usual way. There are a small number of cases where this is not in place and if this is the situation the school will need to complete a spreadsheet of any additional hours worked by their employees and then submitted to Payroll for processing.

Q5. I am a teacher who is due to be working when the school is open for children of keyworkers, and my partner is also a teacher and would need to be working. We have children under school age who need to be looked after, if we do not attend work in this period would this still be considered time off for dependants (unpaid) or paid absence due to the current circumstances?

A5. Child care providers should be open for key workers and so this should not be an issue. Please contact the Early Years Team for advice. It may be the case that you can agree with the individual schools that each of you work fewer hours (on a rota basis for example).

Where caring responsibilities continue to prevent employees from being able to undertake their role in full, employees will receive their substantive pay for any periods of school closure during school term time (i.e. excluding school holidays).  Employees should still attempt to complete as many of their substantive hours as possible during such times.

Q6. In terms of Recruitment, if schools have offered new employment should these arrangements be honoured?

A6. Any offers of employment must be honoured.

Q7. What is the situation with regards to Freelancers who submit invoices?

A7. If the school is open and requires you to still undertake the work you were engaged to do you should do this and submit your invoice as usual.

If you are not expected to work the Minimum Income Floor in Universal Credit will be suspended 'for everyone affected by the economic impacts of coronavirus'. This means that self employed people can now access Universal Credit.

If you need to self-isolate due to coronavirus symptoms, you may be eligible to claim Employment Support Allowance, this will be from day 1, instead of the usual day 8.

Working from home

Q1. Which tools can I use to communicate with groups inside and outside Dorset Council?

A1. We have two options available to hold virtual meetings, webinar type events and collaborate on documents with other people:

Skype: This runs on our network and is familiar to a lot of people. However, there are a small group of people that don’t have Skype/ headsets, they can still be involved in virtual meetings if someone else creates the meeting and invites them in.

Teams: This is a new addition which we are learning how to use, everyone has access. It is in the cloud and controlled by Microsoft. It provides all the functionality of Skype and more. For meetings the video quality is better, you can broadcast an event to more than 250+ people.

Recruitment

Q1. I have an employee who has recently been recruited into a role, and is due to start soon, will this be affected by Covid-19?

A1. As a manager you will need to be mindful that we are not in a steady state at the moment. We are working through how Covid-19 is affecting us now and what precautions we need to take in the future to help support frontline services.

If you have already agreed a start date, make sure you have early contact with employee to agree an onboarding plan. This should include:

  •  All new employees will receive a Welcome to Dorset Council guide with their offer letter. This contains documents to complete and information relating to their employment with us
  • Discuss flexible and remote working arrangements. Liaise with IT as early as possible about any technology requirements
  • Consider setting up some orientation calls so that the new employee can meet their team virtually on a 1-2-1 basis. To help build rapport, video calls are recommended
  • Make sure the employee has meaningful work to do. Consider a project to keep them busy for the first few weeks to help them get used to working remotely if the team are mainly working remotely at this time
  • Use Skype and Microsoft Teams to increase collaboration across the team. Consider holding ‘team lunches’ or social time to check in with each other
  • Consider a team Whatsapp to increase social interaction within the team during a period of remote working
  • If the role isn’t front line or business critical, do they have a skillset which could be helpful elsewhere in the organisation?  If so, consider offering them up into the internal redeployment pool
  • It may be possible to delay the start date, but only with the agreement of the individual

Q2. I’m interviewing for a role at the moment, what should I consider?

A2. Remember that this is an unprecedented time. Protecting frontline services is important and we realise that we may need to continue to recruit to roles to help to maintain service delivery, do consider if recruitment to this role could be delayed until we know more about how Covid-19 will impact on the services we deliver. Talk to your Head of Service or Corporate Director about this in the first instance. Here are some questions to consider:

  •  How critical the role is, and where does the activity of the role fit in terms of your business continuity plan?
  • Do you need the person straight away, if so, how practical will it be to onboard them remotely?
  • Are there different activities they could undertake in the short term?

If you do need to advertise and interview for a role, consider how you could use technology to support this. Talk to your digital champion about the options available to you. It’s also important to think ahead about how the role may need to change and what needs to be put in place to support this.

Q3. How do I check a new starter’s DBS documents, when I am social distancing?

A3. Under normal circumstances, ID checkers should be in physical possession of original ID documents, so they can be checked for indicators of fraud.

As you have been advised to work from home where possible, this may cause difficulty in receiving the physical documents, which could lead to delayed applications, and in some cases, prevent applications from being submitted.

To ensure that the necessary DBS and basic checks can still be carried out, the DBS Service’s guidance has been changed for a temporary period.

The change enables:

  • ID documents to be viewed over video link
  • scanned images to be used in advance of the DBS/basic check being submitted

Please note, the change should only be implemented for urgent cases where it is not possible to follow the normal identity checking guidelines. The applicant must present the original versions of these documents when they first attend their employment or volunteering role.

The change is now in effect and will continue until further notice.

Work and working hours

Q1. I have been asked by my manager to work 5 days out of 7 (this may include weekends and/or public holidays). I normally work Monday to Friday only. The reason for the request is to help meet the needs of vulnerable service users during the COVID-19 outbreak. Is this OK?

A1. Specific services may need more staff cover than previously, to offset extra work and sickness absence. They may ask for suitably skilled employees to work more flexibly during the COVID-19 outbreak. The request is voluntary and we will ensure you receive payment enhancements for out of hours work during the COVID-19 period.

Your manager will also ensure you receive days off and breaks as entitled under the working time directive.

Q2. What does the working time directive say about maximum working hours?

A2. You can’t work more than 48 hours a week on average – normally averaged over 17 weeks (unless you have opted out of the 48 hours week) https://www.gov.uk/maximum-weekly-working-hours

Q3. What does the working time directive say about rest breaks?

A3. Workers over 18 are usually entitled to 3 types of break – rest breaks at work, daily rest and weekly rest.

Rest breaks at work: Workers have the right to one uninterrupted 20 minute rest break during their working day, if they work more than 6 hours a day. This could be a tea or lunch break.
The break doesn’t have to be paid – it depends on their employment contract.
Daily rest: Workers have the right to 11 hours rest between working days, eg if they finish work at 8pm, they shouldn’t start work again until 7am the next day.
Weekly rest: Workers have the right to either an uninterrupted 24 hours without any work each week OR an uninterrupted 48 hours without any work each fortnight
https://www.gov.uk/rest-breaks-work 

Visiting other premises

Q1.What should I do if I have visited premises that has subsequently been identified as having a confirmed case of coronavirus?

A1.The owners of those premises will be contacted by the PHE local Health Protection Team to discuss the case, identify people who have been in contact with them and advise on any actions or precautions that should be taken.

If you have not been contacted by a public health official, then you do not need to do anything.

National advice about the coronavirus

Q2.Where can I go for further information?

A2. We recommend the following trusted websites which are regularly updated with any new developments, advice and guidance.

New starters

Q3. I have an employee who has recently been recruited into a role, and is due to start soon, will this be affected by Covid-19?

A3. As a manager you will need to be mindful that we are not in a steady state at the moment. We are working through how Covid-19 is affecting us now and what precautions we need to take in the future to help support frontline services, keep checking the FAQ’s which are being updated regularly.

If you have already agreed a start date, make sure you have early contact with your employee to agree an onboarding plan. This should include:

  • a Welcome to Dorset Council guide with their offer letter. This contains documents to complete and information relating to their employment with us
  • discussing flexible and remote working arrangements. Liaise with IT as early as possible about any technology requirements
  • considering setting up some orientation calls so that the new employee can meet their team virtually on a 1-2-1 basis. To help build rapport, video calls are recommended 
  • making sure the employee has meaningful work to do. Consider a project to keep them busy for the first few weeks to help them get used to working remotely if the team are mainly working remotely at this time 
  • using Skype and Microsoft Teams to increase collaboration across the team. Consider holding ‘team lunches’ or social time to check in with each other 
  • considering a team Whatsapp to increase social interaction within the team during a period of remote working 
  • working out if they have a skillset which could be helpful elsewhere in the organisation, if the role isn’t front line or business critical. Consider offering them up into the internal redeployment pool
  • delaying their start date, but only with the agreement of the individual

Q4. I’m interviewing for a role at the moment, what should I consider? 

A4. Remember that this is an unprecedented time. Protecting frontline services is important and we realise that we may need to continue to recruit to roles to help to maintain service delivery, do consider if recruitment to this role could be delayed until we know more about how Covid-19 will impact on the services we deliver. Talk to your Head of Service or Corporate Director about this in the first instance. Here are some questions to consider: 

  • how critical the role is, and where does the activity of the role fit in terms of your business continuity plan?
  • do you need the person straight away, if so, how practical will it be to onboard them remotely?
  • are there different activities they could undertake in the short term?

If you do need to advertise and interview for a role, consider how you could use technology to support this. Talk to your digital champion about the options available to you. It’s also important to think ahead about how the role may need to change and what needs to be put in place to support this. 

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