COVID-19 frequently asked questions for agency workers

Agency workers

Please note these temporary measures are in place during the exceptional circumstances. They will remain under review as the situation develops and may be withdrawn or amended ‘full pay or pay’ in these answers will mean your rate of pay and will be based on your contracted hours as set out in your assignment.

Any queries relating to these FAQs or the terms of your assignment should be raised with your recruitment agency contact in the first instance. If necessary, the recruitment agency will liaise with NICSHR if further guidance is required.  

These FAQs should be read in conjunction with the general advice issued to NICS line managers and staff in relation to social distancing measures, staff returning from shielding and respecting others.

1. I have Coronavirus symptoms and am in self-isolation. What will I be paid?

You may already be entitled to Statutory Sick Pay from the first day of your illness. However, the NICS will instruct the recruitment agency to pay your full pay for the period you’re self-isolating in line with medical advice.

The extension of full pay for periods of self-isolation is for two weeks. Any further periods of sickness absence or self-isolation will be paid at Statutory Sick pay rates. 

2. I am self-isolating because someone in my household/bubble has Coronavirus symptoms. What will I be paid?

You may already be entitled to Statutory Sick Pay from the first day of your self-isolation. However, the NICS will instruct the recruitment agency to pay your full pay for the period you’re self-isolating in line with medical advice.

The extension of full pay for periods of self-isolation is for two weeks. Any further periods of sickness absence or self-isolation will be paid at Statutory Sick pay rates. 

3. I am in the extremely vulnerable group of people who were advised to shield. I know that the shielding arrangements were paused from 31 July 2020. Does that mean I will have to return to my assignment?

Return to work for those in the shielding category may be possible if the risk remains low and you no longer need to follow shielding advice. You may wish to speak to your GP about your individual circumstances. People in this category are still considered to be vulnerable and therefore any return to work must be supported by proper measures in place to ensure you can adequately social distance both in your assignment place of work and on the journey to work. You may have concerns about returning to work and it important that you discuss those concerns and any barriers that may prevent your return to your assignment with your Agency initially and with your NICS line manager if necessary.

4. I am a manager in the NICS with agency workers on assignment who are in the extremely vulnerable group and who had been shielding. What do I need to do to support their return to work?

You should read the FAQ above in relation to people who are shielding. While the agency worker should raise any concerns directly with the agency provider in the first instance, a large number of measures have already been taken to ensure the health and wellbeing of everyone currently in the workplace and it is important that the agency worker is aware of these, to ease the transition back to work. Any return to work should be in line with your departmental recovery plan and an individual risk assessment should be considered. The provision of working from home should continue to be considered for agency workers in the shielding category. If the agency worker is to continue shielding on the basis of medical advice (and this evidence is provided to the Agency) and working from home is not possible, the current position in relation to vulnerable people/agency workers would still apply (i.e. continued assignment on full pay). The relevant agency should be asked to confirm the position regarding return to work on a case by case basis.

5. I fall into the category of extremely vulnerable and have been given medical advice to still remain at home. What will happen to my pay?

If you fall into the category of extremely vulnerable, and have received medical advice to still remain at home after the end of July, then you must stay in isolation.  You may already be entitled to Statutory Sick Pay from the first day of your illness. However, the NICS will instruct the recruitment agency to pay your full pay.

6. I am an agency worker in the vulnerable group of people, over 70 or pregnant. NICS had advised me to stay at home and work from home where possible. Will I now have to return to work?

The position remains that where you can work from home you should do so. If you have been self-isolating because you are in the vulnerable group, over 70 or pregnant and cannot work from home, it may be possible for you to commence an agreed, managed return to your assignment after 31 July 2020. This should be facilitated in line with PHA advice on vulnerable people. You should discuss any concerns you have about returning to work with your Agency and, if necessary, with your NICS manager.

Your return to work should be in line with your departmental recovery plan and an individual risk assessment should be considered to support your return to the workplace.

A large number of measures have already been taken to ensure the health and wellbeing of everyone currently in the workplace and your NICS manager will be in a position to discuss these with your agency and you, to ease your transition back to work.

7. I have dependants who are at home and require my care. What will happen to my pay if I remain at home to care for them?

You will be entitled to claim for some days Special Leave to help you arrange alternative arrangements for childcare. You should discuss this with your NICS manager and your recruitment agency contact.

Line managers should consider the advice regarding special leave set out in the FAQs for NICS staff and use that advice when considering request for special leave from agency workers.

If special leave cannot be permitted by the business area, then the matter should be raised with the recruitment agency for further consideration of whether the assignment should be ended or placed on hold and whether the agency can furlough the agency worker.  

8. My work has asked me to remain at home as I am not an essential worker and cannot work from home. Will I still be paid?

If you are asked to remain at home because you are not an essential worker, the NICS will instruct the recruitment agency to pay your full pay.  Please note that should vacancies arise in an essential post, you may be redeployed or asked to work at home by your recruitment agency.

9. I have not completed my first 12 weeks of my assignment. What will I be paid if I have to self-isolate, am ill or have been told to stay at home?

If you are on the lower rate of pay within the first 12 weeks of your assignment, known as the pre-AWR rate, the NICS will instruct the recruitment agency to pay your full pay based on the pre-AWR rate.

10. How will my time sheets be approved if I am not in work or my manager is not in work?

Liaise with your NICS line manager, highlighting to them if your circumstances were different during the week. 

Premiere People and Grafton recruitment agencies has supplied new timesheets for completion by line managers and these should now be used as instructed. Other agencies are continuing to use their existing timesheets. It is important to note there may be earlier than normal deadlines for submission of timesheets at present.

11. I am at home but available for work in an essential post if needed. Will I be redeployed to another assignment in the NICS?

If you are available for work in an essential post, and a post becomes available, you may be contacted by your recruitment agency to be redeployed.  Contact your recruitment agency to make them aware of your availability and await a response from them.

12. I am displaying signs of Coronavirus. Do I have to contact my NICS Line Manager as well as the agency?

If you become unwell at home or at work with symptoms of Coronavirus you must inform both your line manager and agency employer. If you are unwell with any other illness you are only required to contact the agency.

13. I am required to self-isolate in line with the Health Protection (Coronavirus, International Travel) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2020 because I have returned from a holiday abroad from somewhere that is not on the list of exempt countries. How do I cover this time in self-isolation?

Current government advice is to carefully consider your holiday and travel options in light of the COVID-19 threat. Any decision you make to go abroad should include the consideration that you may be required to self-isolate on your return home depending on the country you have visited. You should also be aware that the list of exempt countries is subject to change at short notice and therefore the requirement to self-isolate may change before or during your holiday.

For agency workers who are required to self-isolate because they were abroad when the first set of changes to the list of exempt countries was made by the NI Executive on 25 July, consideration may be given by your NICS manager to granting paid special leave on an exceptional basis.

However, going forward, where you are considering travelling abroad for recreational purposes, you must have an early discussion with your agency and NICS manager to consider the impact of any potential self-isolation requirements on your return given that the list of exempt countries is subject to change at short notice. Where you can work from home during a period of self-isolation you should do so. Where this cannot be accommodated, you must cover your period of self-isolation with annual leave or unpaid leave.

14. I work in a non-departmental public body – do these terms apply to me?

These terms affect any agency worker on assignment to a Non-Departmental Public Body through the CPD Collaborative Framework for the Provision of Agency Workers.

15. I work in Education Authority/Further Education Colleges – do these terms apply to me?

If you work on assignment for the Education Authority or Further Education Colleges you should contact your recruitment agency for advice.

16. Who should I contact for further information?

For further information on any assignment related matter within the NICS or NDPB, you should contact your recruitment agency.

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