FAQs COVID-19 Symptoms, Social Distancing and Self-isolating

Part of: COVID-19 FAQs and guidance for NICS staff

Frequently asked questions about COVID-19 symptoms, social distancing and self-isolation

COVID-19 symptoms

1. What is COVID-19 (coronavirus)?

COVID-19 is the disease caused by novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that are common across the world. These viruses can cause mild symptoms ranging from a fever, new continuous cough or a loss or changed sense of normal smell or taste, to more serious conditions such as pneumonia, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. COVID-19, which is a new strain of coronavirus, has an incubation period of between 2 to 14 days. This means that if a person remains well 14 days after contact with someone with confirmed COVID-19 (coronavirus), it is unlikely that they have been infected.  

2. Where can I find reliable up to date information about COVID-19 (coronavirus)?     

You are encouraged to read the latest guidance on the Department of Health website and the latest health information and advice on the Public Health Agency (PHA) website.

3. What can I do to protect myself and others against the virus?  

In line with the NICS recovery plan, and with the pausing of the shielding requirements for vulnerable people on 1 August 2020, it may now be possible for all members of staff who cannot work from home to commence an agreed, managed return to the workplace.

It is essential that you adhere to the social distancing measures within the workplace. There are numerous health and safety protocols in place, which you must observe in order to protect yourself and your colleagues within a shared space.

Social distancing measures are steps you can take to reduce the social interaction between people. These measures will help reduce the transmission of COVID-19. With regards to the workplace, the Executive has agreed that:

  • managers should continue to facilitate your working from home where it is feasible
  • no employer should compel an employee to come to work if it is feasible to work from home
  • no manager should compel you to come to work if it is feasible to work from home
  • every manager must take all reasonable steps to safeguard your health, safety and well-being during the pandemic, whether you are working from home or in the workplace
  • every manager must have particular regard to your safety and must put into effect the guidance on social distancing issued by the Department for the Economy
  • every manager has a legal duty to ensure, so far as it is reasonably practicable, your health, safety and welfare at work of all employees

You can also take simple steps to reduce the risk of catching or spreading coronavirus.

  • wash your hands with soap and water often – do this for at least 20 seconds
  • always wash your hands when you get home or into work
  • use hand sanitiser gel if soap and water are not available
  • cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or into the crook of your elbow (not your hands) when you cough or sneeze
  • put used tissues in the bin straight away and wash your hands afterwards
  • try to avoid close contact with people who are unwell
  • wear face coverings on public transport, this was made mandatory on 10 July 2020. There are some exemptions
  • the wearing of face coverings became mandatory in Northern Ireland in certain indoor settings, such as shops or shopping centres on 10 August 2020. Again, there are some exemptions

For more information on face coverings (including exemptions) see the nidirect website.

Staff who have medical conditions that place them in either the vulnerable or extremely vulnerable categories should also refer to the guidance below and to specific FAQs within the Vulnerable People section of this guidance.

In addition, further guidance on safety in the workplace can be found on the HSENI website:

4. What do I do if I start to develop COVID - 19 (coronavirus) symptoms in the workplace? 

If you are in the workplace and you start to develop COVID-19 symptoms, ie a new, continuous cough or a high temperature or a loss or changed sense of normal smell or taste, you should immediately advise your manager and you will be sent home to comply with government guidance on self-isolation to prevent the spread of the virus (see section on self-isolation for more information).

  • if you need to wait for medical assistance, you may be moved to an area which is at least two metres away from other people. If possible your manager may find a room or area where you can be isolated behind a closed door, such as a staff office. If it is possible to open a window for ventilation
  • you should remain at least two metres from other people. You should avoid touching people, surfaces and objects and to cover your mouth and nose with a disposable tissue when you cough or sneeze and put the tissue in a bag or pocket then throw the tissue in the bin. If you don't have any tissues available, you should cough and sneeze into the crook of your elbow

If you need to go to the bathroom while waiting for medical assistance, you should use a separate bathroom if available. You do not need to seek medical advice before self-isolating. Do not visit the GP, pharmacy, urgent care centre or a hospital.

If the symptoms cause you to be unfit for work, this will be recorded as a period of sickness absence. If you are otherwise fit for work you will commence a period of self-isolation. Further details of this are outlined below. 

Determining the cause of your symptoms – COVID-19 testing

It should urgently be established whether you have COVID-19 (coronavirus). You should do this by booking a COVID-19 (coronavirus) test for yourself and any members of your household. Please select the following link for details of the coronavirus national testing programme. Your line manager can provide further advice on how to book a test if required.

Please note, testing is currently prioritised for staff in government departments who are self-isolating because they are symptomatic.

How to record your absence while you are waiting for the result of your test for COVID-19 (coronavirus)

It is important that your line manager understands how the symptoms of COVID-19 (coronavirus) have impacted on you so they can record this correctly.

  • if you are ill and unfit for work with the symptoms of COVID-19, you should advise your line manager who will record this as a period of sickness absence on HRConnect under chest and respiratory problems, COVID-19 (coronavirus). *Any period of absence recorded on HRConnect under chest and respiratory problems, COVID-19 (coronavirus) will not impact on sickness review points or contractual sick pay and will not lead to a pay detriment. If at the beginning of your sickness absence relating to COVID-19, you are entitled to either full pay, half pay or nil pay (pension rate of pay), this level of Occupational Sick Pay (OSP) will be maintained throughout the duration of this period of absence. Given the current unique circumstances, these absences will be considered by Employee Relations case managers on a case by case basis. You should arrange to provide a self-isolation note by contacting NHS 111 Online
  • if you are otherwise fit for work while displaying the symptoms of COVID-19 (coronavirus) but it is not possible for you to work from home while you self-isolate, your line manager will commence a period of self-isolation on HRConnect under paid special leave COVID-19 Self-isolation. You should arrange to provide a self-isolation note by contacting NHS 111 Online
  • if you are otherwise fit for work while displaying the symptoms of COVID-19 (coronavirus) and arrangements can be made for you to work from home, or alternative work can be found for you to do from home while you self-isolate, then you should do so. There is no requirement to record this as an absence from work
  • at any time should you subsequently become unfit for work with the symptoms of COVID-19 (coronavirus), you should report this to your line manager immediately who will end your period of self-isolation (or cease your working from home arrangement) and commence a period of sickness absence on HRConnect under chest and respiratory problems, COVID-19 (coronavirus). The conditions outlined at * above will apply

For more details on how to update the HRConnect record please see guideance for updating absences.

Once you have received the result of your test for coronavirus the following would apply:

  • if you have been ill (and unfit for work) with the symptoms of COVID-19 (coronavirus) and you receive a positive result, you should advise your line manager. Where possible, you should remain in contact with your manager throughout the remainder of your absence in line with normal arrangements. You should arrange to provide a self-isolation note by contacting NHS 111 Online. When you are fit to return to work you should advise your line manager and discuss the health and well-being arrangements that are in place in line with social distancing measures and any concerns you may have about returning to the workplace
  • if you have been ill (and unfit for work) with the symptoms of COVID-19 (coronavirus) and you receive a negative result, you should advise your line manager. The absence held on your record should be ended from the date you received your test result and, if you remain unfit for work, a new absence commenced with the appropriate SART code. This new period of absence will impact on sickness absence review points and OSP. You should remain in contact with your manager throughout your absence in line with normal arrangements. This absence should be covered with self-certification (first 7 days) and a fit note for the duration of the absence. A fit note should be available from your GP via telephone call but should you have any difficulty in obtaining this you should advise your line manager. When you are fit to return to work you should advise your line manager and discuss the health and well-being arrangements that are in place in line with social distancing measures and any concerns you may have about returning to the workplace. (There may be occasions where the COVID-19 absence should not be ended, in these circumstances, line managers should consult directly with ER case managers. These absences will be considered on a case to case basis)
  • if you have not been ill (and otherwise fit for work) with the symptoms of COVID-19 (coronavirus) and you receive either a positive or a negative result, you should follow the instructions given to you on the test result with regards to completing the period of your self-isolation. You should keep in contact with your line manager and discuss your return to the workplace when your self-isolation has been completed.  This discussion should include the health and well-being arrangements that are in place in line with social distancing measures and any concerns you may have about returning to the workplace. If you subsequently become unfit for work before you return from self-isolation, you should advise your line manager who will commence a period of sickness absence on HRConnect using the appropriate SART code. If you develop symptoms of COVID-19 you should arrange to have a further test. The conditions outlined at * above will apply

Do not attend your GP surgery or emergency department in person before calling ahead and speaking with someone. If you have very serious symptoms or feel it is a medical emergency and you need to call an ambulance, dial 999 and inform the operator of your symptoms.

All other members in your household should follow the guidance on self-isolation provided by the Public Health Agency (PHA) website

5. What do I do if I am working at home and I start to develop COVID-19 (coronavirus) symptoms? 

If you are working from home and develop symptoms of COVID-19 (coronavirus) ie a new, continuous cough, a high temperature or a loss or changed sense of normal smell or taste, you should immediately advise your manager and follow government guidance on self-isolation to prevent the spread of the virus (see section of self-isolation for more information)

Determining the cause of your symptoms – testing

It should urgently be established whether you have COVID-19 (coronavirus). You should do this by booking a COVID-19 (coronavirus) test for yourself and any members of your household. Please select the following link for details of the coronavirus national testing programme. Your line manager can provide further advice on how to book a test if required.

Please note, testing is currently prioritised for staff in government departments who are self-isolating because they are symptomatic.

How your absence will be recorded while you are waiting for the result of your test for COVID-19 (coronavirus):

It is important that your line manager understands how the symptoms of COVID-19 (coronavirus) have impacted on you so they can record this correctly.

  • if you are ill (and unfit for work) with the symptoms of COVID-19 you should advise your line manager who will record this as a period of sickness absence on HRConnect under chest and respiratory problems, COVID-19 (coronavirus). *Any period of absence recorded on HRConnect under chest and respiratory problems, COVID-19 (coronavirus) will not impact on sickness review points or contractual sick pay and will not lead to a pay detriment. If at the beginning of your sickness absence relating to COVID-19, you are entitled to either full pay, half pay or nil pay (pension rate of pay), this level of Occupational Sick Pay (OSP) will be maintained throughout the duration of this period of absence. Given the current unique circumstances, these absences will be considered by Employee Relations case managers on a case by case basis. You should arrange to provide a self-isolation note by contacting NHS 111 Online
  • if you are otherwise fit for work while displaying the symptoms of COVID-19 (coronavirus) you may continue to work from home while you self-isolate. However, at any time should you subsequently become unfit for work with the symptoms of COVID-19 (coronavirus), you should report this to your line manager immediately who will cease your working from home arrangement and commence a period of sickness absence on HRConnect under chest and respiratory problems, COVID-19 (coronavirus). The conditions outlined at * above will apply

Once you have received the result of your test for coronavirus the following would apply:

  • if you have been ill (and unfit for work) with the symptoms of COVID-19 (coronavirus) and you receive a positive result, you should inform your line manager. Where possible, you should remain in contact with your manager throughout your absence in line with normal arrangements. You should arrange to provide a self-isolation note by contacting NHS 111 online. You should advise your line manager when you become fit to return to working from home
  • if you have been ill (and unfit for work) with the symptoms of COVID-19 (coronavirus) and you receive a negative result, you should advise your line manager. The absence held on your record should be ended from the date you received your test result and, if you remain unfit for work, a new absence commenced with the appropriate SART code. This new period of absence will impact on sickness absence review points and OSP. You should remain in contact with your manager throughout your absence in line with normal arrangements. This absence should be covered with self-certification (first 7 days) and a fit note for the duration of the absence. A fit note should be available from your GP via telephone call but should you have any difficulty in obtaining this you should advise your line manager. You should advise your line manager when you become fit to return to working from home. (There may be occasions where the COVID-19 absence should not be ended, in these circumstances, line managers should consult directly with ER case managers. These absences will be considered on a case to case basis)
  • if you have not been ill (and otherwise fit for work) with the symptoms of COVID-19 (coronavirus) and you receive either a positive or a negative result, you should follow the instructions given to you on the test result with regards to completing the period of your self-isolation. You should advise your line manager and continue to work from home. If you subsequently become unfit to work from home, you should advise your line manager who will commence a period of sickness absence on HRConnect using the appropriate SART code. If you develop symptoms of COVID-19 you should arrange to have a further test. The conditions outlined at * above will apply

Do not attend your GP surgery or emergency department in person before calling ahead and speaking with someone. If you have very serious symptoms or feel it is a medical emergency and you need to call an ambulance, dial 999 and inform the operator of your symptoms.

All other members in your household should follow the guidance on self-isolation provided by the Public Health Agency (PHA) website.

6. What happens if a member of staff displays coronavirus symptoms again after an earlier period of self-isolation?

If a member of staff displays coronavirus symptoms again after an earlier period of self-isolation they should arrange to have a test (see coronavirus national testing programme). Their line manager should assist them to arrange the test if they require help with this. They should stay at home until the outcome of the test is known and follow the advice given to them following their result.

The process outlined at Q4 and Q5 in this section should be followed depending on whether the member of staff is in the workplace or working from home.

Please note, testing is currently prioritised for staff in government departments who are self-isolating because they are symptomatic.

7. My member of staff thinks they have been in close contact with a confirmed case of COVID–19 (coronavirus) but has no symptoms of the virus.  What should they do?

A contact tracer will call those who have been identified as having been in close contact with a confirmed case COVID-19 (coronavirus). 

If it is determined that your member of staff is at risk of infection, they will be instructed to self-isolate. However, this will apply to the staff member only, not their whole household. If your staff member works from home and is fit to continue, then they should do so. If it is not possible for your staff member to work from home while they self-isolate, you should commence a period of self-isolation on HRConnect under paid special leave COVID-19 Self-isolation. You should advise your member of staff to provide a self-isolation note by contacting NHS 111 Online.

If they go on to develop symptoms they should follow the advice for those who are displaying symptoms of COVID-19. The process outlined at Q4 and Q5 in this section should be followed depending on whether the member of staff is in the workplace or working from home.

If your member of staff is not required to self-isolate they will be able to attend the workplace if they need to do so, and continue to follow the guidance on social distancing and personal hygiene. You could reassure staff by consulting the Public Health Agency (PHA) website.

If a member of staff tests positive then co-workers will not automatically be informed to self-isolate. More detail on contract tracing can be found on the Public Health Agency (PHA) website.

8. I assisted a colleague who had to go home because they developed symptoms of COVID-19 (coronavirus). What do I need to do?

If you have helped a colleague who has developed COVID-19 (coronavirus) symptoms ie a new, continuous cough, a high temperature or a loss or changed sense of normal smell or taste, you do not need to go home unless you develop symptoms yourself. You should wash your hands thoroughly for 20 seconds after any contact with someone who is displaying symptoms consistent with coronavirus infection.

If you do develop symptoms you should follow the advice for those who are displaying symptoms of COVID-19. The process outlined at Q4 and Q5 in this section should be followed depending on whether you are in the workplace or you are working from home.

9. I have a member of staff who is self-isolating or absent with COVID-19 (coronavirus) symptoms. Should I tell their colleagues about this?

If your staff member is absent or self-isolating with symptoms of COVID-19 (coronavirus), you should ensure they know of the availability of testing and assist them to arrange a test if they need help with this. For further details please see coronavirus national testing programme. Please note, testing is currently prioritised for staff in government departments who are self-isolating because they are symptomatic.

No additional special measures need to be taken by anyone in the workplace: all employees should already be following the guidance on social distancing and advice about good hygiene practices, especially frequent thorough hand washing, and avoiding touching their face.

You should talk to your member of staff who is unwell and ask them how much information about them they would be happy for you to disclose to others. Many employees will not mind their colleagues knowing the reason they are absent. If the unwell member of staff does not want their work colleagues to know, as a manager you must be aware of data protection requirements and not release any more information than is necessary. You do however have an obligation to ensure the health and safety of all your staff and it is therefore important that you keep them informed of the number of COVID-19 cases within in your Business Area / location.

10. Should I wear a face covering when leaving home?

The wearing of face coverings has been mandatory on public transport in Northern Ireland since 10 July 2020. There are some exemptions, these can be found on the nidirect website.

The wearing of face coverings became mandatory in Northern Ireland in certain indoor settings, such as shops or shopping centres on 10 August 2020. There are some exemptions, these can be found on the nidirect website.

Face coverings can help us protect each other and reduce the spread of the disease if you are suffering from coronavirus, but not showing symptoms.

A face covering is not the same as the surgical masks or respirators used as part of personal protective equipment by healthcare and other workers; these should continue to be reserved for those who need them to protect against risks in their workplace such as health and care workers and those in industrial settings like those exposed to dust hazards.

For more  information on face coverings (including exemptions) see the nidirect website and the H&S section on wearing face coverings in the office.

11. Will a face covering stop me getting COVID-19?

The evidence suggests that face coverings can help us protect each other and reduce the spread of the disease if you are suffering from coronavirus, but not showing symptoms.

Crucially, do not get a false sense of security about the level of protection provided by wearing a face covering. It is essential that everyone continues to:

  • practice social distancing as much as humanly possible
  • wash their hands thoroughly throughout the day
  • ‘catch it, kill it, bin it’ when they sneeze or cough

For most people any potential infection from coronavirus will not be because of their work.

If you do not normally wear a face mask, or any other PPE for work, then you do not need to because of coronavirus.

Face coverings are not currently required within an office environment but if you wish to provide and use your own face coverings when you are in the office you are free to do so. It’s important that your face covering stays in your possession at all times and not left on your workstation or elsewhere within the workplace environment.

You can find more information on the wearing and making of face coverings on the nidirect website  and within the H&S section on wearing face coverings in the office.

The wearing of face coverings became mandatory on public transport in Northern Ireland since 10 July 2020. There are some exemptions, see the nidirect website.

The wearing of face coverings became mandatory in Northern Ireland in certain indoor settings, such as shops or shopping centres on 10 August 2020. Again, there are some exemptions, see the nidirect website and within the H&S section on wearing face coverings in the office.

The PHA continues to advise that the above bullet points are still the best way to protect yourself and others from COVID-19.

12. I have just returned to Northern Ireland from abroad. What should I do? 

From Monday 8 June, new rules for entering or returning to the UK become law:

Full details and advice for returning travellers can be found in the link below:

Social distancing

1. What is social distancing?

Social distancing measures are steps we all must take to reduce the social interaction between people. These measures will help reduce the transmission of COVID-19.

The current social distancing measures in Northern Ireland can be found at COVID-19 Information for the public.

Every citizen must comply with these measures. The NI Executive is regularly reviewing social distancing measures in line with the five-step Pathway to Recovery and will relax them if and when the evidence shows this is possible.

If you are required to come into work then all steps will be taken by your Department to implement social distancing.

Currently relevant business areas should seek to take all steps to protect staff including:

  • ensuring staff stay 2 metres apart
  • putting in place rotas to ensure that appropriate social distancing can be maintained
  • putting in place working hours/patterns/shifts/ rotas that minimise time in the office and the use of public transport
  • using technology as much as possible to minimise time in office

Staff who have medical conditions that place them in either the vulnerable or extremely vulnerable categories should also refer to the guidance below and to specific FAQs within the Vulnerable People section of this guidance.

See links below for the latest guidance on social distancing and vulnerable people:

This guidance also explains what to do if you have, or think you have, COVID-19 (coronavirus) infection or have been exposed to the virus.

In addition, further guidance on safety in the workplace can be found on the Health and Safety Executive NI website.

2. I use public transport to get to work. What steps can I take to travel more safely?

The wearing of face coverings on most buses, trains and ferries was made mandatory in Northern Ireland from 10 July 2020 (there are exemptions for those with medical conditions). Face coverings can help us protect each other and reduce the spread of the disease, if you are suffering from coronavirus, but not showing symptoms.

It is important not to get a false sense of security about the level of protection provided to you by wearing a face covering. It is essential that you continue to:

  • wash your hands thoroughly throughout the day
  • ‘catch it, kill it, bin it’ when you sneeze or cough

That’s still the best way to protect yourself and others from COVID-19.

You should follow the social distancing measures whilst travelling to reduce the social interaction between people. This will help reduce the transmission of COVID-19 (coronavirus).

Social distancing measures include:

  • avoid contact with someone who is displaying symptoms of coronavirus COVID-19 (coronavirus). These symptoms include high temperature, a new, continuous cough or a loss or changed sense of normal smell or taste
  • avoid non-essential use of public transport, varying your travel times to avoid rush hour, when possible

The relevant business areas should seek to take all reasonable steps to limit the use of public transport for their staff, including:

  • putting in place rotas to ensure that appropriate social distancing can be maintained
  • putting in place working hours/patterns/shifts/ rotas that minimise  the use of public transport during peak times
  • using technology as much as possible to minimise the need for staff having to travel to work

3. What can I do to protect myself from and others against the virus?    

In line with the NICS recovery plan, and with the pausing of the shielding requirements for vulnerable people on 1 August 2020, it may now be possible for all members of staff who cannot work from home to commence an agreed, managed return to the workplace.

It is essential that you adhere to the social distancing measures within the workplace. There are numerous health and safety protocols in place, which you must observe in order to protect yourself and your colleagues within a shared space. 

  • managers should continue facilitate your working from home where it is feasible
  • no manager should compel you to come to work if it is feasible for you to work from home
  • every manager must take all reasonable steps to safeguard your health, safety and well-being during the pandemic, whether you are working from home or in the workplace
  • every manager must have particular regard to your safety and must put into effect the guidance on social distancing issued by the Department for the Economy
  • every manager has a legal duty to ensure, so far as it is reasonably practicable your health, safety and welfare at work.

You can also take simple steps to reduce the risk of catching or spreading coronavirus.

  • wash your hands with soap and water often – do this for at least 20 seconds
  • always wash your hands when you get home or into work
  • use hand sanitiser gel if soap and water are not available
  • cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or into the crook of your elbow (not your hands) when you cough or sneeze
  • put used tissues in the bin straight away and wash your hands afterwards
  • try to avoid close contact with people who are unwell
  • wear face coverings on public transport (this was made mandatory in Northern Ireland from 10 July 2020. There some are exemptions
  • the wearing of face coverings became mandatory in Northern Ireland in certain indoor settings, such as shops or shopping centres on 10 August 2020. Again, there are some exemptions

For more information on face coverings (including exemptions) see the the nidirect website. Staff who have medical conditions that place them in either the vulnerable or extremely vulnerable categories should also refer to the guidance below and to specific FAQs within the Vulnerable People section.

In addition, further guidance on safety in the workplace can be found on the HSENI website:

Health and Safety Executive NI website

4. I work in an office that serves the public or has contractors/other non-NICS staff in attendance. What are my obligations to them?

Currently, everyone must follow the guidance on social distancing and ensure this is being adhered to in the workplace. These measures should also be afforded to members of the public and contractors/other non-NICS staff who visit the workplace.

Face coverings are not currently required within an office environment but if you wish to provide and use your own face coverings when you are in the office you are free to do so.  It’s important that your face covering stays in your possession at all times and not left on your workstation or elsewhere within the workplace environment.

For guidance on safety in the workplace see the COVID-19 Safety Measures advice for businesses.

If you have any concerns you should speak with your line manager, in the first instance.

You can also contact your Departmental Health and Safety Officer for further information.

5. I have questions about how social distancing is being operated in my workplace. Who can I speak to?

You should speak to your line manager in the first instance with any questions or concerns.

If you require further information, you can also contact your Departmental Health and Safety Officer.

For more guidance on safety in the workplace see the COVID-19 Safety Measures advice for businesses.

6. A member of my team has concerns about how social distancing is being operated in the workplace. Where can I find more information?

Currently, everyone must follow the guidance on social distancing and managers must ensure this is being adhered to in the workplace. You should note that in cases where a member of your team is a vulnerable person or they live with a vulnerable person they must be particularly stringent about following the social distancing measures.

For further advice please see NIDirect COVID-19 (coronavirus)

For guidance on safety in the workplace see the COVID-19 Safety Measures advice for businesses.

If you have any concerns you should speak with your line manager, in the first instance.

You can also contact your Departmental Health and Safety Officer for further information.

Self-isolating

1. How long am I required to self-isolate?

The most common symptoms of COVID-19 (coronavirus) are recent onset of a new continuous cough and/or high temperature or loss or change to your sense of smell or taste. Staff with symptoms can also access testing.

If you live alone

  • if you live alone and you have symptoms of (COVID-19) coronavirus, however mild, stay at home for 10 days from when your symptoms started
  • after 10 days, if you have not had a high temperature for 48hrs, you do not need to continue to self-isolate. If you still have a high temperature, keep self-isolating until your temperature returns to normal. You do not need to self-isolate if you just have a cough or loss or change to your sense of smell or taste after 10 days, as a cough/loss of sense of smell can last for several weeks after the infection has gone
  • as a lone worker your manager will stay in regular contact with you but this will be particularly important where self-isolating

If you live with others

  • if you live with others and you are the first in the household to have symptoms of COVID-19 (coronavirus), then you must stay at home for 10 days, but all other household members who remain well must stay at home and not leave the house for 14 days. The 14-day period starts from the day when the first person in the house became ill
  • after 10 days, if you have not had a high temperature for 48hrs, you do not need to continue to self-isolate. If you still have a high temperature, keep self-isolating until your temperature returns to normal. You do not need to self-isolate if you just have a cough or loss or change to your sense of smell or taste after 10 days, as a cough/loss of sense of smell can last for several weeks after the infection has gone
  • for anyone else in the household who starts displaying symptoms, they need to stay at home for 10 days from when the symptoms appeared, regardless of what day they are on in the original 14 days isolation period
  • staying at home for 14 days will greatly reduce the overall amount of infection the household could pass on to others in the community

If you develop COVID-19 symptoms after an earlier period of isolation

  • if you develop new COVID-19 (coronavirus) symptoms at any point after ending an earlier period of isolation (self or household) then you need to follow the same guidance on self-isolation again. This means you need to stay at home for 10 days from when your symptoms started if you live alone (refer to the above guidance under ‘If you live alone’)
  • if you live with others in a household, you need to stay at home for 10 days from when your symptoms started and all other household members will need to stay at home for 14 days. This will help to ensure that you are continuing to protect others in the community by minimising the amount of infection that is passed on. (refer to the above guidance under ‘If you live with others’)

2.  I need to self-isolate, how does this impact on work?

If you need to self-isolate you are expected to follow the advice on COVID-19 (coronavirus) provided by the Public Health Agency (PHA) website which is to stay at home to prevent the spread of the virus.

Anyone over five years of age, who is self-isolating because they are symptomatic, or who lives with household members who are symptomatic, is eligible for a test. Please select the following link for details of the PHA’s coronavirus national testing programme. Your line manager can provide further advice on how to book a test if you need help with this.

If you are self-isolating because (i) someone else in your household has symptoms of COVID-19 and you are symptom free or (ii) if you have symptoms of COVID-19 but are otherwise fit to work and you can work from home then you should do so. If it is not possible for you to work from home then your manager will record this as paid special leave under COVID-19 self-isolation.

If you become unwell and/or unfit for work with symptoms of COVID-19 (coronavirus) while self-isolating, a high temperature, a new, continuous cough or a loss or changed sense of normal smell or taste, you must remain at home, inform your line manager and arrange for a test to confirm if you have COVID-19 (coronavirus).

If you are receiving special paid leave for self-isolating or if you become too unwell to work from home with symptoms of COVID-19 your line manager will cease your special leave or working from home arrangement (whichever is applicable) and record as a period of sickness absence under Chest and Respiratory problems and the sickness sub reason COVID-19. Remember you are required to self-isolate for a period of 10 days after you become ill with a symptom of COVID-19 so you may not return to the workplace within this period.  After 10 days, if you have not had a high temperature for 48 hours, you do not need to continue to self-isolate. If you still have a high temperature, keep self-isolating until your temperature returns to normal. You do not need to self-isolate if you just have a cough or loss or change to your sense of smell or taste after 10 days, as a cough/loss of sense of smell can last for several weeks after the infection has gone.

If you are working from home you may recommence work within the 10 day self-isolation period if you are fit to do so. You should inform your line manager you are fit to return to work and your period of sickness absence will be ended.

Do not attend your GP surgery or emergency department in person before calling ahead and speaking with someone. If you have very serious symptoms or feel it is a medical emergency and you need to call an ambulance, dial 999 and inform the operator of your symptoms.

If you should test negative for COVID-19 (coronavirus), you should advise your line manager who will end your absence on HRConnect, from the date the test result was received. You should follow the advice given to you in your test result with regards to when you may return to work. (There may be occasions where the COVID-19 absence should not be ended, in these circumstances, line managers should consult directly with ER case managers. These absences will be considered on a case to case basis).

If you should still remain too unwell to return to work, your line manager will open a new absence under the appropriate SART code. This period of absence will impact on sickness absence review points and Occupational Sick Pay (OSP).

If you continue to be absent due to a non COVID-19 related reason, you should follow the guidance in the NICS Sickness Absence policy, which is to obtain a Fit Note from your doctor from the 8th day of your absence.

Full details can be found in Q3 and Q4 of the section on COVID-19 (coronavirus) Symptoms in these FAQ’s and within guidance for inputting absence on HRConnect.

3. When am I required to use an Isolation Note?

You should only use an ‘Isolation Note’ if you:

  • have symptoms of COVID-19 (coronavirus)
  • live with someone who has symptoms of coronavirus
  • are in a support bubble with someone who has symptoms of coronavirus
  • have been told to self-isolate by a test and trace service

Your line manager should accept an ‘Isolate Note’ in place of a ‘Fit Note’ and update your absence on HRConnect as being the ‘Doctors’ certificate.

4. I live with others and I have a high temperature and/or a new, continuous cough or a loss or changed sense of normal smell or taste. What should I do?

If you live with others and you are the first in the household to have symptoms of COVID-19 (coronavirus), however mild, then you must stay at home for 10 days, but all other household members who remain well must stay at home and not leave the house for 14 days. The 14-day isolation period starts from the day when the first person in the house became ill.

You should arrange for a test to confirm if you have COVID-19 (coronavirus). Please select the following link for details of the PHA’s coronavirus national testing programme. Your line manager can provide further advice on how to book a test if required.

Please see Q.1 in the self-isolation section of these FAQ’s for detailed information regarding self-isolation.

Q3 and Q4 in the COVID-19 (coronavirus) symptoms section and guidance for inputting absence on HRConnect give full details on how to record your period of self-isolation will be recorded.

Follow the advice on COVID-19 (coronavirus) provided by the Public Health Agency (PHA) website.

More information can be found on guidance for inputting absence on HRConnect.

5. 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 staff 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 will be given 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 line 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.This may include undertaking alternative duties or changing working patterns if that is an option. Where such an alternative cannot be accommodated, you must cover your period of self-isolation with annual leave/flexi leave or special leave without pay.  

6. I have returned from travel abroad for work purposes or for compassionate reasons and I am required to self-isolate. What should I do?

Where you are required to self-isolate because you have been abroad for work purposes or for compassionate reasons and have returned from a country that is not on the list of exempt countries, you should work from home on your return. If you cannot carry out your normal role from home on return, your manager should seek to identify suitable alternative duties and/or training from home that you can undertake for the period of self-isolation. Where that is not possible, you should receive paid special leave for the duration.

Examples of reasons for considering a compassionate approach might include: 

  • attending a close family funeral 
  • receiving urgent and serious medical attention 
  • accompanying a family member requiring urgent and serious medical attention
  • complying with urgent legal responsibilities overseas
  • supporting a relative overseas who needs urgent and immediate help

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