COVID-19 frequently asked questions on remote working, performance management and other NICSHR issues

General questions

1. Can arrangements be put in place to allow staff without access to laptops to work from home using their work or private computers?

In order to protect the security and integrity of the secure government network you must not use Personal PCs or tablets for Departmental work. All service requests for laptops are being progressed as a matter of urgency.

In some instances IT Assist will be providing existing Desktop computers with the capability to be used to work from home over Secure Remote Access (SRA). This will be by exception and to meet business critical needs.

2. How will Discipline, Dignity at Work (DaW) and Grievance cases be managed during these exceptional circumstances?

As a consequence of government guidance due to COVID-19 (coronavirus) the NICS is required to take measures to reduce social interaction between people in order to reduce the transmission of the coronavirus. Consequently, the NICS procedures for Discipline, DaW and Grievance have been reviewed. Some aspects of the procedures have been suspended and in addition the following shall apply:

  • all face to face meetings will be postponed for discipline and grievance procedures. Where feasible and appropriate, telephone discussions will be used
  • within the limitations of the COVID-19 situation, only discipline matters of a potentially gross misconduct nature will be taken forward
  • dignity at Work cases will continue to be managed as far as is practicable in the current situation, with the exception of face to face meetings for preliminary and appeal meetings. Telephone conversations and written submissions will be utilised where appropriate and possible
  • dismissal appeal meetings already arranged will be deferred until current restrictions are lifted

3. The 2019/20 annual reporting year is due to end on 31 March 2020. What should I do about end of year reviews for my staff?

Where you are currently able to carry out an end of year review without meeting with your member of staff, you may do so. If you are not able to do so, you should put the review on hold and check the position again on a regular basis.

4. I have symptoms of COVID-19 and I am therefore on sickness absence. I am unable to collect a fit note in support of my Employment Support Allowance (ESA) claim. Does this mean my ESA will be stopped?

No, payments will continue to all NICS staff who qualify for ESA. Special arrangements have been made which will allow all new ESA claimants who are self-isolating to be covered automatically for the first four weeks of a new claim. If you are already in receipt of ESA, the most recent medical certificate will be extended to cover the same duration, for example, if your last fit note was for a four week period, this will be automatically extended for a further four weeks. Given the exceptional circumstances, the position will continue to be reviewed.

You should establish as soon as possible whether you are ill with COVID-19 (coronavirus). You should do this by booking a COVID-19 (coronavirus) test. Please select the following link for details of the coronavirus national testing programme.

5. I work part-time. Can I volunteer to work additional hours?

Yes. Where there is a business need for you to extend your working hours to assist with the delivery of services at this time you may request to do so. This temporary arrangement will not be a contractual change to your working pattern and will be payable as additional hours in line with HR policy 3.10 Alternative and Flexible Working Patterns Section 4.9 Overtime.

6. I have a member of staff who is within their probation period and they are working from home. Does this period of home working count towards their probation period?

Yes. As long as they are continuing to carry out the duties of their role.

7. If my member of staff is on probation but currently not at work or working from home, should their probation period be suspended?

Short periods of sickness absence or self-isolation would not be considered as an interruption to a period of probation. If, however, they are on a period of prolonged absence which has resulted in them being unable to satisfactorily demonstrate that they can perform their role, you should consider suspension of the probation during the absence.

8. I am currently unable to work from home and am not required to attend the office. Can I work in my second job during my conditioned hours?

No. You are expected to be available for work and may not work for another employer during your normal conditioned hours and whilst you continue to receive your NICS salary. The Standards of Conduct policy states that you are not permitted to undertake “work which would occupy your time or attention, or render you unavailable for duty during normal official hours” (Annex 10 para 1.1).

If you do wish to work in your second job during normal working hours you may apply for unpaid leave for this period.

9. Do I need a PPA/PDP for the 2020/21 annual reporting year?

Yes, all staff should have a PPA/PDP for the 2020/21 annual reporting year. You should speak with your manager (where you are not currently in the workplace this may be by telephone/video call) to discuss your targets for the year and if you can access HRConnect you should complete your PPA/PDP in the normal way. If you cannot currently access HRConnect, you should keep a record of what has been agreed (e-mail or paper copy) until you have the opportunity to complete your PPA/PDP on the system. Due to the management of COVID-19 within your business area, you may be required to agree alternative or additional objectives and display other competencies outside your normal job role. Your end of year review should reflect the full range of duties you have performed over this reporting year.

10. 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.

11. How can I support everyone in my team while we are all working remotely?

Regular virtual team meetings through Cisco Jabber, WebEx, BTMeetMe and TMS can help to make everyone feel included and provide a means to check in on wellbeing and ask colleagues to share tips and coping strategies. Managers should support inclusive virtual meetings in which all participants have the opportunity to feed in individual views and ideas.

You should be mindful that online meetings can pose accessibility challenges for some people, such as those with hearing loss or those who may be less inclined to air their opinions. It is therefore important that you support all team members to access the equipment they need to work safely from home and recognise that some team members may face challenges around their home working environment and may not always be able to work in peace and quiet or have limited space for their office equipment. You should ensure that everyone is included in any team online groups such as Whatsapp and distribution lists.

12. In the event that I become unexpectedly absent as a result of COVID-19, what can I do to ensure that my staff will continue to be managed in respect of annual leave, special leave, etc?

Given the impact of the ongoing pandemic, you must agree with your line manager a contingency arrangement whereby another manager will have the authority to agree leave arrangements for your staff if you are unexpectedly absent from work. This will normally be the next line manager or in some instances, another manager within your team with the appropriate security clearance, where applicable.

For step by step guidance on how to provide another manager with access to your worklist on HRConnect, select the following link, Granting Worklist Access & setting your Out of Office rule.

13. One of my managers has taken ill unexpectedly with COVID-19 and had not made arrangements to provide another manager with access to their worklist on HRConnect in the event of their absence. How can I ensure that their staff will continue to have their leave arrangements, eg annual leave, special leave etc managed?

You can update HRConnect with the details of the line manager who will assume responsibility for managing the absence of this group of staff. This will normally be their next line manager or in some instances, another manager within your team with the appropriate security clearance, where applicable.

To temporarily change the line manager to whom these staff report, log on to HRConnect and action via Manager Self-Service, ‘Other Manager Actions’ and select ‘Change Line Manager’. The new line manager will, from the date authority has been transferred to them, receive alerts for any new notifications. For more information please refer the step by step guidance, Changing Line Manager Quick Reference Guide .

Staff should be advised about this temporary arrangement and asked to bring any outstanding actions that require approval to the attention of the temporary manager.

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