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 amended and in addition the following shall apply:

  • face to face meetings will be facilitated  for discipline and grievance procedures in accordance with current government guidance. Where feasible and appropriate, on-line meetings or written submissions will be used
  • 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

3. 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.

4. 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.

5. 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.

6. 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.

7. 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.

8. 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.

9. 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.

10. I live in the Republic of Ireland and work in the NICS in Northern Ireland. I am an essential worker and required to attend the office. Can I obtain confirmation from my employer of my essential role for the purposes of confirming my need to travel cross border each day?  

Any employee in an essential role, unable to work remotely and therefore required to attend the workplace should obtain a letter from within their Division which will confirm their essential role and need to travel during this time. The NICS has received confirmation from the Department of the Taoiseach that NICS essential workers who reside in the Republic of Ireland and work in Northern Ireland are permitted under current Irish Government COVID-19 restrictions to travel from their place of residence to work and return home. Staff should obtain an essential worker letter from their Department if required.

11. I am an essential worker and due to adverse weather conditions I am unable to report for duty to my usual workplace. What should I do as office space in other locations may be limited due to social distancing measures? 

Staff have a duty to make every effort to report for work on time each working day, however there may be occasions when weather conditions are so adverse that some staff will either be prevented from reporting for work or will be late and/or need to leave work early. If you are unable to report to your usual workplace due to adverse weather conditions, you should contact your manager immediately for advice on whether there is an alternative workplace available to you. Your manager will check and let you know if you may attend an office close to you.  Where no alternative workplace is available due to office capacity affected by social distancing measures, and working from home is not an option (your manager may consider if there is other suitable work you may be able to do from home), then at the discretion of the your manager paid special leave will be considered; the period of special leave will be kept under constant review by your manager taking into consideration the impact of the adverse weather conditions and the availability of alternative office accommodation with appropriate social distancing measures in place.

12. I am travelling for approved work reasons, do I need to take any special precautions now?

Yes, you should follow the online guidance published by the Public Health Agency (PHA) website.

If you have returned from international travel 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 here:

13. I am travelling to work and am concerned about the availability and use of public transport. What should I do?

If you are using public transport, please remember to continue to practice social distancing measures and if possible vary your travel to avoid peak times. You should also be aware that the wearing of face coverings on most buses, trains and ferries will be mandatory in Northern Ireland from 10 July 2020.

If you experience difficulties due to travel disruption you could consider working from an office location closer to home (if possible).

Also see Q2 in Social Distancing section and Q10 and Q11 in the COVID-19 (coronavirus) symptoms section for more information on wearing face coverings.

If you have any further concerns regarding the safety and reliability of public transport, please discuss this with your line manager.

 

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