COVID-19 frequently asked questions on sickness absence, special leave, leave, term-time and public and privilege holidays

Sickness Absence

1. 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 Annex A.

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 www.publichealth.hscni.net.

2. 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 www.publichealth.hscni.net 

3. My member of staff has advised that they have symptoms of COVID-19 (coronavirus).  How should I record this on HRConnect?  

You should advise your member of staff to urgently establish whether they have COVID-19 (coronavirus). They should do this by booking a COVID-19 (coronavirus) test for themselves and any members of their household. You can provide further advice on how to book a test if required. The following link provides details of the coronavirus national testing programme.

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

It is important that you understand how the symptoms of COVID-19 (coronavirus) have impacted on your member of staff so you can record this correctly.

How to record an absence while waiting for the result of your member of staff’s test for COVID-19 (coronavirus):

  • If your member of staff is ill (and unfit for work) with the symptoms of COVID-19 you should 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 staff member’s sickness absence relating to COVID-19, they 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 their absence. Given the current unique circumstances, these absences will be considered by Employee Relations case managers on a case by case basis. You should advise your member of staff to provide a self-isolation note by contacting NHS 111 Online.
  • If your member of staff is otherwise fit for work while displaying the symptoms of COVID-19 (coronavirus) but you can’t facilitate homeworking while they self-isolate, you should open 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 your member of staff is otherwise fit for work while displaying the symptoms of COVID-19 (coronavirus) and arrangements can be made for them to work from home, or alternative work can be found for them to do from home while they self-isolate, then they should do so. There is no requirement to record this as an absence from work.
  • However, at any time should your member of staff become unfit for work with the symptoms of COVID-19 (coronavirus), they should immediately report this to you. You should cease their working from home arrangement and open 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 your member of staff’s result of their test for coronavirus, the following would apply:

  • If your member of staff has been ill (and unfit for work) with the symptoms of COVID-19 (coronavirus) and they receive a positive result, they should immediately confirm this with you. You should, where possible, continue to remain in contact with your member of staff throughout their absence in line with normal arrangements. If you have not already received a self-isolation note, you should advise your member of staff to provide one by contacting NHS 111 Online.Your member of staff should advise you when they become fit to either return to the workplace or return to working from home (whichever is applicable).
  • If your member of staff has been ill (and unfit for work) with the symptoms of COVID-19 (coronavirus) and they receive a negative result, they should immediately inform you. The absence held on their record should be ended from the date they received their test result and, if they remain unfit for work, a new absence opened 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 member of staff throughout their 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 their GP via telephone call, they should advise you if they are having any difficulty in obtaining one. Your member of staff should advise you when they become fit to either return to the workplace or return to working from home (whichever is applicable). (There may be occasions where the COVID-19 absence should not be ended, in these circumstances, you should consult directly with the ER case manager. These absences will be considered on a case to case basis.)
  • If your member of staff has not been ill (and otherwise fit for work) with the symptoms of COVID-19 (coronavirus) and they receive either a positive or a negative result, they should follow the instructions given to them on the test result with regards to completing the period of their self-isolation. They should advise you and continue to work from home (if applicable). If they subsequently become unfit to work, they should immediately inform you and you should open a period of sickness absence on HRConnect using the appropriate SART code. If they develop symptoms of COVID-19 you should advise them to arrange to have a further test. The conditions outlines at * above will apply.

4. 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 the absence on HRConnect as being the ‘Doctors’ certificate.

5. My member of staff has not turned up for work and is not scheduled to be off.  They also haven’t advised me, another manager or any of their colleagues.  What should I do?  

You should follow the normal ‘unauthorised absence’ procedures and due to the current situation try to contact by phone and/or email where possible. 

6. What effect will a period of sickness absence due to COVID-19 have on my sickness absence record?

All periods of sickness absence that have been either diagnosed as COVID-19 or which are initially symptomatic of the virus (before test result is known) and recorded on HRConnect under chest respiratory problems, COVID-19 (coronavirus), will not impact on sickness absence 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.

It should be established as soon as possible whether you are ill with COVID-19 (coronavirus). You should do this by booking a COVID-19 (coronavirus) test for yourself and the members of your household. Please select the following link for details of the coronavirus national testing programme.

7. I am a probationer. What effect will a period of sickness absence due to COVID-19 (coronavirus) have on my sickness absence record?

All periods of sickness absence that have been either diagnosed as COVID-19 (coronavirus) or which are initially symptomatic of the virus (before test result is known) and recorded on HRConnect under chest respiratory problems, COVID-19 (coronavirus) will not impact on sickness absence 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.

It should be established as soon as possible whether you are ill with COVID-19 (coronavirus). You should do this by booking a COVID-19 (coronavirus) test for yourself and the members of your household. Please select the following link for details of the coronavirus national testing programme.

8. I have been off work for over 7 calendar days but can’t get through to my GP to get a ‘Fit Note’.  What should I do?

If you are absent with the symptoms of COVID-19 you must not ask your GP for a fit note. You should arrange to provide a self-isolation note by contacting NHS 111 online. For any illness not related to COVID-19, you should ask your GP for a fit note. 

Given that GP’s have now resumed the majority of their services, there may be instances where you face difficulty making contact with them. If this is the case, it may be more appropriate to try and make contact at an alternative time.

If you are experiencing a delay in obtaining a fit note from your GP, you must keep your line manager informed at all times.

9. I have been absent with a non COVID-19 related health condition for more than 7 calendar days. Do I need to ask my GP for a “Fit Note”?

Yes, under the Sickness Absence policy (Section 3.01) you will be required to provide a “Fit Note” from your GP from the 8th day of illness until you are fit to resume work.

10. I am currently absent due to long term sickness. How will my absence be managed during these exceptional circumstances?

As a consequence of government guidance in response 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 sickness absence procedures have been reviewed and some aspects of the procedures have been suspended in the current circumstances.

It has been decided, at this time and while you remain on sickness absence, that you will not be required to attend any review meetings with either your line manager or your NICS HR Employee Relations Case Manager. In addition all referrals to Occupational Health Service (OHS) have been postponed.

Regular contact arrangements will remain in place whereby either your line manager or caseworker will be in contact:-

  • to ensure that you have appropriate support and information; and
  • to allow you to provide updates on your health and share any information regarding a planned return to work.

The Welfare Officer will make contact with you during your absence to obtain an update on your health and to provide you with support. 

11. I am fit to return to work from a period of sickness absence. What am I expected to do?

You should communicate with your line manager using your agreed method of contact and advise that you are ready to report for duty. If you can work from home then do so. If you are required to come into work then you should first discuss the arrangements in place for your return with your manager. If applicable, discuss any adjustments that may be required to facilitate your return to work.

Your line manager should close your current period of sickness absence on HRConnect. Any period of full paid, half paid or unpaid sickness absence will end.

Remember if you have been ill with a symptom of COVID-19, you may not return to the workplace within the 10 day self-isolation period. Please see Q.1 in the self-isolation section of these FAQ’s for detailed information regarding self-isolation.

However, if you are working from home you may commence work within this period if you are fit to do so.

The following then applies:

  • Your line manager will carry out a return to work discussion with you.
  • If you can work from home, you must do so.
  • If you have to come in to work then your business area should seek to take all steps to protect you in line with guidance on social distancing.  

12. I live on my own 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 have symptoms of COVID-19 (coronavirus), however mild, you should notify your line manager. It should be established as soon as possible whether you are ill with COVID-19 (coronavirus). You should do this by booking a COVID-19 (coronavirus) test for yourself and the members of your household. Please select the following link for details of the coronavirus national testing programme.

If you are in the workplace or you work from home and become too unwell to continue, you should advise your line manager, who should initially record this as a period of sickness absence under Chest and Respiratory problems and the sickness sub reason COVID-19 until the result of your test is known. 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.

  • Normal contact arrangements apply and you should keep in touch with your manager about your absence and expected date of return.
  • Follow the advice on COVID-19 (coronavirus) provided by the Public Health Agency (PHA) website www.publichealth.hscni.net
  • Remember you may not return to the workplace within the 10 day self-isolation period. After 10 days, if you have not had a high temperature for 48hrs, you can return to the workplace if it is essential that you do so. If you are working from home you may commence work within the 10 day self-isolation period if you are fit to do so.

13. I am unfit for work with symptoms of COVID-19 or with confirmed COVID-19 and 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.

14. My member of staff is absent due to illness and has now advised that they have developed symptoms of COVID-19 (coronavirus).  What should I do?

If your member of staff remains unfit for work with the COVID-19 symptoms then you should close their current period of sickness absence on the HRConnect portal and then open a new absence under Chest and Respiratory problems COVID-19. This part of the absence will not impact on sickness absence review points and OSP. More information can be found here. You should advise your member of staff to provide a self-isolation note by contacting NHS 111 Online

If your member of staff is now fit for work while displaying the symptoms of COVID-19 (coronavirus) but it is not possible for them to work from home while they self-isolate, they 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 your member of staff is now fit for work while displaying the symptoms of COVID-19 (coronavirus) and arrangements can be made for them to work from home, or alternative work can be found for them to do from home while they self-isolate, then they should do so. There is no requirement to record this as an absence from work.

At any time should your member of staff subsequently become unfit for work with the symptoms of COVID-19 (coronavirus), they should immediately report this to you. You should end their period of self-isolation (or cease your working from home arrangement) and open a period of sickness absence on HRConnect under chest and respiratory problems, COVID-19 (coronavirus). You should advise your member of staff to provide a self-isolation note by contacting NHS 111 Online

You should advise your member of staff how to book a COVID-19 (coronavirus) test for themselves and the members of their household. Please select the following link for details of the PHA’s coronavirus national testing programme.

You should remain in close contact with your member of staff at this time.

  • Should they receive a positive result, they should confirm with you that they have been ill with COVID-19. Where possible, you should remain in contact with them throughout their absence in line with normal arrangements. You should advise your member of staff to provide a self-isolation note by contacting NHS 111 Online. When the member of staff is fit to return to work they should advise you. If they do not normally work from home then you should arrange to discuss the health and well-being arrangements that are in place in line with social distancing measures and any concerns they may have about returning to the workplace.
  • Should they receive a negative result, they should confirm with you that they are not ill with COVID-19. The absence held under COVID-19 should be ended from the date they received their test result and, if they 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 them throughout their 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 the member of staff is fit to return to work they should advise you. If they do not normally work from home then you should discuss the health and well-being arrangements that are in place in line with social distancing measures and any concerns they may have about returning to the workplace. (There may be occasions where the COVID-19 absence should not be ended, in these circumstances, you should consult directly with the ER case manager. These absences will be considered on a case to case basis.)

15. I received a Final Written Warning following a previous period of sickness absence and I am concerned about the affect a further absence due to COVID-19 will have on my sickness absence record.

All periods of sickness absence that have been either diagnosed as COVID-19 or symptomatic of the virus will not impact on sickness absence review points.

Any period(s) of sickness absence due to COVID-19 will not change the expiry date of your FWW.

16. My medical treatment has been delayed as a result of the COVID-19 (coronavirus) outbreak, subsequently, I remain unfit for work. Given these circumstances, will this have a detrimental impact on my pay and on how my case is being managed by NICSHR ER?

Impact on your pay

NHS treatment

  • If the NHS has postponed or cancelled diagnostic tests, operations or other treatments, because of the impact of COVID-19 (coronavirus), your absence will not impact on contractual sick pay and will not lead to a pay detriment, effective from the date you were advised by the NHS of the delay/cancellation.
  • If at the time when you were informed of the delay in your treatment/medical appointment you were entitled to either full pay, half pay or nil pay (pension rate of pay), this level of Occupational Sick Pay (OSP) will be maintained and continue to be reviewed by your ER case manager. Your ER case manager will inform you if there is any change to these temporary arrangements.
  • You will be required to provide your ER case manager with a copy of the NHS letter you received, confirming postponement or cancellation of your treatment/medical appointment.

OHS appointments/processes

  • Where there are delays to OHS processes or cancellation of appointments because of the impact of COVID-19 (coronavirus), your absence will not impact on contractual sick pay and will not lead to a pay detriment.
  • If at the time of delay/cancellation of OHS processes/appointments you were entitled to either full pay, half pay or nil pay (pension rate of pay), this level of Occupational Sick Pay (OSP) will be maintained and continue to be reviewed by your ER case manager. Your ER case manager will inform you if there is any change to these temporary arrangements.
  • You are not required to provide evidence confirming postponement or cancellation of treatment/medical appointments as your NICSHR ER case manager will liaise with the OHS regarding your case

How your case will be managed

Given the current unique circumstances, any non-COVID-19 absence that has been indirectly impacted on by the pandemic will be managed by NICSHR Employee Relations (ER) case managers on a case by case basis.

17. My medical treatment has been delayed as a result of the COVID-19 (coronavirus) outbreak, subsequently, the OHS cannot establish if I meet the criteria for retirement on medical grounds. Given these circumstances, will this have a detrimental impact on my pay and on how my case is being managed by NICSHR ER?

Impact on your pay

  • Where there are delays, as a result of the pandemic, in the OHS receiving additional medical information (for example, GP and/or other Specialist’s reports) to assess whether you meet the eligibility criteria for retirement on medical grounds, your absence will not impact on contractual sick pay and will not lead to a pay detriment.
  • If at the time of delay you were entitled to either full pay, half pay or nil pay (pension rate of pay), this level of Occupational Sick Pay (OSP) will be maintained until the OHS are able to make a decision regarding medical retirement in your case.
  • If the OHS have requested additional medical information, you will not be required to provide any evidence confirming the delay. Your NICSHR ER case manager will continue to liaise with the OHS regarding your case.
  • If you have requested additional medical information to support your request for consideration of retirement on medical grounds, you will be required to provide the OHS with a copy of the initial request.  Your NICSHR ER case manager will continue to liaise with the OHS regarding your case and will inform you if there is any change to these temporary arrangements.

How your case will be managed

Given the current unique circumstances, any non-COVID-19 absence that has been indirectly impacted on by the pandemic will be managed by NICSHR Employee Relations (ER) case managers on a case by case basis

Special Leave

1. My member of staff is self-isolating as they live with someone who is displaying symptoms of COVID-19 (coronavirus) and they have satisfied the criteria for special leave. How should I record this on HRConnect?   

If they are symptom free this should be recorded on HRConnect as a period of special leave up to 10 working days (14 calendar days) as Domestic Crisis with the sub heading COVID-19 Self isolate.

You should advise your member of staff to arrange to be tested for Covid-19 (coronavirus). Please select the following link for details of the PHA’s coronavirus national testing programme.

If the member of staff subsequently advises that they are unfit for work with symptoms of COVID-19 then the special leave arrangement should cease and a period of sickness absence entered on HRConnect, under Chest and Respiratory problems and the sickness sub reason COVID-19. 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 staff member’s sickness absence relating to COVID-19, they 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 their absence. Given the current unique circumstances, these absences will be considered by Employee Relations case managers on a case by case basis.

If your member of staff should test negative for COVID-19 (coronavirus), their absence will be ended on HRConnect, from the date the test result was received. If they should still remain too unwell to return to work, a new absence should be opened under the appropriate (non-coronavirus related) SART code. This period of absence will impact sickness absence review points and OSP. (There may be occasions where the COVID-19 absence should not be ended, in these circumstances, you should consult directly with the ER case manager. These absences will be considered on a case to case basis.)

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

2. Can you take special leave multiple times for Covid-19 (coronavirus)?

Potentially yes, special leave may be required for a number of different reasons relating to COVID-19 (coronavirus) i.e. self-isolation, caring responsibilities, social distancing, or other reasons such as office closure.

3. 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.

4. 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, e.g. 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.

Family Leave

1. What happens if I am due to apply for or start a period of family leave, in other words, maternity, paternity, adoption or shared parental leave, during the COVID-19 (coronavirus) outbreak?

The normal arrangements for maternity, paternity, adoption and shared parental leave continue to apply.  Please refer to the relevant policy for details -  Maternity PolicyPaternity Policy,  Adoption Leave Policy, and Shared Parental Leave Policy.

Leave

1. I have a member of staff who is due to be on annual leave/flexi leave but they have now notified me that they are displaying symptoms of COVID-19 (coronavirus).  What happens to the annual leave/flexi leave they were due to take?

Where a member of staff is ill with symptoms of COVID-19 (coronavirus), you should cancel the annual leave/flexi leave and record a period of sickness absence.

2. I have a member of staff who is due to be on annual leave/flexi leave but they have notified me that they are self-isolating because another person in their household is displaying symptoms of COVID-19 (coronavirus).  What happens to the annual leave/flexi leave they were due to take?

If the member of staff is symptom-free, this should be recorded on HRConnect as a period of special leave (up to 10 working days (14 calendar days) as Domestic Crisis with the sub heading COVID-19 Self-isolate.  Their annual leave/flexi leave should be cancelled and will be available to take at a later date.

If the member of staff subsequently advises that they are displaying symptoms of COVID-19, then the special leave arrangement should cease and a period of sickness absence should be entered on HRConnect.

3. A member of staff has requested annual leave/flexi leave.  Can I refuse this request?

Taking annual leave/flexi leave is important to aid rest and recuperation and should be allowed where possible.  Staff who do not take annual leave may be at more risk of fatigue and mental-health related sickness absence. Therefore, they should be encouraged to take annual leave/flexi leave, where this can be supported by the business, to help ensure that they take an appropriate rest from work even if this must be confined to activities permissible within the current travel and social distancing instructions.  

Managers should consider all applications for leave sympathetically and be flexible in their approach to accommodate requests made.

In line with NICS policy, a request for annual leave/flexi leave can be refused due to business need. However, managers should only refuse leave where this is necessary and the only viable option.    

4. I am unsure how best to manage my team’s annual leave over the next number of months. What should I do?

You should manage the annual leave for your team in line with normal arrangements as much as possible. The COVID-19 Guidance for managers and staff details annual leave principles and best practice for managers. You should be mindful of the importance of taking leave to have a rest from work and apply this to both yourself and your staff. This includes those staff who are currently at home awaiting work or on extended paid special leave and who will still benefit from switching off from the keeping in touch activities you should have in place.

5. I am concerned that some of my staff are reluctant to take annual leave in the current situation. How can I encourage my staff to take leave to assist their health and wellbeing?

All staff require a break from work for their own general health and wellbeing, which in turn will benefit the wellbeing and resilience of your team. As a manager, you should lead by example by ensuring you take annual leave. You should actively manage and monitor the annual leave taken within your team and ensure leave arrangements are discussed and planned in advance, for example by issuing a summer leave chart or by regularly raising at team/management meetings. 

6. I have staff who are currently at home awaiting suitable work/IT equipment. Should I include these staff in annual leave arrangements for my team?

Yes, it is important to include these staff in any team discussions you have about annual leave so they understand that they are not being prevented from taking their annual leave and are both entitled and expected to have a complete rest from keeping in touch and being available for work.

7. I am currently working within a business area that is under particular pressure due to the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic. I have pre-booked annual leave/flexi leave. Can I still take this leave?

Taking annual/flexi leave is important to ensure you have an appropriate rest from work and, therefore, should be allowed whenever possible. In line with NICS policy, staff can be required to cancel or postpone annual/flexi leave due to business need. However this should only be done where necessary and the only viable option available to your manager.

8.  If I am prevented from taking annual leave during the 2020/21 leave year because I am required to work, will I be allowed to carry over that leave and take it at a later date?

Yes. The Working Time (Northern Ireland) Regulations 2016 entitle every worker in Northern Ireland to a minimum of 5.6 weeks' paid annual holiday, in other words, 28 days every year for full-time workers and pro-rata for part-time workers. (This is made up of 4 weeks’ statutory annual leave provided under Regulation 15 plus an additional 1.6 weeks under Regulation 16.)   The Working Time (Coronavirus) (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2020, recently introduced in response to the current COVID-19 pandemic, allow workers to carry untaken statutory annual leave forward into the next 2 leave years where it was not reasonably practicable for them to take some or all of the 4-week entitlement provided under Regulation 15 “as a result of the effects of coronavirus”.

More favourable carry-over arrangements already exist within the NICS Annual Leave policy.  Staff who have been specifically prevented by management from taking their full annual leave allowance in the year in which it is earned are allowed, under the provision in paragraph 3.1.3 of  policy 3.07 Annual Leave, to carry over into the next leave year the full amount of leave untaken.  Where you have not been allowed to take annual leave during the 2020/21 leave year because the additional challenges of responding to the COVID-19 pandemic mean that management required you to work, you will be allowed to carry over that untaken leave in full under this provision.  In the NICS annual leave carry-over is considered at the end of each leave year.  Therefore, in the event that you were again prevented from taking your leave in the next leave year, the same provision would apply.

You are encouraged to take annual leave, where the business can support this, to help ensure that you have an appropriate rest from work even if this must be confined to activities that are permissible within the current travel and social distancing instructions.

9. A member of my team does not want to take annual leave while they are on paid special leave or at home awaiting suitable work/IT equipment. Can I encourage them to take leave?

Staff in these circumstances should be encouraged to take annual leave to ensure that they can have the benefit of a period of rest and relaxation away from being available for work. You should ensure these staff are aware that they are not being prevented by management from taking their annual leave, and therefore the provisions for carrying over excess annual leave outlined in Q8 above will not apply.

10. Do I have to take annual leave if I feel that it increases the burden on my colleagues? 

For many staff these feelings are understandable. However, we have personal responsibility to look after our own wellbeing so that we can be strong and resilient for others. Annual leave is a key part of this. Making sure that you and your colleagues can perform at their best is the best way to support and ease the burden on everyone over the next few months.

11. During the period of COVID-19 (coronavirus), can I work flexi time and accrue flexi leave if I am working from home?

At the discretion of your line manager you may work flexi time and accrue flexi leave while you are being required to work from home. This arrangement will continue to be managed by your line manager.

12. A member of my staff has pre- booked annual leave/flexi leave.  Can I cancel their leave?

Taking annual leave/flexi leave is important to ensure that staff have an appropriate rest from work and, therefore, should be allowed wherever possible.  Staff who do not take annual leave may be at greater risk of fatigue and mental health-related sickness absence. Therefore, you should be encouraging your staff to take annual leave/flexi leave, where this can be supported by the business, to help ensure that they take an appropriate rest from work.  

All applications for leave should be considered sympathetically you should be flexible in your approach to accommodate requests wherever possible.

In line with NICS policy, staff can be required to cancel or postpone annual leave/flexi leave due to business need.  However, you should only do so where this is necessary and the only viable option.

13. I want to take time off during the week using annual/flexi leave. Am I able to work overtime on an evening or weekend?

At this challenging time we are keen to balance the need for staff to use annual/flexi leave during the week to have an appropriate break from work with requirements for additional resource availability for evening and weekend working. Where there is a business need for you to work overtime, your manager may consider giving approval for this in a week that you have taken annual/flexi leave.

14. 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.

15. 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, e.g. 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.

16. I no longer wish to take a future period of annual leave that has been approved on HRConnect by my line manager.  May I cancel it?

Yes.  If you no longer wish to take a future period of annual leave that has been approved on HRConnect, you should contact your line manager to ask them to cancel the period of leave for you.  A future-dated period of leave can be cancelled so long as you make your request to your line manager before the period of leave has started.

17. My member of staff has asked to cancel a future period of annual leave that I had approved on HRConnect.  Can I delete this leave and, if so, how do I do so?

Where a member of staff no longer wants/needs to take a future period of leave which has been approved on HRConnect, this may be cancelled so long as they submit their request to you before the period of leave has started.   Where a period of annual leave has already been taken, it cannot be cancelled.

In order to delete the period of future-dated leave, you will need to follow these steps:

  • Click on ‘HRConnect Level 2 Manager Self Service’.
  • Click on ‘Absence Management’.
  • Click on ‘Leave Request’.
  • Locate the row that represents the member of staff whose absence you would like to cancel, then click the ‘Action’ icon in the ‘Action’ column.
  • Locate the row that represents the period of annual leave that needs cancelled and then click on the ‘Delete’ icon in the ‘Delete’ column.
  • When the ‘Delete Absence: Review’ screen appears, click on ‘Submit’.

Just after carrying out the above steps, the ‘Approval Status’ for the period of annual leave in question may temporarily display as ‘Pending Approval’.  However, this will automatically change to ‘Approved’ shortly afterwards. This will remove the future-dated period of annual leave from the member of staff’s HRConnect record.

Note: Where the member of staff made their cancellation request to you before the period of leave was due to start but you have omitted or been unable to take the above action before the start date of the leave, you will need to email HRConnect directly to request that they amend the employee’s record on your behalf.

18. What should I do if my member of staff asks to carry over additional annual leave for particular personal reasons into the 2021/2022 leave year?

The normal provisions under 3.07 Annual Leave paragraph 3.1.4 will apply. Careful and sympathetic consideration should be given to these requests where possible. Managers should take into account circumstances where it is has not been reasonably practicable for their member of staff to take some or all of their leave as a result of the COVID -19 coronavirus pandemic.

Term-time

1. I have been asked by my Head of Branch (or my manager) to cancel an approved period of term-time absence. Given the exceptional circumstances, I am content to continue working for this period, however I am unable to give the required 1 months' notice.  What I should do and how the cancellation is actioned?

In normal circumstances, if your Department cancels your term-time absence for “justifiable business reasons” you would be given 1 month’s advance notice. However, in the current exceptional circumstances, this requirement may be waived.

Your Head of Branch should forward an email to HRConnect confirming the period of term-time absence to be cancelled and the reasons for cancellation. Although your salary and leave entitlement will be adjusted accordingly, this may take several weeks. You should note that this will cancel only the period of absence specified and will not cancel the entire term-time arrangement. However, if you continue to carry out priority work, your Department may need to cancel further periods of term-time absence, those decisions will be taken in light of the changing circumstances surrounding COVID-19.

Any matters relating to individual personal circumstances will be addressed on a case by case basis

2. I want to cancel a period of approved term-time absence. My plans have been cancelled due to the COVID-19 crisis and therefore I do not need to take this time off. What should I do?

Annex 2, paragraph 14.1 of policy 3.10 Alternative and Flexible Working Patterns advises if you wish to apply to cancel your agreed term-time arrangement, you are required to provide 1 month’s written notice to your Head of Branch. Therefore, any requests will not be considered unless the minimum notice period is provided.

If you wish to apply to cancel a period of term-time absence within this financial year, you should forward an e-mail to your Head of Branch a minimum of 1 month prior to the date the period of term-time absence is due to start along with the reasons for your request. 

Any matters relating to individual personal circumstances will be addressed on a case by case basis

3. I have been asked by my Head of Branch (or my manager) to cancel an approved period of term-time absence. I do not want to cancel this period of term-time absence.  What should I do?

Annex 2, paragraph 14.1 of policy 3.10 Alternative and Flexible Working Patterns states “where, for justifiable business reasons, it becomes necessary for a Department to terminate a member of staff’s term-time working arrangement, they must be given a minimum of one month’s written notice and full reasons for the termination.”

In normal circumstances if your Department cancels your term-time absence for the above “justifiable business reasons” you would be given 1 month’s advance notice. However, in the current exceptional circumstances, this requirement may be waived.

You should contact your Head of Branch (or your line manager) as soon as possible to further discuss both the reasons it is necessary to cancel your upcoming period of term-time and your reasons for not being content to do so, and these will be considered. Any matters relating to individual personal circumstances will be addressed on a case by case basis.

However you should be aware, whatever the outcome of the above consideration, if you continue to carry out priority work, your Department may need to cancel further periods of term-time absence, those decisions will be taken in light of the changing circumstances surrounding COVID-19.

PUBLIC AND PRIVILEGE HOLIDAYS

1. Will staff who are working within business areas that are under particular pressure due to the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic be allowed to take time off on public and privilege holidays?

Staff who are currently attending work or working from home will, so far as possible, be allowed to take time off on the holidays listed in paragraph 1.2 of HR policy 3.06 Public and Privilege Holidays.  Where they are required to work on any of these holidays, they will be compensated as set out in Section 14 of policy 8.08 Overtime Pay.

2. Are staff who are on paid special leave entitled to public and privilege holidays?

Yes, the normal arrangements continue to apply.  Where public and privilege holidays fall within a period special leave with pay, these holidays are paid for and are not counted towards the number of days authorised as special leave with pay.  

3.  Are staff entitled to public and privilege holidays that fall during a period of sickness absence?

No.  Public and privilege holidays that fall within a period of sickness absence count as part of the period of sickness absence.  There is no right to time off in lieu of these holidays.

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