COVID-19 frequently asked questions on vulnerable people and care of dependents

Vulnerable People

Shielding (self-isolation) for vulnerable and extremely vulnerable people ended in July 2020. 

From 26 December, CEV people who are working and are unable to do so from home are advised not to attend the workplace. This is advice only. People are free to make their own judgements about whether or not they should attend work, depending on the COVID-security of their working environment. However, the general restrictions which apply to everyone must be followed.

Should you be in the CEV group and feel you want to attend the workplace then you should discuss this with your manager.

1. I am in the clinically extremely vulnerable (CEV) group of people. I understand new guidance for this group has issued. Do I need to attend work?

You will know that shielding (self-isolation) for vulnerable and extremely vulnerable people ended in July 2020. 

From 26 December, CEV people who are working and are unable to do so from home are advised not to attend the workplace. This is advice only. People are free to make their own judgements about whether or not they should attend work, depending on the COVID security of their working environment. However, the general restrictions which apply to everyone must be followed.

Should you be in the CEV group and feel you want to attend the workplace then you should discuss this with your manager.

Information on this guidance and the medical conditions included in this group can be accessed below.

The position for NICS staff remains that where you can work from home you should continue to do so.

2. My member of staff is in the extremely vulnerable group and has been shielding. I understand the shielding arrangements were paused from 31 July 2020. What do I need to do to support my member of staff to return to work?

The position for all NICS staff is where they can work from home then they should do so. You should make every effort to ensure that this can be accommodated for staff within the extremely vulnerable category.

Where this is not possible, it is important to note that although the shielding arrangements paused from 31 July 2020, that people within the extremely vulnerable category are still at a higher risk from COVID-19. It is imperative that social distancing both in the workplace and on the way to work can be maintained for staff in this category. More information on current PHA guidance for extremely vulnerable people can be found below.

You will have been in regular contact with your member of staff during their period of shielding. It is important that in your next discussion you talk about any concerns they may have about their agreed, managed return to work or barriers that would prevent them from safely returning to the workplace. Their return to work should be in line with your departmental recovery plan and an individual risk assessment should be considered to support their return to the workplace.

Where there are issues surrounding social distancing you may need to seek assistance from colleagues in your Departmental Health and Safety team or those in charge of facilities management of your building. Where shielding may have impacted on your member of staff’s physical or mental health and wellbeing you should ensure they are aware of the support services available and discuss how these can be accessed if required. 

Please see here for a list of support services that are available and which may also assist you to arrange your return to work.

2. I am in the vulnerable group of people.  What arrangements apply to me?

You will know that shielding (self-isolation) for vulnerable and extremely vulnerable people ended in July 2020.

The position for all NICS staff remains that where you can work from home you should do so.

More information on current PHA advice for vulnerable people can be found below. 

If you are attending work and have concerns about your circumstances you should discuss this with your line manager who is best placed to advise on appropriate measures for your particular role and workplace at this time.

Care of dependants

1. My member of staff is not ill but has children and is worried about infecting them. What should I tell them?

In line with current advice, NICS staff should only be attending the workplace if they cannot work from home.

If the member of staff who is concerned about their children is required to come into work then all steps will be taken by their Department to implement social distancing.

The 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; and
  • using technology as much as possible to minimise time in office.

See link below for the latest government guidance on social distancing:

COVID-19 Information for the public

Everyone should follow PHA advice about good hygiene practices especially frequent thorough hand washing see preventing the spread of infection

2. What should I do if the person who cares for my children/other dependent (e.g. sick/elderly relative) is self-isolating because of COVID – 19 (coronavirus) and is not available to care for them as normal?

Where you are required to attend work you should make efforts to make alternative arrangements e.g. family or friend or, if it would be possible for you to work from home, you should discuss this with your line manager.

Further guidance on how to access childcare for key workers during the COVID-19 pandemic are available here:  Coronavirus (COVID-19) advice about childcare. Changes to social distancing measures should be considered when determining the alternative caring options that are available to you.

If you remain unable to make arrangements for your dependant, you should apply for paid special leave as noted in the Manager and Staff guidance.

3. My role cannot be carried out from home however I have caring responsibilities.  What should I do?  

Changes to social distancing measures should be considered when determining the alternative caring options that are available to you. Information about childcare can be found here: Coronavirus (COVID-19) advice about childcare.

If you have exhausted your entitlement to the total of 15 days special leave to care for your dependent/s, and your dependent/s cannot be looked after by anyone else, you should notify your manager and provide evidence of your circumstances. It will then be a decision for your manager how best to move forward given your particular circumstances. Matters relating to individual personal circumstances will be addressed on a case by case basis.

Your circumstances will be regularly reviewed by your line manager and it is essential that you keep in contact.

4. What can I do if my child’s school/ childcare setting is affected by closure, or my child has to self-isolate?

It is appreciated that schools / childcare settings may currently be operating differently from normal and that this may present issues with your childcare arrangements. Line managers will consider applications for paid special leave if schools or childcare settings are closed, or if there has been an outbreak or suspected outbreak of Covid-19 which has led to full or partial closure of your child’s school or childcare setting, where alternative arrangements cannot be made.  However, you are responsible for making childcare arrangements for your child and should make every effort to find alternative childcare if that is necessary. Prior to Monday 29 June 2020 access to childcare was restricted to essential/key workers. This restriction has now been removed with all parents having access to childcare provisions. You can find further information, which includes accessing childcare, support and advice, on the NIDirect website.

Should you remain unable to find suitable alternative childcare arrangements then you can apply for annual leave and/or unpaid leave or a change to your working pattern. This may include a temporary arrangement where you are able to complete your work at an earlier/later time of the day.

Paid special leave may be applied for, within the limits of 3.08 Special Leave policy, where caring arrangements break down unexpectedly and where this results in a domestic crisis.  Additional paid special leave should only be applied for in exceptional circumstances, e.g. where you cannot access alternative childcare due to the COVID-19 pandemic. You should ensure you provide your line manager with full details of your circumstances in order they may consider your request.

Where (i) you have exhausted your full limit to special leave as outlined above and (ii) your work cannot be done at home (or your caring responsibilities are to the extent that working from home is not possible) and (iii) you have a dependant who cannot be looked after by anyone else, (Note, if your dependant is a child, this will include your child’s school during term time), then you should notify your manager and provide evidence of your circumstances. Your manager will consider your particular circumstances and your request to extend paid special leave for a further period.

5. What happens if my member of staff is affected by a school or childcare setting closure, or has a child who needs to self-isolate?

Schools / childcare settings may currently be operating differently and you should be aware that this may present difficulties for your member of staff. Line managers will consider applications for paid special leave if schools or childcare settings are closed, or if there has been an outbreak or suspected outbreak of Covid-19 which has led to full or partial closure of your child’s school or childcare setting, where alternative arrangements cannot be made.  However, your member of staff is responsible for making arrangements for childcare, including alternative arrangements if required.  You should advise them to make every effort to find an alternative source of childcare and further information, which includes accessing childcare, support and advice, can be found on the NIDirect website.

Your member of staff may apply for annual leave and/or unpaid special leave or you may be able to consider a change to working patterns. This may include approving a temporary arrangement where they are able to complete their work at an earlier/later time of the day.

Paid special leave may be approved, within the limits of 3.08 Special Leave policy, where caring arrangements break down unexpectedly and where this results in a domestic crisis. Additional paid special leave should only be applied for in exceptional circumstances, e.g. where your member of staff cannot access alternative childcare due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Where home working is not possible, your member of staff may apply for up to five days’ paid special leave under the provisions for domestic crisis to put alternative arrangements in place. In addition, up to five days’ paid special leave may be granted under the provisions for care of dependents. The five days’ paid special leave available under both the above categories will normally be restricted to a 12 month period (pro-rata for staff who work alternative working patterns). If your member of staff has exhausted the limits, you should consider applications for a further five days’ paid special leave for reasons connected to COVID-19.

Where (i) your member of staff has exhausted the full limit to special leave as outlined above and (ii) their work cannot be done at home (or their caring responsibilities are to the extent that working from home is not possible) and (iii) they have a dependant who cannot be looked after by anyone else, (Note, if the dependant is a child, this will include the child’s school during term time), then your staff member should notify you and provide evidence of their circumstances. If you need more information to consider the request, you should ask for this. In those areas where the business normally requires a minimum % attendance of staff, there will be a need for additional flexibility.

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