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

Vulnerable People

1. I am in the extremely vulnerable group of people who were advised to shield. I know that the shielding arrangements were paused from 31 July 2020. Does that mean I will have to return to work?

The position for all NICS staff remains that where you can work from home you should do so. If you have been shielding, and cannot work from home, it may be possible for you to commence an agreed, managed return to the workplace after 31 July 2020 if the risk remains low and you no longer need to follow shielding advice. Before returning to work you may wish to discuss this with your GP.

You are still considered to be vulnerable any therefore any return to work must be supported by proper measures in place to ensure you can adequately social distance both in your place of work and on your journey to work. More information on current PHA guidance for extremely vulnerable people can be found at guidance extremely vulnerable people

As advised by the Chief Medical Officer, you must stay at home until it is possible for you to observe social distancing both at work and during travel to work. You may have concerns about this and it important that you talk to your line manager about your concerns and any arrangements that need to be in place to enable your return to work.

A large number of measures have already been taken to ensure the health and wellbeing of everyone currently in the workplace and it is important that you hear about these to ease your transition back to work. Your return to work should be in line with your departmental recovery plan and an individual risk assessment should be considered to support your return to the workplace.

You will have been in regular contact with your line manager since your period of shielding commenced and your manager will arrange for your next discussion to talk about the measures in place and to take account of any preparations that are required for you to return to the workplace in cases where you cannot work from home.

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. 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 at guidance extremely vulnerable people

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. More information is available here.

3. I am in the vulnerable group of people, over 70 or pregnant. NICS had advised me to stay at home and work from home where possible in line with the arrangements in place for extremely vulnerable people who were shielding. The shielding arrangements were paused from  31 July 2020. Does that mean I will have to return to work?

The position for all NICS staff remains that where you can work from home you should do so. If you have been self-isolating because you are in the vulnerable group, over 70 or pregnant and cannot work from home, it may be possible for you to commence an agreed, managed return to the workplace after 31 July 2020.

You are still considered to be at higher risk of severe illness if you contract COVID-19 and you need to be particularly careful to adhere to social distancing guidelines and other guidance to reduce your risk. More information on current PHA advice for vulnerable people can be found at Coronavirus (COVID-19) advice for vulnerable people. Before returning to work you may wish to discuss this with your GP.

You will have been in regular contact with your line manager since your period of self-isolation commenced and your manager will arrange for your next discussion to take account of any preparations that are required for you to return to the workplace in cases where you cannot work from home. Your return to work should be in line with your departmental recovery plan and an individual risk assessment should be considered to support your return to the workplace.

You may have concerns about returning to work and it important that you talk to your line manager about these and any arrangements that need to be in place to enable your return. A large number of measures have already been taken to ensure the health and wellbeing of everyone currently in the workplace and your manager will be in a position to discuss these with you to ease your transition back to work.

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

4. My member of staff is in the vulnerable group, over 70 or pregnant and had been self-isolating in line with the NICS policy for people in this group which mirrors that for staff who were 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 vulnerable category.

Where this is not possible, it is important to note that people within the vulnerable category are still at a higher risk from COVID-19. It is essential that they are particularly careful to adhere to social distancing guidelines and other guidance to reduce their risk. More information on current PHA advice for vulnerable people can be found at Coronavirus (COVID-19) advice for vulnerable people

You will have been in regular contact with your member of staff during their period of self-isolation. 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 their period of self-isolation 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. More information is available.

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/department 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. My child/children has/have returned to school and I am having difficulty balancing work with my childcare commitments. What should I do?

It is appreciated that schools may currently be operating differently from normal and that this may present issues with your childcare arrangements. However, you are responsible for making childcare arrangements for your child/children returning to school 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, eg 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.  Special consideration will be given if your child’s school has had an outbreak or suspected outbreak of Covid-19 which has led to full or partial closure of the school. 

5. My member of staff is having difficulty balancing work with their childcare commitments now that schools have returned. What should I do?

Schools may currently be operating differently and you should be aware that this may present difficulties for your member of staff. However, your member of staff is responsible for making arrangements for childcare when returning to school, 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 approved in exceptional circumstances.  

Full details of exceptional circumstances should be provided to you by your member of staff and should you need more information to properly consider the request you should ask for this. Applications should be given sympathetic consideration where the unexpected breakdown of caring arrangements is due to the COVID-19 pandemic and has prevented your member of staff from obtaining an alternative source of childcare. In those areas where the business normally requires a minimum % attendance of staff, there will be a need for additional flexibility.  Special consideration should be given in circumstances where an outbreak or suspected outbreak of Covid-19 has led to full or partial closure of the school attended by the member of staff’s child(ren).

 

 

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