Advice for Council staff

COVID-19 Protection Levels - Argyll and Bute is at Level 2

It is understandable you have a lot of questions at this time as a result of COVID 19.  We have created this page to answer as many of them as we can .

If your question is not covered in the FAQ list below then please contact the Employee Relations Advice Line on 01546 605513 option 2 or by email on HRemployeerelationsenquiries@argyll-bute.gov.uk

This is a constantly changing situation and we will be updating this frequently and adding more questions.  Please check back regularly.

Please choose from the subject headings below

WORKING ARRANGEMENTS

We are conscious our employees face renewed challenges just now with many Services responding to ongoing Covid related restrictions. We are conscious also that many will be seeking to balance their work and childcare responsibilities and that many will also need to support their children with school work over the next few weeks.

Based on our experience from earlier on in the pandemic we feel that the key to ensuring the balance between these competing demands is flexibility and communication. It is important for employee wellbeing and also for service continuity and delivery that employees and managers are seeking to put in place arrangements that allow for flexibility around how and when work can be completed.

We recognise that employees who do not have these same childcare commitments also need reassurance at this time that their workload will be managed and that their wellbeing will continue to be supported.

All of your support and flexibility over the coming weeks with this is essential to our ongoing COVID-19 efforts. The key messages to highlight in this communication are:

  • Argyll and Bute Council must ensure we are protecting our colleagues, our families and our young people, as well as doing our bit to stop the spread of COVID and keep our communities safe. 
  • The Scottish Government are clear that critical key worker places in school cannot include those who can work at home. 
  • We need to support those who have to care for their children at this time, which may require some adaptation in roles and responsibilities. 
  • If you can work at home, you must work at home – but your ability to work at home depends on the requirements of your role, access to equipment and connections and your personal situation including your health. 
  • Managers must lead on assessing each individual set of circumstances in their team and agreeing what arrangements are needed including any support.

 

Why is there such a focus on homeworking?

We recognise that this is a challenging time for everyone and while we have been in lockdown before, it is also a bit different this time for many reasons.  We’ve got a significantly higher prevalence in our communities, an increased transmission rate and we are in the winter period where illness and pressure on the system is always higher than it was in Spring and Summer. 

While there is a vaccine roll out underway, we need to act decisively to allow that programme the time to work.   The very clear message is that if you can work at home you must work at home.   

 

What is Argyll and Bute Council doing to support colleagues during lockdown?

We want to do all we can to support colleagues, by seeking to address and accommodate many different situations and circumstances, while also considering how services can continue to be provided for the communities who need them. 

 

What if I can’t work from home as I am a front line worker?

We know that many of our roles are client or front facing, delivering services or supporting our teams and buildings to remain operational and have to be done in person. Our focus in that case is on keeping you safe through good hygiene, physical distancing, masks and face coverings and erecting physical signage and barriers.

 

I’m a manager, what do I need to do to support my team?

For many colleagues, all or part of their role can be done remotely and many will already have been working from home. 

It may also be that some tasks which need to be done in a workplace are not regarded as high priority or can be assigned to someone that is in the office.

We are asking managers to review their teams and identify to what extent they are currently using home working, what barriers there are to this and what support and equipment is needed to promote this more widely.   

 

What if I can’t work at home for other reasons?

While working from home must be the priority for anyone who can do this, some people will require access to a workplace for work, personal or mental health reasons. This could be due to their specific role requirement, their home not being suitable for homeworking, not having robust digital connections or space to work.   Flexibility is going to be required and everyone will have to adjust what they do and how they do it and their expectations over this time.

If working from home is not an option for you, you must get your line manager’s approval to work from an office. You should also ensure that the site and premises manager for the building knows, to make sure that all Covid-safety requirements can be met.

 

Why can’t I have a key worker place at a school if I can work from home?

Our schools need to ensure that they provide care for the children of the most critical front line keyworkers whilst protecting pupils, staff and the communities.

Scottish Government are giving very clear messaging now that this does not and cannot include those who can work at home.  Only key workers who are physically attending their workplace or who cannot fulfil their critical functions when they are working remotely from home may qualify for places.

 

What should I do if I don’t have a school place for my children?

Every effort needs to be made for people to find alternative care arrangements including where a partner is not a keyworker.  You may be able to form a childcare support bubble with a family member or friend to share out the supervision responsibilities between you, to minimise the impact. The school is the last resort and only available for children of a limited number of front line key workers who cannot work at home.    

 

What if I don’t have any other childcare available to me?

Options could include working slightly different hours or adjusting what work is being done, to make it more possible to accommodate the demands of the situation. If you have a role that can’t be done at home, you should agree with your manager whether there is other work available that could be done remotely, whilst you are not able to work in your usual role.  

 

How can I work from home and look after my children?

This will depend on a range of factors, including the age and number of your children and the specifics of your role.  But if you are responsible for the care of a child whilst at home, we will support you to keep them safe and looked after.

Many employees and managers have already had discussions and put in place arrangements that allow for employees to complete their contractual hours in a way that allows them to also balance this with childcare and supporting school work.

For those in this position, you need to discuss your situation with your manager and agree how you will work over this time, what is expected, how you will keep in touch and any adjustments that can be made to your workload or responsibilities. 

 

I am a manager, what do I need to consider when looking at supporting employees who need flexibility at this time?

You should discuss with the member of staff their individual circumstances to agree a proposed work pattern.

Consideration should be given to: age of children, needs of children, whether there are other members of the household who can share in the caring responsibilities, the job role of partners, work pattern of partners, household situation, personal circumstances and the type and/or availability of work at the times the person is able to work.

It is expected that managers and staff will be as flexible as service delivery allows to ensure that contractual hours can be met where possible: considering alternative work patterns and amended duties. Employees may also wish to use annual leave during this time.

Do I have to work in the evening or at alternative times if my manager asks me to do so to make up towards my contractual hours?

You would be expected to be flexible around your work hours as you are receiving your normal pay, equally your manager needs to consider your personal circumstances to ensure you do not over commit yourself. You may also wish to use annual leave during this time.

 

I am a manager, how will my team deliver if colleagues can’t work in their normal roles or times or can’t work as much?

We have to accept that this means that many of our colleagues will be in the position of working at home or being at home and having to balance this with caring for children.  Appropriate adjustments need to be discussed and made to support this and as managers we need to take this into account.  

We must ensure we are protecting all our colleagues, and also take into account any potential impact of increased demand on employees who are not affected by childcare demands.

If shielding, childcare or other Covid-related demands affect a team’s ability to deliver its services, managers should raise this with their Heads of Service, so that any support available can be provided and so that any changes to services can be communicated to those affected.

ADVICE FOR PEOPLE AT HIGHER RISK

I was in the shielding category, what has changed?

The UK Government resumed shielding on 05 January 2021. The Chief Medical Officer has issued letters to everyone who meets the criteria for shielding. If you meet this criteria and have received a shielding letter you should contact your line manager and inform them as soon as possible. If you are able to work from home, you should discuss this with your manager and if you are already working from you, you should continue to do so.

You are also required to contact the HR Absence Line on 01546 605513 (Option 1) and inform them of your shielding where you will also be asked to produce a copy of your letter for our records.

Employees who are shielding and unable to work from home should follow UK Government guidance and stay at home. There will be no financial detriment to those shielding and unable to work from home.

What happens if Coronavirus cases increase?

Argyll and Bute Council will endeavour to keep up-to-date with the ever changing situation. If shielding is resumed, this will be reflected in our guidance.

 

What happens if I am unable to work from home but don’t feel comfortable returning to the workplace due to your health concerns?

If you are unable to work from home, your line manager will have an existing risk assessment within the workplace which still stands.  If you have further concerns please speak to your line manager.  You should also seek advice from your own doctor.  More information can be found in the Guidance for Manager – returning to Work - http://intranet.argyll-bute.gov.uk/news/latest-coronavirus-advice.

"I was previously shielding and I have been contacted to say I will receive a letter from the Chief Medical Officer.  How does this affect my attendance at work?"

You should review and follow the extra advice available to you at - https://www.mygov.scot/support-shielding/

Extra advice for those on the shielding list aligned to each of the protection levels has been previously developed and can be accessed here: extra-protection-level-advice-people-highest-risk-coronavirus.pdf (www.gov.scot).

The advice from the government is that the majority of workplaces can be made safe.  Any concerns should be discussed with your line manager who are responsible for making the workplace safe and putting protective measures in place. If it is not possible to make the workplace or duties safe, the CMOs letter can be used in the same way as a fit note (called a Shielding Notification) and you should give this to your line manager.  However, we are continuing to emphasise that the majority of workplaces can be made safe and advise only to use the CMO letter as fit note where workplace and duties cannot be made covid-safe, or, if it is not possible to travel to work in a covid-safe way (those on the shielding list are advised not to use public transport in level 4 areas).

Your line manager will have existing risk assessments for you within the workplace and a further referral to occupational health can be made if required.  You should also seek advice from your own doctor.  More information can be found in the Guidance for Manager – returning to Work - http://intranet.argyll-bute.gov.uk/news/latest-coronavirus-advice.

EMOTIONAL SUPPORT AND FINANCIAL ADVICE

We are all facing pressures due to the ever changing demands that are being placed upon us during the corona virus pandemic. 

Pressures can affect people’s health and wellbeing in many different ways and it is important to be able to access the resources available in order for you to be supported at this difficult time. 

Argyll and Bute Council has teamed up with Health Assured who are an independent, external organisation who provide the Employee Counselling Service. 

Health Assured can help you manage your emotional health providing support, guidance and information on dealing with anxiety, depression and stress.  Your physical health including any conditions relating to this and life support which provides guidance and help relating to any financial or legal worries you or your immediate family may have.

Health Assured have fully trained counsellors available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  If the service is accessed via the online link below, under the ‘contact us’ heading there is the option to use live chat where you can chat to the advisor without speaking in person.

This service is available to all employees, their spouses or partners and their dependents aged 16-24 if they are in full time education. You do not need to be at work to access this employee benefit.

You can access the service directly or by telephoning 0800 030 5182 or by downloading the app via Apple Store or Play Store for Android devices.   Once downloaded the username is argyll and the password is bute

It takes two minutes to download the app on to your smart device and it’s there for when you need it.

The Wellbeing Team are also available to provide assistance.

EXPENSES

Can I claim expenses while working from home due to the Coronavirus?

You may be able to claim tax relief for additional household costs if you have to work at home on a regular basis, either for all or part of the week. This includes if you have to work from home because of coronavirus (COVID-19).

You cannot claim tax relief if you choose to work from home.

Additional costs include things like heating, metered water bills, home contents insurance, business calls or a new broadband connection. They do not include costs that would stay the same whether you were working at home or in an office, such as mortgage interest, rent or council tax.

You may also be able to claim tax relief on equipment you’ve bought, such as a laptop, chair or mobile phone.

You can either claim tax relief on:

  • £6 a week from 6 April 2020 (for previous tax years the rate is £4 a week) - you will not need to keep evidence of your extra costs
  • the exact amount of extra costs you’ve incurred above the weekly amount - you’ll need evidence such as receipts, bills or contracts

You’ll get tax relief based on the rate at which you pay tax. For example, if you pay the 20% basic rate of tax and claim tax relief on £6 a week you would get £1.20 per week in tax relief (20% of £6).

Your tax code will be adjusted so you pay less tax over the year, as opposed to you getting a direct refund. 

You may also be able to claim for cleaning uniforms and professional registrations such as SSSC via Self-Assessment.  A simplified process has been set up via  a portal for claiming from working from home only.

To find out more information here -  https://www.gov.uk/tax-relief-for-employees and follow the check if you can claim link.

WORKING FROM HOME - ADMINISTRATIVE ARRANGEMENTS

 

Do I need to wear a face covering at work?

Following the First Minister's announcement on 07 October 2020, employees are required to wear a face covering in communal areas in the workplace. This includes corridors and canteen areas. Please ensure that if you are in a Council workplace you follow this guidance.

 

Will we need to carry out display screen self-assessments when we work from home?

Continue with temporary measures and staff should remember good practice e.g.  good posture, taking breaks etc. More information is available here.

GDPR - What are my responsibilities?

Employees who work from home should know that they are responsible for keeping all information associated with Argyll and Bute Council secure at all times.

This includes being under a duty to:

  • Maintain service user confidentiality
  • Carry out sensitive conversations in confidence.
  • Store confidential files (paper or electronic) securely and use agreed methods of encryption.
  • Comply with password policies for work computer / system / homeworking portals (etc.) and any other digital devices.
  • Employees should be aware of the councils’ policy on use of computers or other equipment for personal purposes or by family or household members.

 

Home Insurance - Is this affected while I am working from home?

Employees should check with their home and contents insurance providers that they have cover in order to be able to work from home.

 

Mortgage or Rental Agreements – Do I need permission to work from home?

Employees should check mortgage or rental agreements to ensure they are permitted to work from home and should obtain any permissions necessary in order to be able to work from home.

 

In-House Professional Advice and Support – What support is available to me?

Employees and their Managers should be aware of the range of in-house sources of professional advice and support that they can continue to access while working from home. Examples include,

Employee Assistance Programme

Health and Safety

Human Resources HRemployeerelationsenquiries@argyll-bute.gov.uk

Wellbeing Team wellbeing@argyll-bute.gov.uk

Occupational Health Services 

Recognised Trade Unions

ANNUAL LEAVE ARRANGEMENTS

"What happens to my leave if I am unable to work due to self isolation, social distancing, school closure or office shutdown for more than one month?"

Read the latest guidance on the treatment of Annual Leave during COVID-19

Council employees total annual leave entitlement will be dependent on their length of service (pro rata for part time employees). Annual leave is made up of Statutory and Contractual leave. In the event that an employee is unable to take all of their leave during this leave year due to COVID work related reasons then that affected employee will be entitled to carry forward up to 28 days leave (the statutory element of their leave) to be used before December 2022.

Employees will not normally be allowed to carry forward a balance of more than 28 days which means their contractual leave (the remaining balance) should be used during the leave year in agreement with their line manager.

In exceptional circumstances where an employee has been asked by their line manager not to take a period of leave due to service requirements linked to COVID 19 then a balance of more than 28 days may be approved and carried forward.

Leave Explanation

Years’ Service

Total Days leave Entitlement

Statutory element (can be carried forward for use by December 2022)

Contractual Element (to be taken during current leave year)

Up to 5 Years

32

28

4

5-10 Years

37

28

9

10 years and over

40

28

12

There is no requirement for employees to carry forward leave. Employees are encouraged to use their leave where appropriate during the year to allow downtime and maintain their wellbeing. Employees are entitled should they wish, to use their full leave entitlement during the current leave year. This table outlines the maximum that can be carried forward where employees have been prevented due to covid from taking their leave.

All public holidays and term time allocated holidays that occur over the period of being paid for not working at home will be deemed to have been taken over that period.

Carry forward of Annual Leave:

It may not have been possible for all staff to have taken their annual leave this year due to the demands of the Coronavirus pandemic.  We would still encouraging staff to take leave throughout the remainder of this year to ensure that they get the rest that they need.

The government has introduced a temporary law allowing employees to carry over up to 4 weeks of your statutory leave entitlement into their next 2 holiday leave years.  Most employees will not be in roles where the demands of the job will have prevented them from taking their planned leave.  It is therefore anticipated that there will not be a need for many staff to arrange to carry forward their annual leave unless operational requirements prevented them from taking their leave.

Employees should be encouraged to take their leave during this leave year and any carry forward of leave requires to be approved by Director.

Under the Conditions of Services the provision to carry forward leave for reasons not related to Coronavirus remains the same.  This is up to 3 days and must be approved by the Director.

"I am on annual leave, what happens to my leave if I am unable to work due to self isolation?"

All public holidays, booked leave and term time allocated holidays that occur over the period of service shutdown or not being able to work because of self-isolation  will be deemed to have been taken over that period.

What happens if I go on holiday and I need to quarantine on my return? (LGE Staff)

 If you book or have booked your holiday after 8 June 2020 and require to quarantine upon your return you will need to take additional leave to cover your period of quarantine should you be unable to work from home. You must discuss the arrangements with your line manager in advance.

 If you booked your holiday prior to 8 June 2020 and require to quarantine up on your return you will not need to take additional leave for your period of quarantine should you be unable to work from home. If you are able to work from home then you will be expected to do so.

QUARANTINE

What countries are on the exempt list from quarantine if returning from abroad?

The following link to the Scottish Government website contains all information relating to which countries require you to quarantine if returning from abroad: https://www.gov.scot/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-public-health-checks-at-borders/pages/exemptions/

Annual Leave and Quarantine:  Education

The Council intends to follow the letter of advice issued by SNCT on Quarantine Arrangements for Teachers and other associated professionals covered by SNCT agreements.  There are different arrangements for local government employees outlined below.

Teachers/Music Instructors:

Teachers and Music Instructors who have pre-booked holidays arranged prior to the announcement of quarantine arrangements (22nd May 2020) and who may be required to isolate after travelling abroad, should discuss this situation with their line manager as soon as possible and will be required to work from home, as per the arrangements set out in SNCT 20/76.

Teachers and Music Instructors who have booked or who book holidays after the announcement of quarantine arrangements and who may be required to isolate after travelling abroad, should discuss this situation with their line manager as soon as possible. Where possible arrangements should be made for working at home during the period of self-isolation. If this is not possible agreement on how the time could be paid back during the school year should take place.

Other Associated Professionals covered by the SNCT agreements:

Other Associated Professionals covered by the SNCT agreements, not working within schools, will be required to discuss annual leave or quarantine arrangements with their line manager, which may include working from home, annual leave or unpaid leave.

Leave for Compassionate Reasons:

Teachers and Associated Professionals who are required to travel abroad for compassionate reasons, e.g. bereavement or serious illness of a relative, should be treated the same as those who have pre-booked holidays arranged prior to the announcement of quarantine arrangements outlined in the paragraph numbered 1 above.

Local Government Employees:

The Council already established a position for Local Government Employees back in June which is as follows:

If you booked your holiday prior to 8 June 2020 and require to quarantine upon your return you will not need to take additional leave for your period of quarantine should you be unable to work from home. If you are able to work from home then you will be expected to do so. You must discuss the arrangements with your line manager in advance.

If you book or have booked your holiday after 8 June 2020 and require to quarantine upon your return you will need to take additional leave to cover your period of quarantine should you be unable to work from home. You must discuss the arrangements with your line manager in advance.

MATERNITY LEAVE

During the outbreak, pregnant workers were advised to follow strict social distancing rules to reduce the risk of illness from Coronavirus. Argyll and Bute Council as employers have a requirement to put in place measures to ensure the workplace is safe for new and expectant mothers.

 

I am pregnant, should I be in the workplace?

 

You should work from home where possible. If you are unable to work from home, your line manager should carry out a risk assessment within the workplace and a referral to occupational health should be made. You should also seek advice from your midwife.

 

What happens if I can’t be in the workplace?

 

If adjustments to your job, working from home or a suitable temporary redeployment cannot be put in the place, you would be suspended on paid leave in line with regulation 16(3) of the Management of Health and Safety and Work Regulations 1999.

 

What happens if I have a sickness absencethat is not Covid related?

 

If you are absent from work during pregnancy owing to sickness, if eligible you will receive normal statutory or occupational sick pay in the same manner as you would during any other sickness absence provided that you have not yet begun ordinary maternity leave. If, however, you are absent from work due to a pregnancy-related illness for any length of time after the beginning of the fourth week before your expected week of childbirth, your maternity leave will start automatically. If you are absent from work during this time due to sickness which is not pregnancy related, the Council may ask you to obtain written confirmation from your GP that the sickness is not pregnancy related. 

TRAINING

"How do I access online learning?"

All online courses continue to be available.  Employees should use this opportunity to complete relevant courses if you have the time to do so,

The Council’s online learning website is called LEON. This can be accessed via the Hub, Argyll and Bute Council’s website by searching for LEON or via the following link.

https://tracking.brightwave.co.uk/LNT/ArgyllAndBute/Login.aspx?ts=636621479996003541

This website can be accessed from any device with connection to the internet. If you have any issues with your user name and password you can contact the training centre on trainingcentre@argyll-bute.gov.uk or 01546 605513 option 3.

"Is all training cancelled?"

Face to face training will not be delivered at the present time.  Where possible we have found alternative training delivery solutions e.g. online delivery.  You will be advised whether any training that you have scheduled over the next few weeks is cancelled or is being delivered online.  If it is cancelled it will be rescheduled for a later date.  If it is being delivered online you will need access to your pc / laptop and Skype video. 

TESTING

Am I eligible for a COVID-19 test?

Only symptomatic employees and their families are eligible for testing with the exception of Education staff. If you require a test, please contact your line manager and the Absence Line on 01546 605513 (Option 1)

Can I share the fact that someone has tested positive with other employees?

You should keep staff informed about potential or confirmed COVID-19 cases amongst their colleagues. However, you should avoid naming individuals if possible, and you should not provide more information than is necessary. 

Will my temperature be checked before I am able to start work each day?

The detailed guidance issued by the Government states nothing about whether employers should be checking the temperatures of their staff before allowing them to enter or remain at their work premises. As the Council is following Government Guidance in our COVID-19 response, we will therefore not be asking employees to undertake temperature testing prior to starting work.

SELF-ISOLATION

What should I do if I have symptoms of COVID-19?

Anyone developing symptoms consistent with COVID-19 (new continuous cough or a high temperature or loss of/change in sense of smell or taste), however mild, should stay at home for 10 days from the start of symptoms and arrange to be tested. For information on how to access testing please go to https://www.argyll-bute.gov.uk/coronavirus/advice-council-staff#testing

You should call your line manager to advise them and make arrangements to work from home, carry out alternative work or report absent if you are too unwell to work. You should call the absence line on 01546 605513 (Option 1) to advise the Council of your situation.

What should I do if my symptoms are worsening?

Seek prompt medical attention if your illness is worsening (see NHS Inform for more information on when to get help). If it is not an emergency, contact NHS 24 (phone 111). If it is an emergency and you need to call an ambulance, dial 999 and inform the call handler or operator that you may have Coronavirus (COVID-19).

When should I self-isolate?

You should self-isolate if you:

  • have Coronavirus (COVID-19) symptoms or have tested positive for Coronavirus (whether you have symptoms or not). You should follow self-isolation guidance on NHS Inform and arrange to be tested. Workers should not return to work until symptoms go away, with the exception of cough and loss of/change in taste or smell, as these symptoms may persist for several weeks. Workers should only return to work when they are feeling clinically better, have completed their self-isolation period and have been fever-free for at least 48 hours without the aid of medication.
  • need to self-isolate because someone in your household has symptoms or has tested positive (whether they have symptoms or not). You should follow self-isolation and test and protect guidance on NHS Inform.
  • are told to self-isolate (stay at home) by the NHS test and trace service, because you’ve been in close contact with someone who's tested positive. You should follow self-isolation and Test and Protect guidance on NHS Inform. It is possible that people will have to self-isolate more than once – perhaps multiple times – if they are identified as a close contact of separate cases on several different occasions.
  • need to quarantine after a holiday or business travel from outside the Common Travel Area. For further information go to: https://www.gov.scot/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-public-health-checks-at-borders/

You should call your line manager to advise them and make arrangements to work from home, carry out alternative work or report absent if you are too unwell to work. You should call the absence line on 01546 605513 (Option 1) to advise the Council of your situation.

What do I do if my child is required to self-isolate and I need to stay at home to look after him/her?

 

If your child is not old enough to look after his/herself and has been contacted by test and protect and instructed to self-isolate, you should work from home if you can, if you can’t work from home you will still receive your pay.You should let your line manager know if you are unable to attend work, and you should call the HR Absence Line to advise if you are absent, or if you are working from home.

 

If you remove your child from school without being instructed to do so by test and protect,or them not experiencing any Covid related symptoms you will have to make the appropriate childcare arrangements and this will be unpaid, annual leave or flexi.

 

What do I do if a member of my family is contacted by test and protect?

 

Please follow the link for guidance on test and protect  https://www.gov.scot/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-test-and-protect/pages/make-a-plan-for-your-household-or-family/