What the withdrawal of the COVID workforce guidance means for you
It is disappointing but not surprising that the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has decided that now is the time to withdraw its COVID-19 workforce guidance in England. This will see a return to normal contractual arrangements.
The guidance was withdrawn on 7 July. That means that the following will no longer be available:
- Access to full COVID-19 sick pay for new episodes of COVID-19 sickness; and
- Access to COVID-19 special leave for the purposes of self-isolation.
We have. of course, warned the DHSC of the implications of this with infection rates on the rise again, but they have chosen to reject this and pressed ahead with the change. Now our focus is supporting our members through this decision.
There are two distinct areas that the DHSC guidance covered. I will start with an update on self-isolation. This is absolutely key to managing infection control. The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) guidance for all healthcare staff should be followed. If required to stay away from work following a positive COVID test you should receive full pay as if at work whether you can work from home or not. This is known as authorised absence, not sickness absence.
For those already off work with COVID-19 when the guidance was withdrawn on 7 July, there will be a period of transition to contractual arrangements where you will continue to receive COVID-19 sick pay. Between 7 July and 3 August your employer should arrange to meet with you to help understand what the changes mean and the support that is available. Support might include occupational health referrals, reasonable adjustments or flexible working. Your RCM representative will always be there to support you. There will then be a four-week formal notice period and on 1 September you will revert to normal contractual terms and conditions, unless you have already returned to work by then. It’s important to remember that all COVID-19 sickness under the DHSC guidance will not have counted towards sickness absence in relation to pay and/or triggers. Those still off sick on 1 September will effectively be on day one of a new episode of sickness under Agenda for Change terms and conditions for the purposes of pay and/or triggers.
The NHS Staff Council has produced guidance on the practical management of all of this which includes FAQs and scenarios which you can access here. There is also Staff Council guidance on the management of long term COVID absence which you can find here.
The Scottish Government has also withdrawn its COVID-19 terms and conditions guidance, further detail can be found here.
The NHS in Wales has also published information on the transition from enhanced provisions to regular sickness absence arrangements which you can find here.
With all this going on, it is important to remember the legal duty that your employer has to your health and safety – COVID-19 or not!
Employers are under a duty to ensure 'so far as is reasonably practicable' the health, safety and welfare at work of all their employees. This includes providing a safe system of work and the provision of information and training and supervision as is necessary to ensure the health and safety at work of employees.
Risk assessment is absolutely key to this and employers are required to carry them out this includes identifying the risks to health and safety and taking reasonable steps to eliminate or reduce that risk.
Working in partnership with trade unions on health and safety issues including working together to ensure risk assessments are up to date and developing policies is really important and benefits everyone!