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DWP briefing
 

Department for Work & Pensions Group

To: Branch Secretaries, Additional Branch Contact, Regional Secretaries and GEC
10 March 2020
DWP/BB/020/20                       

Coronavirus: Attendance Management and Sick Pay

Notifiable Communicable Disease
The GOV.UK website was updated on 9/3/20 to include COVID-19 as a Notifiable Communicable Disease. At 6.15pm on 5 March 2020, a statutory instrument was made into law that adds COVID-19 to the list of notifiable diseases and SARS-COV-2 to the list of notifiable causative agents. This change was made by adding them to the Health Protection (Notification) Regulations 2010. Following consultation with PCS, the DWP guidance for Coronavirus and Attendance Management has been updated.

Attendance Management and Coronavirus (COVID-19)

DWP HR Policy guidance for Attendance Management and Coronavirus now states:

The normal Attendance Management procedures apply. Under these, warnings must not be given for absences caused by Notifiable Communicable Diseases. As the government passed a law to add coronavirus (COVID-19) to the list of Notifiable Communicable Diseases, it follows that under Attendance Management procedure 30(i) improvement warnings must not be given for absences attributed to coronavirus (COVID-19).

Absences should be attributed to coronavirus (COVID-19) if the employee has been diagnosed with the virus or the employee has not been diagnosed but is ill with flu-like symptoms and reasonably believes they may have come into contact with the virus. This could be, for example, because they have returned from an affected area abroad or may have been exposed to coronavirus in the UK (e.g. an infected or potentially affected housemate). Sickness absence attributed to coronavirus (COVID-19) must be clerically reported to SSCL Ltd. (see above) and not put on SOP.

Sick Pay and Coronavirus (COVID -19)

DWP HR Policy guidance for Sick Pay and Coronavirus confirms that: Coronavirus absences will be excluded from any calculation of contractual sick pay. This means thatthe normal contractual limits for sick pay will not apply for these cases.
DWP HR Policy Guidance for Coronavirus is available on the DWP Intranet for further information.

David Burke                                                                                                                                  
Group Assistant Secretary


Coronavirus HR policy guidance

Thursday, 12 March, 2020 - 13:04
This guidance summarises how existing HR policies should be used by managers in various scenarios of the coronavirus. It mainly applies in three situations:

when employees are diagnosed as ill due to the coronavirus or reasonably believe they might be because they came into close contact with the virus

when employees are not ill but have been asked by the NHS to quarantine themselves, e.g. due to their travel overseas to a quarantined area or contact with someone who has been diagnosed as ill due to the coronavirus

when employees need time off to cope with a crisis or care for someone and the situation links to the coronavirus

Advice on the contents of this note is available (via Employee Services) from Civil Service HR Casework on 0345 241 5352.
Internal HR policy advice will always reflect the latest health advice from the NHS (link is external) and UK health authorities.

Sickness absence and pay
Employees who are unfit for work and diagnosed with coronavirus (or believe they might be infected due to their close contact or possible contact with the virus) should follow the guidance from NHS (link is external), Public Health England and Health and Safety Executive (link is external) on GOV.UK. Ordinary day 1 sickness call and telephone keep in touch arrangements apply. 
Key things you need to know if employees are ill:

Medical Evidence – under normal rules, employees can self-certify their sickness absence for the first seven calendar days before needing to obtain a GP ‘Fit Note’. To reduce the spread of infection and lighten GPs’ workload, employees with flu-like symptoms are advised to focus on recovering rather than worrying about GP certification to confirm their absence from work. Line managers should not ask for a GP Fit Note for cases of suspected Coronavirus but once the employee is back at work should instead accept an extended self-certificate for the whole period of the absence. 

Classifying the sickness – treat sickness absence as caused by coronavirus if the employee has been tested and it has been diagnosed as coronavirus or an employee with flu-like symptoms reasonably believes they may have come into contact with the virus. This could be because, for example, they have returned from an affected area abroad or may have been exposed to coronavirus in the UK (e.g. an infected or potentially affected housemate). If the employee has not been diagnosed or does not have good reason to believe they may be infected due to close contact with the virus, the illness should be treated as ordinary flu.

Sick pay – sickness absences that meet the above definition will be excluded from any calculation of contractual sick pay. In effect this means that employees will not tip into the half- and nil-pay categories specifically as a result of flu-related sickness absence caused by coronavirus. 

Recording the absence – absences that meet the above definition to be treated as caused by, or potentially caused by, coronavirus must not be recorded on SOP. If they are recorded on SOP, sick pay limits will automatically apply and we do not want that. Instead they should be reported to Shared Services (SSCL Ltd.) clerically by following the instructions in the box below. Ordinary flu or flu-like sickness should be recorded on SOP as ordinary sickness absence.

What if sickness absence is wrongly recorded - If sickness absence recorded on SOP as ordinary flu is subsequently diagnosed to be caused by coronavirus, a SOP service request should be made requesting a re-categorisation as in this box:

Note: please do not record sickness absence due, or potentially due, to coronavirus on SOP. If you do, it will wrongly be treated as normal contractual sick pay and normal sick pay limits will wrongly apply. Instead, email the Appendix 1 form to Shared Services (SSCL) to ask them to open the employee’s sickness absence on a special central coronavirus record. Be sure to inform SSCL that it is sickness leave due to the employee’s illness. You will need to tell SSCL via the same email address when the absence ends. This absence will be held centrally and will not appear in the employee’s SOP sickness record.

Attendance Management
The normal Attendance Management procedures apply. Under these, warnings must not be given for absences caused by Notifiable Communicable Diseases. As the government passed a law to add coronavirus (COVID-19) to the list of Notifiable Communicable Diseases (link is external), it follows that under Attendance Management procedure 30(i) improvement warnings must not be given for absences attributed to coronavirus (COVID-19).
Absences should be attributed to coronavirus (COVID-19) if the employee has been diagnosed with the virus or the employee has not been diagnosed but is ill with flu-like symptoms and reasonably believes they may have come into contact with the virus. This could be, for example, because they have returned from an affected area abroad or may have been exposed to coronavirus in the UK (e.g. an infected or potentially affected housemate). Sickness absence attributed to coronavirus (COVID-19) must be clerically reported to SSCL Ltd. (see above) and not put on SOP.

Special leave
Where the employee is not sick but unable to attend work due to the coronavirus, managers should try to be flexible and allow home working, where this is possible. Otherwise they should consider the use of paid special leave. Each case should be treated sensitively and on its merits. The majority of special leave applications from employees who are not sick will relate to care for a dependent who is or may be ill with coronavirus or a breakdown in childcare arrangements, which fall under the special leave categories of Compassionate Leave, Domestic Emergency Leave or Bereavement Leave. Exceptionally, some employees may be asked by the NHS to quarantine themselves as a precaution and this would be ordinary paid special leave. Consult the Special Leave procedures.

Note: please do not record the employee’s special leave on SOP. Instead, email the Appendix 2 form to Shared Services (SSCL) to open the employee’s special leave on a dedicated coronavirus record. Make sure to inform SSCL whether time off was granted because the employee was quarantined or for any other reason linked to coronavirus, for example a domestic crisis. You will need to tell SSCL via the same email address when the absence ends. This absence will be held centrally and will not appear in the employee’s SOP leave record.

Quarantining
It is envisaged that employees who are not ill will stay at home under quarantine (e.g. for a two-week virus incubation period) only if specifically advised to do so by the NHS in certain scenarios. This could be either by complying with the terms of published NHS guidance (link is external) (link is external) or following a direct request from NHS 111 or a GP. Where our preferred home working to cover some or all of the quarantine period is impossible, the absence should be treated as paid special leave and registered by following the boxed out instructions above.
Managers have discretion to allow home working, where that is possible, or necessary amounts of paid special leave if other situations arise, such as when an employee has been in close contact with someone waiting for test results to determine whether they are infected. Such voluntary self-quarantining is expected to be exceptional.

Unauthorised absence
The manager should follow normal ‘unauthorised absence’ activity and consider contacting any individual who does not turn up for work or make contact by whatever means thought appropriate. This might include a home visit to vulnerable employees. In extreme cases the emergency services might be alerted.

Homeworking
Managers may approve homeworking where this is possible and appropriate, if this enables employees who are not ill to continue working. This may be particularly relevant if sick relatives are being cared for at home. Homeworking may not be feasible for all employees, as certain jobs may not lend themselves to it. If homeworking is authorised, managers must (through conversation with the employee) be satisfied that health and safety requirements in the home are met and agree keep-in-touch arrangements.

Annual leave and flexi leave
Managers who grant annual or flexi leave must inform the employee that it is conditional on the business being able to support the absence at the time. They can require employees to cancel or postpone annual leave or flexi leave if it is necessary to deliver business but only if it is necessary and the only viable option, and HR advice (via 0345 241 5342) has been taken. They may also agree to employees carrying over or being paid for leave they were unable to take by the end of their leave year. Very exceptionally managers can also recall employees to duty who are currently absent on annual leave. If this is done, the business must consider any claims for expenses of any costs incurred as a result of the recall.

Recruitment
Vacancy holders should consult their HR recruitment account manager to discuss suspending recruitment.

Detached duty
Managers may consider terminating or suspend detached duty, secondments out and loans out if the employee is required to attend their main office to help deliver business. The importing organisation should be consulted in advance. Managers can also require employees to go on detached duty to support business delivery at another office provided the journey required comes within the scope of the normal mobility rules.

Expenses for additional dependent care
In certain circumstances DWP can reimburse the necessary cost of additional care for children or dependent adults when coronavirus causes normal arrangements to break down. Normally, home working or paid special leave will apply but reimbursement of caring costs could be considered if:

the employee is responsible for a child or dependent adult who receives care while the employee is at work; and

the caring arrangements have broken down for reasons related to coronavirus (e.g. school closure, carer ill with suspected coronavirus) and the only possible alternative caring arrangements that can be made will incur additional costs; and

working from home has been considered and is not viable for any part or all of the period; and

paid special leave would be applicable but the business needs (note, it must be necessary) the employee to work and the employee is agreeable – this might be to work to cover an important event to avoid cancelling it, or on a specific task or on an ongoing basis.

Line managers can authorise any reasonable and unavoidable cost of employing:

a local authority registered child minder; or

a nanny; or

the services of a day care nursery; or

the services of a scheme run by a school or local authority on school premises;

professional services to care for an elderly or infirm relative;

non-professional carers, i.e. family and friends. (NB: this does not include spouses or partners)

Once a line manager has authorised reimbursement, the employee should use the Family Care template on SOP iExpenses. Select the appropriate expense type based on the person for whom care is provided. This must be done within one month of the cost being incurred.

Maternity leave
In the event of surgeries or clinics being inundated with callers, employees may not be able to obtain a certificate of expected confinement. Employees should therefore be asked for an application for maternity leave with the expected date of confinement being accepted.

Where to get advice
On DWP’s HR policies, you can get advice from CSHR Casework (via Employee Services) on 0345 241 5352.
On coronavirus specifically, you can get advice from daily updated guidance from the NHS (link is external) (link is external) and GOV.UK (link is external) (link is external).

Also see:

Coronavirus: latest information and advice (link is external) (link is external): from Department of Health and Social Care and Public Health England (updated daily)

NHS guidance on coronavirus (link is external) (link is external)

Pandemic flu - workplace guidance (link is external) (link is external): from Health and Safest Executive

Contingency planning for a possible flu pandemic (link is external) (link is external): the Cabinet Office issued this guidance as part of their role in supporting the Department of Health and Social Care, as lead department, in preparing and planning for a possible flu pandemic.