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Covid-19: Common employment questions

Pay

NHS Employers and the Trade Union Staff Council have been working on comprehensive advice and guidance relating to pay and other related terms and conditions issues. This guidance will hopefully be available by the week beginning 23 March. This should make sure that employers actions are fair, reasonable and consistent across the UK.

If, in the meantime, you have questions about pay issues, please set them out concisely in an email and the SoR team will try to respond specifically.

The key principles are:

  • People should be paid the contractual rates for all the work they do at the times they do it.
  • All work, even if it is at a lower grade than you’re normally be paid, should be paid at your normal contractual rate.
  • People who are absent because they think they have contracted Covid-19 should follow the same national government guidance as staff who do not work in health. They should be paid in line with their contractual sick-pay arrangements or, if these do not provide for paid sick leave, in line with the government’s emergency regulations and systems for accessing Statutory Sick Pay.
  • People who have to self-isolate, should also not lose pay. The SoR are arguing that this should be extended to staff having to take time off to look after dependents, but detailed guidance on this will be available shortly.
  • All relevant Health and Safety legislation and regulations, such as the Working Time Regulations, continue to apply.

If I need to self-isolate for up to 14 days, do I need a doctor’s certificate?

Sir Simon Stevens’ letter to NHS employers, dated 17 March, set out plans to widen options for self-isolation for NHS staff, aimed at minimising their risk of catching the virus. Precisely how some of these proposals may work are expected in the coming days, so please look out for these and check this page for updates.

Broadly speaking, the same rules and advice applies to health staff and Society members as other workers.

Where SoR members are required to follow national public health guidelines to self-isolate but are not displaying any symptoms of Covid-19, they should not be penalised and should continue to receive full pay. Additionally, such absences should not be used in regards to the triggering of formal sickness absence procedures.

What should I do if my health puts me in an 'at risk' group?

NHS Employers have guidance for staff with co-morbidity, who are 'at risk', or at 'higher risk'. 

Some members of my team have beards which can impact upon their ability to wear some types of PPE to protect themselves and others. What is the SoR advice to members?

There are some protections under the Equality Act 2010 that protect people’s rights to have beards. However, as stated in HR Expert:

Although the Equality Act 2010 prohibits discrimination because of the protected characteristic of sex, para.2 of sch.22 to the Act in effect provides that any action taken to comply with health and safety legislation that concerns the protection of women in relation to pregnancy or maternity, or any other circumstances that give rise to risks that specifically affect women, will not amount to unlawful discrimination. Similarly, para.1 of sch.22 to the Equality Act 2010 in effect provides that any action taken to comply with health and safety legislation will not amount to discrimination because of the following protected characteristics: age, disability, religion or belief, sex or sexual orientation.

In effect, health and safety trumps the Equality Act 2010. In these unprecedented times, radiographers, more than ever, have a duty to ensure the safety of their patients and also of themselves so that they are able to minimise the risk of them having to go off sick. Therefore, they should comply with reasonable requests from their employer.

The Department for Health and NHS have guidelines (see page 42) that show how it is possible to wear some facial hair and standard safety masks and all staff will be expected to comply with this. Where staff choose to grow beards for fashion or self-expression reasons, they will be expected to co-operate with reasonable requests to stay within these guidelines, or remove their beard. Reasonable risk assessments can be carried out to ensure this is reasonable. If there are reasonable alternative masks, ie available and not considerably more expensive, then they should be issued instead.

This also applies to staff who grow beards for religious reasons, although the employer might justify extra expense on these grounds.

The PPE we usually use is being changed. Can I be made to work with PPE that provides less protection? 

New or different PPE could be used as long as it is still safe. Usual PPE standards apply and risk assessments should be carried out on any changes to normal practice. The test will be if the equipment is reasonable and safe to use with patients in the circumstances.

Members with specific concerns should raise these first with their line manager and, if this doesn’t resolve the issue, contact the SoR team for specific advice and support.

What happens if we don’t have enough PPE to go around? Where can we direct managers to get more PPE?

There was clear advice on this in Sir Simon Stevens’ letter dated 17 March. It states there is no shortage of PPE nationally but it is possible that the stock isn’t in the right places. No one should be treating anyone suspected of having Covid-19 without a mask. They are to direct their managers to the advice in Stevens’ letter and ask them to contact NHSBSA.

I’m told I could be asked to do something I’m not trained to do or not confident to do, as I haven’t done this for a long time. What’s the SoR’s advice? 

The SoR understands that it can be very daunting for members who haven’t worked in a particular area for many years to be asked to do something different or new, especially at a time of high stress.

Everyone who is doing a particular aspect of radiography/radiotherapy must be competent and confident in that area of work, just as normal. The employer does have the right to ask you to work in another area but they must ensure that you are competent and confident to carry out that work to the required standard. The employer must provide adequate re-training and supervision and the area must be within the Scope of Practise of a radiographer.

You should also be paid at your substantive grade if the pay for this work is lower than your normal work.

As employees, members must carry out reasonable instructions given to them by management and raise any concerns they have about their ability to do the new duties (including health concerns) with their manager in the first instance. If this doesn’t resolve the issue you can ask for specific advice and support from the SoR.

I’m being asked to 'volunteer' for extra work. What should I consider?

You cannot reasonably ask to do any work that you are not trained or professionally competent to do. In many ways, these kind of extreme circumstances are when the professional standards and regulations are most important: in protecting people by allowing you to reasonably say 'no' to being asked to do something you are not trained in or capable of doing.
If you feel that doing work in a different area isn’t safe for you or patients, then you are protected and can reasonably say 'no'. You cannot be press ganged into 'volunteering'.

That said, others will be confident about helping, especially if reasonably trained. NHS Employers have said they are developing guidance and support to protect staff worried about being challenged for mistakes when doing work that they wouldn’t normally do, which will offer further protection. However, none of your normal professional duties or responsibilities are suspended.

If you have concerns about the safety of any practice, raise these with your manager, making a note of when you have done so and if this doesn’t resolve the risk, you can continue to use existing protocols,  such as referrals to your Freedom to Speak-Up Guardians. You can also raise specific worries and concerns of this type to the SoR team.

I’m pregnant. What is the SoR advice about working?

There is comprehensive national advice on supporting and protecting pregnant staff due in the coming days. However, for now the evidence suggests pregnant women are at no more or less risk than others from Covid-19 until the 3rd Trimester, when treatment can be more difficult. Look out for further more comprehensive advice shortly.

The PHE advice is that I self-isolate, but I’m well. I feel I’m needed at work. What should I do?

It is important that if you fit the criteria for self-isolation you take every reasonable effort to do so. The employer should support you in this. The SoR will support you. We appreciate that as dedicated professionals in a crisis, members will have an urge to do all they can to help but the best medical advice says that ignoring the advice regarding self-isolation increases the risk to patients, colleagues and yourself and will contribute to the crisis lasting longer.

I retired two years ago and have been asked if I can help out? What employment and indemnity advice does the SoR have?

Sir Simon Stevens’ letter to NHS Chief Executives on 17 March mentioned this possibility. Only those who have retired in the last three years should be contacted and there is absolutely no compulsion to agree. Before doing anything, you would need to receive updated advice and training, which the national employers say is recognised and will be provided.
The SoR would also expect that all re-registration fees are met in full by the employer.

After this, pay rates will be guided by the national terms being negotiated currently between the employers and the National Trade Union Staff Council.

The employers have also indicated that such volunteers may be directed to different areas of work from those where they were previously registered. If one starts to work in this capacity, you are guided towards the other advice here regarding being asked to do work in new and different areas.

I’ve been told I have to work a different shift. Can my employer make me do this?

It is likely that the demands on the service will change, possibly at short notice. As healthcare professionals, it is reasonable to be expected to be flexible to accommodate such changes. We do not feel it would be appropriate to insist on the normal full consultation if the above measures are taken at this time.

However, the employer must ensure work patterns and demands are safe, reasonable and achievable, with adequate rest provided. Additionally, all individuals must remain within their scope of practice.

We would expect the employer to be mindful to the individual needs of members, such as those with caring responsibilities, when allocating shifts and for any such change to be temporary in nature covering only this current period of uncertainty. The process of risk assessment must always be performed to ensure that such changes are safe and that the hours of work are compliant with Working Time Regulations.

How can I say 'no' if asked to do something I really don’t feel comfortable or trained to do? How do I raise concerns related to what I consider to be serious risks and unprofessional conduct, especially if the usual channels through line management are breaking down and/or part of the issue?

In times of crisis members could be called upon, under pressure, to do things they wouldn’t normally do. Some will want to do so and others will be more cautious. It is important to remember the following:

It is more acceptable to ask someone to work outside their specialism in a supporting capacity and as part of a team where the clear line of responsibility sits with the appropriately qualified professional lead and you are acting very clearly under their direction as a support worker.

Members will want to emphasise to managers or employer leads the very significant professional differences between therapeutic and diagnostic radiography: these are not interchangeable.

As with the SoR’s general advice on volunteering to do different roles, you cannot reasonably be asked to do any work that you are not trained or professionally competent to do. In many ways, these kind of extreme circumstances are when the professional standards and regulations are most important: protecting people by allowing you to reasonably say 'n'o to being asked to do something you are not trained in, or capable of doing. If you feel that doing work in a different area isn’t safe for you or patients, then you are protected and can reasonably say 'no'.

In particular, if you are aware of actions that you think are seriously unprofessional and/or put you, colleagues and or patients at risk, then usual reporting channels are still in place and you’d be expected to make use of them. This would be reporting through the line management chain initially, or higher if the manager is the 'issue'; making use of the Freedom To Speak Up Guardians (Whistleblower contacts in Scotland); and contacting the SoR to support and advise you specifically, either via your local SoR representatives or the SoR TUIR team.

I am classed as a critical worker. My partner works full time but is not classed as a critical worker. Are we still entitled to send our child to school?

The government has released guidance that can be viewed here.

Critical workers include NHS staff, police, farmers and food retail workers, who need to be able to go out to work.

Children with at least one parent or carer who are identified as critical workers by the government can send their children to school if required.

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