Flu pandemic: principles, procedures and guidance

As part of business continuity planning for a possible flu pandemic, the following principles, procedures and guidance have been developed for College Deans and Heads of Services. The key objective of the University will be to ensure the continuation of essential functions and the University will seek the cooperation of staff in the achievement of these aims.

The measures summarised below will be invoked by the senior management of the University as part of its normal crisis-management decision-making. College Deans and Heads of Services will be notified when they should be applied. Further advice may be issued by the University in the event of a developing pandemic as and when the advice received from health agencies changes.

Specific queries should be directed to the HR Business Partner for your College/Service.

In this guidance:

Attendance

Staff should attend work normally unless they have flu-like symptoms in which case they should call their GP (or NHS Direct - telephone 0845 4647) and report to their manager that they will be absent. This will be recorded as sickness absence by the University and the University's normal arrangements on the reporting and recording of sickness absence will apply, ie they should contact their manager at the University at the earliest opportunity to notify him/her that they have been advised not to attend work.

Employees who are well who are pregnant or have other medical conditions may also be concerned that they may contract the virus by attending work at the University. Employees who have such concerns are encouraged to seek the advice of the University’s Occupational Health Service.

Employees who are well but who live with dependants who are pregnant or elderly or have other medical conditions may be concerned that they may contract the virus by attending work at the University. The current health advice is that staff who do not have any symptoms of flu should attend work normally since any outbreak will not be isolated to the University - rather it will be an outbreak within the wider community. If employees continue to be concerned, they may ask to take annual leave, subject to operational requirements. Compassionate leave will not be granted in such circumstances. Employees who have such concerns should discuss these with their line manager at the earliest opportunity; line managers can seek the advice of the University’s Occupational Health Service. Unauthorised absence will result in a deduction of pay and may lead to disciplinary action.

However, in the case of an employee who is well but has to care for a dependant who is ill or has been confirmed as having swine flu or where the employee's normal care arrangements for their dependant(s) are not available due to swine flu (for example their carer is unwell or their child's nursery or school is closed), the University’s arrangements for Compassionate Leave will apply, together with the University's Policy on Emergency Leave.

  • Conditions of Employment: Compassionate and Emergency Leave:

The University recognises that compassionate leave arrangements need to be flexible to meet individual circumstances. For example, some staff may need to travel long distances or the period of time they need to be away from work may not be immediately clear. In addition, the University needs to meet its statutory obligation to allow staff to take reasonable (unpaid) time off to deal with sudden emergencies involving a dependant (and to make any necessary longer term arrangements). The University’s approach towards compassionate and emergency leave recognises the importance of this flexibility. The basic provision is a period of up to two days paid leave (depending on location and circumstances) in the event of the death or serious illness of a close relative, which may only be taken following consultation with senior management. The University’s policy on ‘Emergency Leave – Time off for Dependants’ (available from the Human Resources website by following the link for ‘Parents and Carers’) provides for an extension of compassionate leave by the use of annual leave or unpaid leave or additional paid compassionate leave in certain emergency situations, by agreement with senior management and (to ensure consistency) Human Resources.

The purpose of Emergency Leave is to enable alternative arrangements to be made. The amount of time off work should be reasonable in the particular circumstances of the emergency. It should be sufficient to deal with the immediate problem and to arrange alternative longer-term, care if necessary. It is anticipated that in most cases, the member of staff will return to work on the next working day; at most no more than two days will normally be needed. If a longer period of absence is necessary this must be taken as unpaid leave or annual leave, by agreement with the employee's manager. Emergency Leave is usually taken as unpaid leave or, by agreement with the employee's manager, it can be taken as paid annual leave or the lost time can be made up.

A flu pandemic may lead to disruptions to public transport such that some employees may experience difficulties in travelling to work. While the pandemic continues, managers will be expected to respond sympathetically to such circumstances. In units where flexible working hours arrangements are in operation, it may be possible to accommodate this within the normal parameters of the scheme so that staff can make up any lost time when the crisis management arrangements have been stood down. However, it may also be necessary to suspend the normal requirements on start/finish times and core hours. Alternatively, homeworking may be appropriate (see below). Where lost time cannot be accommodated within flexible working hours arrangements or otherwise made up after the crisis management arrangements have been stood down and staff are unable to work at home, this time must be taken as annual leave or (exceptionally) unpaid leave.

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Flexibility

To ensure the continuation of activities which have been identified as essential for business continuity purposes, it is likely that the University will re-deploy staff on a temporary basis from non-critical services to critical services which are short-staffed as a consequence of the pandemic.

While the Conditions of Employment provide that ‘Staff… may be redeployed after due consultation to other duties within their competence elsewhere in the University, if such a reallocation is in the interests of the University’ (paragraph 2(b)), rather than invoke this provision the University will rely upon the cooperation of staff in the implementation of business continuity plans. It is accepted that some staff might have good reasons why the proposed redeployment is not appropriate to them and managers should respond to such concerns in way which does not undermine the goodwill and cooperation which will be necessary to ensure the continuation of essential business.

Managers will be responsible for:

  • communicating with staff about the need to temporarily transfer them to other duties and winning their cooperation;
  • ensuring that the minimum training required for health and safety purposes is provided before the alternative duties are commenced.

It is likely that some staff will be asked to work additional hours in the event of a pandemic, for example to cover the role of absent colleagues. The University will rely upon the cooperation of staff to work additional hours on a temporary basis during the crisis and managers will be responsible for communicating the University’s requirements and responding appropriately to any concerns raised by staff who may find this difficult.

In units where flexible working hours arrangements are in operation, it may be possible to absorb any additional hours worked within the normal parameters of the scheme. Where this is not possible, or where flexible working hours arrangements do not apply, the following arrangements will operate.

For staff in grades A to D, the Conditions of Employment (paragraph 6(h)) provide for:

Staff in grades A to D will be compensated for overtime work (including overtime worked on Saturdays, Sundays, Bank Holidays and Closure Days), which is approved in advance by the appropriate manager, by the equivalent period of time-off-in-lieu (to be taken by agreement of management) or, where time-off-in-lieu cannot be granted, by payment at:

  • plain time for hours worked up to 36.5 in that week
  • time-and-a-half rate for hours worked over 36.5 in that week.

Although the normal expectation would be for additional hours to be compensated by time-off-in-lieu unless otherwise agreed in advance, decisions on whether overtime will be compensated by time-off-in-lieu or by payment will be made after the crisis management arrangements have been stood down, once senior managers have been able to assess the full operational and financial impact of the pandemic to the University.

For other staff, the University’s normal expectations regarding working additional hours will apply. The Conditions of Employment also state that there is no entitlement for overtime pay for staff in grades E and above and that ‘Staff in grades E and above may be required to work additional hours to fulfil the requirements of their role without the expectation of time-off-in-lieu or additional payment’ (Appendix A).

However, for staff working in units where flexible working hours arrangements are in operation, the ‘exceptional circumstances’ provisions (ie ‘where operational requirements have demanded significant unplanned or unforeseen additional working’) will apply. This means that employees accumulate and carry forward additional ‘credit’ hours and may be allowed to take one ‘flexi day’ with the permission of their College Dean/Head of Service, after the crisis management arrangements have been stood down.

Where employees are redeployed to other activities on a temporary basis, it may be necessary for to ask them to start earlier or later than they would normally and in some cases weekend working may be necessary. The expectation would be as outlined above, that this is compensated by time-off-in-lieu arrangements.

Employees may also be encouraged to vary their start and finish times to minimise the amount of time which staff are accumulated together in offices, thereby minimising the risk of the virus being passed on.

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Homeworking

As part of its business continuity plans, some staff will be permitted to work at home (where this is appropriate to their role) for a limited period, while the contingency arrangements are necessary. This will not be appropriate or necessary for all staff and College Deans and Heads of Services will be responsible for notifying staff whether homeworking is appropriate and when it should start and finish. As part of the implementation of the business continuity plan, Heads will be notified when homeworking arrangements can be implemented.

Other staff may request that they work at home to take account of travel-to-work difficulties or other personal circumstances. College Deans and Heads of Services may delegate authority to managers to give permission to individual members of staff to work at home provided where they are satisfied that the employee can undertake their normal role effectively in a work environment.

Any homeworking arrangements which are agreed for business continuity arrangements in response to a flu pandemic are time limited. They should be reviewed by managers at weekly intervals and should not continue for an extended period. Permission to work at home can be withdrawn at any time (ie managers can instruct staff that they are required to work at the University the following day).

The University has issued guidelines on temporary homeworking for business continuity purposes which detail:

  • how to access University systems securely from home;
  • other data protection, confidentiality and security standards;
  • health and safety guidance on temporary homeworking;
  • working time and accessibility.

Before approving homeworking arrangements, managers should:

  • be satisfied that the employee can undertake all or a significant part of their normal day-to-day role at home;
  • discuss and agree the parameters of the homeworking role with the employee – specifically what activities they will undertake while working at home, contact arrangements, collecting and delivering work etc.
  • ensure that the employee understands the guidance referred to above and secure the employee’s confirmation that they will take appropriate steps to comply with the safety and security standards.

Employees who normally have access to a University laptop will be permitted to take this home for homeworking purposes. Laptops will not be supplied to other employees who are offered the opportunity to work at home. No financial compensation will be paid to staff who are permitted to work at home as part of the business continuity arrangements introduced in response to a flu pandemic.

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