Return to On-site Working: staff guidance

Last reviewed 27 July 2021

This information supplements the University's Return to On-Site Working programme, and is designed to help staff understand when and how safely they can return to working in University buildings.

Staff with line management responsibilities should view the one-page summary of guidance, and refer to the full explanation of responsibilities available on the HR Support site.

Activity on site will not resume or increase before a full risk assessment has been undertaken and any necessary measures, as advised by government, PHE and the University on COVID-19-safe workplaces have been implemented.

You should not return to working in a University building until this has been agreed between you and your department.

Staff who are finding working from home difficult

If you are currently working from home but finding this difficult, for example because you don’t have an appropriate workspace at home, because of intensive caring responsibilities, or you are finding working in isolation is affecting you negatively, you should discuss this with your manager or supervisor so that this information can be taken into account in local planning. See additional help and support for information about sources of support if you are experiencing difficulties.

Staff who may be unable to return to work on site at present

If you fall into one of the categories below you won’t be able to return to work on site at present:

  • If you have been assessed by Occupational Health as being in the very high or high vulnerability categories, and adjustments cannot be made satisfactorily to manage the risks associated with a return to working on site.
  • If you have a letter from a GP or medical practitioner stating that you should not return for reasons related to COVID-19 (your health or that of someone who lives with you).
  • If you have symptoms of COVID-19. You should self-isolate immediately and book a PCR test. See the University’s Early Alert Service PCR testing page for further information. If you are too unwell to work, you will receive sick pay subject to entitlement but this will not be counted towards your sickness absence record. (See also below.)
  • If you are self-isolating because you are a close contact of a confirmed COVID-19 case. You should work from home if this is possible and if you remain well. If you are well but are not able to work from home for operational reasons you will continue to be paid at the normal rate.
  • You might also be unable to return to work on site at the moment, or may only be able to do so for part of a day or a week if you have substantial caring responsibilities for dependents arising as a result of coronavirus (or example, due to temporary closure of schools, nurseries or other care facilities and you are unable to make alternative arrangements).

Staff who wish to travel overseas on leave and who know in advance that they would have a self-isolation period on their return should discuss with their line manager or supervisor in advance if this will be possible and how the self-isolation will be managed. They will need to either:

  • work from home if this is possible; or
  • book additional days’ holiday to cover the self-isolation period; or
  • take unpaid leave for the self-isolation period.

Leave for this period will not be unreasonably withheld, but may not be operationally possible in all instances.

Staff who may have concerns about a return to on-site working

As well as those who are unable to return at present, some staff may have concerns about a return to on-site working. You should speak to your line manager or equivalent if:

  • You have a long-term health condition or a disability which might impact on your ability to return to work in the short-term. We are aware that it may not be possible to access the same level of support from schemes such as Access to Work as previously and if this affects you, your manager should discuss any additional support needs you may have and attempt to find alternative ways to meet your needs.
  • You are vulnerable, or have a member of your household who is vulnerable (even if they are not on the official list of vulnerable people) and as a result have concerns about returning to work on site.
  • You have concerns about health risks in the workplace.

If you are concerned about your own health or the safety of returning on site, you should speak to your line manager or equivalent. If you prefer not to discuss your personal situation with your line manager or equivalent, you can talk to your local HR contact.

Preparing for the return to on-site working

Once you are advised that you can return to on-site working your manager or supervisor will:

  • explain clearly to you the arrangements for return to on-site working in your location, and in particular the arrangements which apply to you;
  • give you clear, up-to-date information and instructions about safe working in your particular location and share the relevant risk assessment(s) with you. These will usually be sent by email or through other electronic means, so if you do not have internet access at home speak to your manager to see how information can be made available to you;
  • try to address any concerns you may have and let you know who you can contact if you have further questions or concerns.

Changes to your normal working practices

Your contract of employment may specify your normal working hours and place of work. In the current, extremely unusual circumstances, your line manager or supervisor may need to ask you to work different hours (although not excessive hours) and in a different location for a limited period of time.

In order to maintain safe working practices and the required social distancing on site, it may be necessary for your department to ask you to make some changes to your normal working practices as part of a structured risk assessment and risk mitigation process.

For example:

  • In order to maintain a safe number of staff on site some staff may need to work reduced hours or work only part time on site (and part time at home if they are able to work remotely). Staff who are asked to work reduced hours will continue to receive their full normal rate of pay.
  • Some staff may need to be asked to work different patterns from their normal pattern, for example to make sure that there are always essential staff such as first aiders, fire marshals and estates staff on site.
  • It may be necessary to balance shifts across a team to take into account caring responsibilities and personal needs.
  • Some staff may need to be asked to work in a different building or in a different part of their usual building. If this happens to you, and you are working away from others in your team, your department will keep in regular contact with you.
  • It may be necessary for some staff members to take on different tasks at a similar grade on a temporary basis to cover for colleagues who are unable to return to the workplace. But you will not be expected to take on a cover role in addition to your normal role and your line manager will be responsible for ensuring that tasks are prioritised to cover key areas without overloading staff.

If you are asked to take on a cover role at a higher grade, you will receive an acting-up allowance. Staff in grades 1-5 working overtime will be compensated in accordance with the University's overtime policy.

Your manager will discuss any proposed temporary changes to your normal working patterns and you will be informed of them in writing and asked to confirm your agreement.

Maintaining a safe work environment

When you return to on-site working there will be clear instructions available for everyone on how to maintain a safe environment in the workplace, and regular reminders of health and safety precautions and any changes to requirements and safe working practices. These will be provided before you return.

The instructions will include:

  • use of designated entrances and exits;
  • social distancing within the building – in offices, corridors, staircases, lifts etc;
  • use of communal facilities – kitchens, canteens, meeting rooms etc, as it may be necessary to stagger usage or to continue to hold remote meetings so as to maintain social distancing;
  • any restrictions on the use of communal equipment such as printers and photocopiers;
  • other health and safety instructions such as hygiene practices, effective ventilation and use of face coverings.

These instructions will constitute a reasonable management request and all staff will be expected to follow them. If you commit a minor or inadvertent breach, your manager or supervisor will remind you about the requirements and support you in observing them. If you repeat the breach, your manager or supervisor may decide to send you home pending consideration of next steps. If you deliberately refuse to follow the instructions or commit a major breach, that would be a disciplinary offence and you risk being denied access to the building and being suspended.

If you are working on site, you are strongly encouraged to use Lateral Flow Devices to test yourself for COVID-19 twice a week, every week. This includes any member of staff who is accessing University or college buildings. You can find more information on the regular symptom-free testing webpage.

Your manager or supervisor will also talk to you about any concerns that you have about travelling to and from work.

On your return to work

When you return to your workplace you will be given an induction briefing. If you are a new employee who has not worked on site before this may be part of your normal induction. The briefing will include:

  • information, instructions and reassurance about health, safety and wellbeing, including the risk assessment(s) applicable to your role;
  • a reminder of any changes in ways of working, work patterns, tasks to be carried out as already discussed with your manager;
  • a discussion of any ongoing support which you may require and the support that is available to staff on your site;
  • who you should contact if you become ill while at work or at home, in particular if you develop COVID-19 symptoms;
  • if you are returning from furlough it may include any recent changes that have happened since your furlough began;
  • an opportunity for you to raise any questions or concerns with your manager or the local HR contact or Head of Administration/Finance, as appropriate. The Departmental Safety Officer, Departmental Safety Advisory Committee members, local or University trade union representatives or the University Safety Office may also be able to help with questions or concerns.

If you or a member of your household has COVID-19 symptoms

If you are displaying COVID-19 symptoms (however mild), you must follow this guidance:

  • Self-isolate immediately (if you are at home, stay at home; if you are at work, you must leave immediately).
  • Book a PCR test, either through the University’s in-house Testing for COVID-19: Early Alert Service (EAS) or via the NHS.
  • Contact your manager or supervisor and departmental HR to advise them that you have suspected symptoms of COVID-19. If you test positive and are scheduled to work on site during the self-isolation period, you are required to notify your line manager and departmental HR of the start and end dates of the self-isolation period as soon as possible, and in any case before you are next due to work on site.
  • Follow the government’s latest COVID-19 guidance for households with possible coronavirus infection.
  • If you are able to work from home, you should do so (or continue to do so) as long as you feel well enough. If you are unable to work from home, you will continue to be paid as normal. If you become unwell, you should let your department know: your absence will be recorded separately from your normal sickness absence record.

If any member of your household has suspected symptoms of COVID-19 (however mild), you must follow the government’s latest guidance, which can be found here: Stay at home: guidance for households with possible or confirmed coronavirus (COVID-19) infection.

Telling people about your PCR test result

If you develop symptoms, you should contact your department (via your department's Single Point of Contact – SPOC), and also alert the people with whom you have had close contact over the last 48 hours (you can ask your SPOC for assistance with this). You should tell them that you might have COVID-19 but are waiting for a test result. At this stage (until the test result is known), those people do not need to self-isolate, but they should take extra care in practising social distancing and good hygiene, like washing their hands regularly. They should also watch out for their own symptoms.

You may want to write down your recent close contacts at this point so that you have them to hand if you test positive.

Please see the NHS website for the latest information on what you need to do if you receive a positive PCR test result.

NHS Test and Trace

Find out what you should do if contacted by NHS Test and Trace on the GOV.UK website.

If you are tested via the University's Early Alert Service (EAS), the results of the test will be shared with your department. If you are tested via the NHS, you should notify your department’s SPOC of the results and report your result online to the EAS.

Additional help and support

Estates Services and the Safety Office/Occupational Health Service have also produced detailed guidance for departments to use in planning the return to on-site working. This is available on SharePoint (single sign-on required).

There are resources for staff wellbeing on the HR Support website and the Occupational Health Service website.

There is a free, confidential 24-hour telephone counselling service for staff provided by Carefirst. Find out more about the service on the Occupational Health Service website.

University Staff are also eligible to register with togetherall (previously Big White Wall), which is a 24/7 online, anonymous community where members can support each other over mental health concerns, with trained professionals on hand to provide additional support as required.

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