Staff guidance | University of Oxford

Return to On-site Working - Staff guidance

Summary guidance to support University staff in preparing for their return to on-site working. This is subject to change according to Government advice and as the situation moves towards a 'new normal'.

The University is now operating at BCP stage 2 and many staff will be returning to on-site working. Government guidance recognises that some staff may still need to work from home in order to ensure that all staff can work safely. Staff who can work from home may continue to be asked to do so, where feasible, for some or all of their contracted hours. Opportunities to come on-site on a rotational basis to enhance effective teamwork and communication should be explored.

This information supplements the explanation of the University's Return to On-Site Working progamme, and is designed to help staff understand when, how 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 attempt to return to working in a University building unless you have been advised to do so by your department and reviewed your workplan with your manager.

Planning for the return to on-site working

Your department will plan the return to on-site working carefully. The safety, physical and mental health and wellbeing of all our staff is of paramount importance and is the first consideration when planning a return to on-site working. Planning will take account of the fact that the impact of working from home or returning to working on site will be different for different people.

You may be eager to return to your workplace, or you may have questions or concerns about it. When the University is ready to reopen your workplace your line manager or equivalent will be in contact with you. They will give you the opportunity to talk about your own situation if you wish to do so, so that any needs you may have, or changes in your position since lockdown began, can be taken into account in the department’s plans for returning to on-site working. These will include, for example, whether you have caring responsibilities, are pregnant, or have mental health or other health conditions and/or disabilities, whether there are household members with health conditions, etc. If you are uncomfortable discussing some of your personal circumstances with your manager you may prefer to speak to your local HR contact. If you are concerned about your own health or the safety of returning on site you are encouraged to complete the self-assessment tool. If you remain concerned you may arrange a teleconsultation with an Occupational Health Advisor.

Based on your circumstances, the work requirements, health and safety practicalities, any advice from Occupational Health and ensuring that as far as possible decisions are fair, objective and transparent, your department will then decide when you will be asked to return to the workplace.

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 been assessed as being in the very high or high vulnerability level categories and you do not feel safe and able to return.
  • 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 must remain at home for 10 days or until you are fully recovered in accordance with NHS guidance. You will receive sick pay subject to entitlement but this will not be counted towards your sickness absence record.
  • If you are self-isolating because a member of your household has COVID-19 symptoms. You must remain at home for the full 14 day self-isolation period. 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 may have to go back into self-isolation if you develop COVID-19 or if a member of your household does, or if NHS test and trace shows that you have been in contact with someone with COVID-19.
  • You may need to take additional time away from work if you have been bereaved, whether COVID-19 or not.
  • You might also be unable to return to work on site at all 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 while schools, nurseries and other care facilities are closed, or are reopening on a phased basis.

Staff who may find it difficult to return to on-site working

As well as those who are completely unable to return at present, some staff will experience difficulties in being able to return. You should speak to your line manager or equivalent if:

  • You travel to work by public transport and think you will find it difficult to travel to your workplace while the frequency or capacity of buses and trains remains restricted, or have other concerns about using your normal means of travelling. Additional car and cycle parking is being provided on University sites across the city, and options for improving provision for cyclists and walkers are being explored with the city council. If you do use public transport you should follow government advice about face coverings and social distancing, and you may want to talk to your manager about changing your working hours to avoid travelling at peak times. See our FAQs related to transport and our travel pages.
  • 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 are encouraged to complete the self-assessment tool. If you remain concerned you may arrange a teleconsultation with an Occupational Health Advisor. If you prefer not to discuss your personal situation with your line manager, 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 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 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 if they share offices, or to make sure that there are always essential staff such as first aiders, fire marshals and estates staff on site. This might involve some staff working mornings and others working afternoons; or staff attending on alternate days or alternate weeks.
  • 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 agree.

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 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 will remind you about the requirements and support you in observing them. If you repeat the breach, your manager may decide to send you home pending consideration 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.

Your manager 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. Given requirements for social distancing some of this may be done remotely in advance, but you should also have a face to face meeting with your manager or another designated colleague when you return on site. 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.

Once staff have returned to on-site working they may have to go back into self-isolation if they develop COVID-19 symptoms or a member of their household does, or if NHS test and trace shows that they have been in contact with COVID-19.

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

The most common symptoms of COVID-19 are:

  • high temperature – this means you feel hot to touch on your chest or back (you do not need to measure your temperature);
  • a new, continuous cough – this means coughing a lot for more than an hour, or 3 or more coughing episodes in 24 hours (if you usually have a cough, it may be worse than usual);
  • loss of, or change in, normal sense of taste or smell (anosmia).

If you or a member of your household are displaying COVID-19 symptoms (however mild) you must follow this guidance:

  • If you are at home, stay at home
  • If you are at work, you must leave immediately
  • Contact your manager and departmental HR to advise them that you or a member of your household have suspected symptoms of COVID-19
  • Book a test, either through the University’s in-house Testing for COVID-19: Early Alert Service (EAS) or via NHS Test and Trace.

Telling people about your test result

If you develop symptoms, you may wish to alert the people with whom you have had close contact over the last 48 hours. 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 now so that you have them to hand if you test positive.

How NHS Test and Trace works for someone with coronavirus symptoms

  • Isolate: As soon as you experience coronavirus symptoms, you should self-isolate for at least 10 days. Anyone else in your household should self-isolate for 14 days from when you started having symptoms. If a member of your household experiences symptoms you must self-isolate for 14 days for the start of their symptoms even if you are symptom-free.
  • Test: If you have symptoms you should book a test immediately either via the University’s EAS at or the NHS at Alternatively, call 119 if you have no internet access. If a member of your household has symptoms they should order a test via the NHS. Remain at home while you wait for the test results, and let your manager and departmental HR know what the results are when they arrive.
  • Results: If your test is positive you must complete the remainder of your 10-day self-isolation. Anyone in your household should also complete self-isolation for 14 days from when you started having symptoms. If your test is negative, you and other household members no longer need to isolate but if you feel unwell, you may have a different illness that could spread to other people, so stay at home until you feel better.
    An unclear, void, borderline or inconclusive result means it's not possible to say for certain if you had coronavirus when the test was done. If this happens, you may be advised to ask for another coronavirus test (follow the above guidance to book a test). Do this as soon as possible, as the test is most accurate within a few days of your symptoms starting. If you're not able to have another test, you and anyone you live with must keep self-isolating. If you have symptoms, self-isolate for at least 10 days from when your symptoms started. Anyone you live with who does not have symptoms must self-isolate for 14 days.
    If you are tested via the EAS, the results of the test will be shared with your department. If you are tested via NHS Test and Trace, you should notify your department’s SPOC of the results.
  • Share contacts: If you test positive for COVID-19 (regardless of whether you were tested via the EAS or NHS), the NHS Test and Trace service will send you a text or email alert or call you within 24 hours with instructions of how to share details of people you have been in close, recent contact with and places you have visited. It is important that you respond as soon as possible so that they can give appropriate advice to those who need it. You will be asked to do this online via a secure website or you will be called by one of the NHS contact tracers. Find out about being contacted by NHS Test and Trace after testing positive for coronavirus.

How NHS Test and Trace works for those who have been in close contact with someone who tested positive for coronavirus

  • Alert: You will be alerted by the NHS Test and Trace service if you have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for coronavirus. The alert will come either by text or email and you’ll need to log on to the NHS Test and Trace website, which is the easiest way for you and the service to communicate with each other – but, if not, a trained call handler will talk you through what you need to do. Under 18s will get a phone call and a parent or guardian will be asked to give permission for the call to continue.

  • Isolate: You will be asked to begin self-isolation for up to 14 days, depending on when you last came into contact with the person who has tested positive. It’s really important to do this even if you don’t feel unwell, because it can take up to 14 days for the symptoms to develop. This will be crucial to avoid you unknowingly spreading the virus to others. Your household doesn’t need to self-isolate with you, but they must take extra care to follow the guidance on social distancing and washing your hands.

  • Test if needed: If you develop symptoms of coronavirus, other members of your household should self-isolate at home and you should book a coronavirus test at or call 119 if you have no internet access. If your test is positive you must continue to stay at home for 10 days. If your test is negative, you must still complete your 14 day self-isolation period because the virus may not be detectable yet.

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 on 0117 934 2121.

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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