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FAQs regarding Coronavirus

Last updated 24.03.20 19:00

Government advice / instruction

On the 23.03.20 the UK government moved to enforce social distancing, stating that everyone in the country should remain indoors apart from when:

  • Buying food and other essential items
  • Exercising (once per day) 
  • Addressing a medical need or providing care or assistance to a vulnerable person
  • Travelling to and from work but only when this absolutely cannot be done from home

When outside of the home everyone should keep a 2 metre distance between themselves and others (apart from members of your household)

Police have powers to enforce these rules and breaking them could result in a fine.

Latest University Statement

The latest University statement on the situation can be found on the intranet.

We understand that some services previously still open at the start of this week have now been closed, including Winterbourne and the Murray Learning Centre. Furthermore, some staff (for example in cleaning services) who the University has previously indicated had to attend work on a compulsory basis or face disciplinary action or loss of pay have been allowed to choose whether they report for work at this time or not. If this is true (and we are waiting for confirmation) UNISON welcome this change in policy. 

Trade union position and actions

UNISON and other campus trade unions have been persistently calling for services on campus to close and for only the absolute minimum number of staff to be required to travel to campus to run only the most essential services. 

The functions that UNISON agree could be seen as essential at present are :

  1. Statutory maintenance or maintenance required for essential safety purposes
  2. Security
  3. Some research that has an application to the current emergency, or which cannot be stopped for reasons of safety, loss of data or for regulatory reasons
  4. Provision of essential direct support to the remaining student population – i.e. essential supplies or takeaway food
  5. Key work as specified by the UK government or providing childcare or other direct support to these key workers

Even within these roles we feel exceptions need to be made for staff in the situations specified below. Also detailed below – UNISON have made clear to the University that staff have the legal right to object to work that is fundamentally unsafe, and to proceed to a place of safety.

Work that is not absolutely essential, where staff are prevented from observing the required two metre distance from others or where proper personal protective equipment is not provided is not safe and breaches government instructions. 

Information for all members

I need to care for my children or an adult who relies on me

The University is currently offering special dependent leave for anyone who needs to care for a dependent due to the current situation – this means at least 14 days of paid leave. The University has stated they will review the amount of leave offered as the situation develops. Due to the closure of schools to the vast majority of workers, campus trade unions will be asking the University to extend this provision, as well as clarifying how it works for staff who may be able to combine some work from home with care and others who are not required to report to campus.  

I live with someone who has a compromised immune system or who has other underlying health conditions that place them at risk of being seriously affected by Coronavirus. Do I come into work?

At 11:14am on 18.03.20 the University confirmed via email that those with relatives or in the same household in an “at risk” group can stay away from work and just talk to their managers about alternative work. If you can’t do any work from home due to your role or caring responsibilities this might be considered as special paid dependent leave (see the University’s FAQ).

I have an underlying health condition and I am afraid of contracting coronavirus. Do I come into work/ what do I do?

You do not have to come into work – inform your manager that you have an underlying condition and cannot come on to campus as per Government and University advice. They may discuss home working arrangements with you if this is possible for your role.

See the Government Guidance on social distancing for a list of underlying conditions (though please note that it isn’t exhaustive)

You will be paid – if you cannot work from home this may be recorded as an absence related to the virus but this is not counted towards normal absence triggers

Someone in my house has symptoms of Coronavirus

Government guidance currently specifies that you should self-isolate if anyone in your house has symptoms. See public health england guidance for more information.

Someone who relies on me is in an at risk group

You are entitled to dependent leave if you need to look after them or if you are worried that catching the virus will impede your ability to look after them. If you can, you may be asked to do some work from home.

I am self-isolating or in an at risk group and can’t go out to get essentials

There are a number of local community groups of people pitching in to help vulnerable people or others who can’t leave the house at this difficult time. See Freedom News’s list of mutual aid groups around the country, Secret London’s nationwide list and also the Facebook page for the Selly Oak Community Response group. You can also contact us (via email on unisonbham@contacts.bham.ac.uk or phone on 07964926949) and we’ll do our best to help. 

I don’t fall into any of these categories but I’m really worried about my safety and don’t want to come into work 

The University is presently maintaining that an instruction to come into work from your manager (in the absence of one of the above reasons to stay off work) is a “reasonable management request”. We strongly dispute this and have pointed the University to exemptions under H&S law that allow workers to refuse tasks if they believe it would expose them to serious and imminent risk. The best thing for everyone on campus at this time is for as few members of staff to be present as possible and we feel that it would be perverse in the extreme for staff to be penalised for safeguarding their safety and the safety of others. 

We would advise you to consult us before relying on this exemption, because the law can be very complex. Definitely explore the option of home working with your manager in full and be sure that one of the other situations does not apply to you – the government are strongly encouraging everyone who can to work from home, and this might include those who have never worked from home before. 

Will I be paid?

Yes. Due to COVID being a global pandemic, and based on measures negotiated by unions with the University you will be paid even if you cannot do your job remotely or if you are taking dependent leave to look after children or adults who rely on you.

What happens to Worklink workers?

The University has confirmed today (18th of March 2020, via email) that all Worklink student workers will be paid for the shifts/work that they had been scheduled to do until at least the 9th of April. If you lose any pay, please contact us.

What happens to Agency workers?

The University management have yet to confirm their plans for agency workers. We have persistently demanded that all agency workers are paid for the work that they would have otherwise needed to undertake.

What will happen to this year’s PDRs?

The University feels that the PDR scheme is important and that it should largely continue at this time. Depending on your area, it may be worth speaking to your manager about options relating to the scheme and definitely state if you would prefer conducting the PDR via video call, solely through the exchange of emails or postponing it, if possible.

Information for members who can work from home

Please note this might include many people who have not worked from home before. We are urging the University to think creatively about this and to extend homeworking urgently to as many staff as possible. 

How can I claim back expenses incurred through working from home?

The University’s Home Working policy (log-in required) indicates that the University will pay some expenses incurred while homeworking,

The policy stipulates that you need to speak and submit your expenses to your line manager for approval: ‘if a member of staff has documentary evidence of additional business-related cost incurred eg telephone calls or additional broadband charges these can be submitted for approval by their line manager’. 

Please also see HMRC guidance on tax relief for those working at home.

Do I need to give more information about the work I’m doing than I would if I was at work?

No, you should expect to have as much supervision and oversight as you would when you are normally at work. For example, your manager might use office communicator or a phone call to ask for updates on a task in a measured way, but they shouldn’t expect you to keep logs of work or similar evidence if you don’t normally need to do this.

I can’t do a particular task because of technical issues or a simple lack of the right equipment/hard copy documentation

UNISON have asked for all home working at this time to be on a “best endeavours” basis and pointed out that a lot of people will be working from home for the first time. You should try your best and log any technical issues with IT services. If you are prevented you from completing tasks then you will not be penalised for this.  

Information for members who cannot work from home

Will I need to report for work even after the University closes/restricts access?

The University has indicated that all but essential workers will not be required to attend work in person after the restricted access period starts. As detailed above, campus trade unions strongly feel that the date for restricted access should be brought forward and that the number of “essential” workers should be very small indeed to reduce the risk to both them and others (the less people on campus, the lower the risk is to the people who are left).

I have been informed that I am required to attend work on a rota basis occasionally after the University closes

Campus trade unions were disappointed that the University put in place rotas for staff to attend work on campus without prior consultation. Now the rotas are in place, we have made it clear to the University that those who have underlying health conditions, who live with vulnerable people or who have genuine concerns for their safety cannot be compelled to come onto campus and should not suffer any detriment for this in terms of loss of pay or otherwise. We maintain that fulfilling any essential work on voluntary basis is the best solution in the current unprecedented situation – incentives should be offered to recognise the contribution these staff have made.  

The equipment I’m being given isn’t sufficient to protect me from Coronavirus risk. Can I refuse to perform tasks in this context?

Yes. A lack of proper equipment to ensure safety is a valid reason to refuse to do a task under Health and Safety law. For members in cleaning, please see this guidance on cleaning in non-Healthcare contexts.

Technical/IT guidance

How do I use the University’s remote access services?

You need to register for two-factor authentication to use the remote services and to do this you must have a smart device (smartphone or tablet).  There is a guide online for how to register and then connect to the service.

Bear in mind that you do not need to use these services to check emails or work collaboratively.  Email is available at the direct webmail link https://mail.bham.ac.uk and as a member of staff you have free access to Office 365, including online office products from office.com.  See the University support pages for Office 365 for more information.

The remote access services were not originally scoped to support the entire staff body using them at once so there may be slowness, delays or drops in service as IT Services try to scale them up as efficiently as possible.

If you ever need IT support or assistance, please contact the IT Service Desk in the first instance.

How do I access my payslips from home?

In order to access your payslips – or anything on Core Systems (including Annual Leave or Absence records) – the system needs to recognise a campus IP Address (this is an address all devices attached to the internet have and campus has a very specific range).  You will need to use the University’s remote access services to get onto Core, which will require you to register first. There is a guide on the IT services knowledgebase for how to register: 

Please note – if you do not own a smartphone or other smart device (e.g. tablet) you cannot currently use the remote systems (because you cannot use 2 factor authentication).  This means that you won’t be able to access Core Systems from home.  This has been done to comply with GDPR concerns and the University has stated they may review it depending on the progress of the COVID-19 situation.

Once you’ve registered for remote services you can use one of the following methods to access Core Systems:

  1. https://remoteaccess.bham.ac.uk
    1. Go to the address above and click through the alerts to the login boxes;
    2. Log in with your username, password and Two-Factor passcode;
    3. Open the link called “Remote Desktop”;
    4. This launches a virtual machine that counts as being ‘on campus’ and will have a Core Systems icon on the desktop
  2. UoB VPN
    1. As steps 1 a to c, then click on UoB Staff VPN;
    2. Once the VPN shows as connected you can then use your browser to go to https://uobcore.bham.ac.uk

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