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COVID-19 and time off

Please note this page is currently being reviewed.

 

Self-isolation and annual leave

If you work in the NHS, or for organisations providing commissioned services for the NHS, UK governments have agreed that if staff need to self-isolate in line with official guidance, they will be entitled to special leave on full pay. This special leave should be recorded separately by your employer and it will not affect your entitlements to annual leave, or to your entitlements to carers’ leave or special leave set out in your employers’ local policies. It is possible that staff will require more than one period of self-isolation. Government guidance makes clear that self-isolation will not be discouraged, and the arrangements above will apply to each period of self-isolation. You should check your employer's policy on this matter.

Sickness and annual leave

If you work in the NHS and you are off sick with COVID-19,  it will not affect your entitlements to annual leave.

Will my entitlements to annual leave change during the COVID-19 pandemic?

No. Existing contractual and statutory entitlements to annual leave and holiday pay will continue to apply throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. The only change relates to the carrying over of unused statutory annual leave. The government has amended the Working Time Regulations, which means that workers will be entitled to carry over any unused statutory holiday entitlement for two years. This includes staff who have not been able to take their statutory annual leave due to sickness. You should check your employer's policy on this matter. 

If you have taken annual leave and have not been paid your normal holiday pay, you need to raise the issue with your employer and ask the reason for this in writing. If you need support, contact us.

For NHS staff, entitlement to annual leave is outlined in section 13 of the NHS terms and conditions of service handbook, further information on taking annual leave is available in the NHS Staff Council statement on annual leave during COVID-19. For other staff, entitlement to annual leave should be outlined in their contract of employment. 

Can my employer ask me to cancel my annual leave?

The RCN expects employers to protect the health, safety and well-being of all health and care staff. This includes ensuring that nursing and other health care staff can take paid annual leave, as well as being able to take rest periods and breaks during shifts. 

If you have followed your contract and policy on annual leave, and you have obtained the employer’s consent, it may not be reasonable for the employer to unilaterally cancel your leave. If your line manager is trying to cancel your annual leave, in the first instance please check your contract and/or local policy. Please raise the issue with your HR department or a more senior manager and ask the reason for this in writing. If you need further support, contact us.

During this time of unsustainable pressure, the RCN is calling on all health and care employers to put in place appropriate arrangements which ensure that: 

  • wherever possible, booked annual leave should be honoured
  • the equality impact of any decision is considered
  • any restrictions on staff taking annual leave are staggered so all staff get to take leave.
  • any restrictions are prioritised in line with the needs of maintaining essential services, following consultation and agreement with local staff sides and trade union representatives. 

If you work in the NHS, please also see the NHS Staff Council statement on annual leave during COVID-19.

Please see our Long COVID guide for more information on your workplace rights and for additional resources. 

Background

The governments across the UK are gradually updating and amending their guidance as part of the process for 'living with COVID-19'. The guidance is updated on the country website as part of the stay at home guidance for households with possible COVID-19 in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

Exposure to COVID-19 at work

The UK government guidance managing healthcare staff with symptoms of a respiratory infection or a positive COVID-19 test result provides advice on the management of staff, and patients or residents in health and social care settings in England, according to exposures, symptoms and test results.

Your line manager/employer or agency should remain the first point of contact if you are unsure whether you are fit to work.

COVID-19 symptoms and work

The governments in Northern IrelandScotland and Wales have issued stay at home guidance for households with possible COVID-19. It applies to health care workers as well as the general public. In England, the government have removed COVID-19 restrictions and provide general guidance.

The UK government guidance, managing healthcare staff with symptoms of a respiratory infection provides advice on the management of staff, and patients or residents, in health and social care settings according to exposures, symptoms and test results.

Your line manager/employer or agency should remain the first point of contact if you are unsure whether you are fit to work or require self-isolation.

NHS staff self-isolation pay 

Due to changes to self-isolation pay that are being made across the UK, you should check your employer’s policy and country guidance. See our section below on COVID-19 sick pay for more information on the changes being made and to see the relevant country guidance. 

Also see NHS Employer's guidance on self-isolation.

Independent sector self-isolation pay

We expect all other health and care employers to pay their staff full pay during COVID-19 related absences.

If you are self-isolating (apart from reasons relating to travel) and have not been paid your normal full pay, you need to raise the issue with your employer and ask the reason for this in writing. You can use this template letter to email or write to your manager asking for full pay for your COVID-19 related absence.

If you need further support, contact us.

Bank workers self-isolation pay (NHS)

If you are an NHS bank worker and you are instructed to self-isolate you should check your bank's policy for more information. Also there are a number of changes across the UK to pay and our section below on sick pay provides more information.

You can also see NHS Employer's guidance on
self-isolation.

NHS Professionals

NHS Professionals should be following the same approach as NHS banks. For more information, see the NHSP FAQs.

Agency workers self-isolation pay 

The RCN is clear that all health and care staff including agency workers should not experience any financial detriment due to COVID-19 related absences.

In the first instance please speak directly to your agency about their policy in this situation.

If you need further support, please contact us.

Support funds for social care workers

Please see:

Northern Ireland: Questions and answers for HSC staff
Scotland: Coronavirus (COVID-19): social care staff support fund guidance
Wales: COVID-19 statutory sick pay enhancement scheme

COVID-19 sickness and sick leave entitlement

Check your employer's policy for more information about sick leave and COVID-19.

Returning to work after COVID-19 sickness absence

Follow any local sickness management procedures and any local and national infection control requirements before returning to work after COVID-19 sickness absence. 

Risk assessments

See our guide on individual risk assessments.

The RCN has called on UK governments to ensure that health and care staff do not suffer any financial detriment or loss of pay for being away from work in order to protect public safety.  

NHS staff COVID-19 sick pay

England

The Department of Health and Social Care has announced changes to the way COVID-19-related sickness absence and self-isolation will be managed for NHS staff in England. You can see our news story for more information.

From 7 July 2022, the staff terms and conditions section of the COVID-19 workforce guidance will be withdrawn, meaning the immediate withdrawal from this date of: 

  • COVID-19 sick pay for new episodes of COVID-19 sickness
  • access to COVID-19 special leave for the purposes of self-isolation. 

There will be a transition period for staff already off sick with COVID-19-related illness, with NHS employers required to meet affected staff on a one-to-one basis to explain the changes before 3 August 2022.  

Consultation with trade unions to agree NHS Staff Council guidance is ongoing and we will update our advice guide when this guidance is available. 

The current guidance is that if you are off with COVID-19 you should receive full pay inclusive of all enhancements for any COVID-19 related sickness absence, regardless of your length of service and sick leave entitlement. This means you should be paid what you would have otherwise earned if you were not on sick leave, including any enhancements such as overtime. Your sick pay will be calculated in line with section 14 of the NHS terms and conditions handbook – based on your pay during the previous three months at work including enhancements (known as the reference period).

Your NHS employer may use a different reference period that has been agreed locally. If you’re unsure, speak to your employer to find out what reference period they will be using.

If you are off sick with COVID-19 and you work for an outsourced service or an organisation providing commissioned NHS services, you will also be entitled to full pay on COVID-19 sick leave. You will need to check your employer's policy for any reference period.

Northern Ireland 

The current guidance for health and care staff in Northern Ireland can be found on HSC Public Health Agency, Questions and answers for HSC staff. You should also check your employer’s local policy.

Scotland

COVID special leave relating to self-isolation/absence pay and sickness absence triggers, will end on 31 August 2022 after which staff will move on to their contractual sick leave entitlement. This letter from the Scottish Government explains the transitional arrangements including arrangements for self isolation and contains links to the current guidance. You should also check your employer’s local policy.

Wales

New arrangements are in place from1 July 2022, COVID sickness absence - transition from enhanced provisions to application of regular sickness absence arrangements with effect from 1 July 2022. This guidance contains information for individuals who need to self-isolate, who have long COVID and also the transitional arrangements for the changes being implemented. Always check your employer’s policy for sickness arrangements.

NHS Injury Allowance

You may also want to consider applying for NHS Injury allowance if you have been on long term sick with COVID-19 and your pay is going to be or has been reduced. Also see our guidance on Long Covid for other options you may wish to consider. 

Independent sector COVID-19 sick pay

If you work in the independent sector and you have taken COVID-19 related sick leave and have not been paid your normal pay, please raise the issue with your employer and ask the reason for this in writing. 

Use this template letter to email or write to your manager asking for full pay for your COVID-19 related absence. If you need further support, please contact us.

NHS staff bank worker COVID-19 sick pay

If you are an NHS bank worker, you should in the first instance speak directly to your bank about any arrangements for sick pay during the pandemic . Due to changes being made to NHS sick pay across the UK see the section above on sick pay for guidance.

Agency worker COVID-19 sick pay

The RCN are clear that all health and care staff, including agency workers, should not experience any financial detriment due to COVID-19 related absences. The RCN has raised concerns with the government that agency workers providing services to the NHS will not have any income protection during periods of sick leave, beyond statutory sick pay (SSP) in most cases. We are also calling on employment agencies to ensure that agency workers do not suffer any financial detriment if they are unable to work shifts because they are self-isolating. 
 
Speak directly to the agency about their policy. You should also ask what, if any arrangements will be made to pay agency workers during periods of self-isolation or sickness absence.  

Statutory Sick Pay (SSP)

If you do not have a contractual right to sick pay, please see the government guidance on SSP.  From 24 March 2022, SSP will be payable from day four rather than day one, if you are off sick with COVID-19 as normal SSP rules apply. ACAS also provide further information on the changes. You may also wish to look at our advice on sick leave.

RCN guidance on financial wellbeing

The RCN's welfare service has further information that may help on Financial Wellbeing and COVID-19 and your finances.

Support funds for social care workers

Please see:
England: Adult Social Care Infection Control Fund: round 2
Northern Ireland: Questions and answers for HSC staff
Scotland: Coronavirus (COVID-19): social care staff support fund guidance
Wales: COVID-19 statutory sick pay enhancement scheme

If you are employed by the NHS, COVID-19 sickness absence should not trigger any local sickness absence management procedure that results in formal action being taken against you.

Your employer's policy may indicate an assessment of your needs at a certain point but this should be a supportive step rather than one that leads to any formal capability procedure. If you are unsure, check your local policy and contact us for advice. 

If you are not employed by the NHS, you should check your employer's policy.

Contact us if your employer is taking any formal action against you due to COVID-19 related sickness absence. 

Background

Governments from across the UK have issued guidance on the provision of education and childcare during the COVID-19 outbreak, which includes who is identified as key workers for the purposes of on-going educational provision (where relevant).

Time off

If you need to take time away from work to care for your child, your employer should be as supportive and as flexible as possible. You could explore working flexibly or working from home, or you could seek to agree a temporary change to your working hours. It is essential that any changes like this are agreed and evidenced in writing, along with any impact on your pay.  

You should also check your employer’s policy around carer’s leave, so that you’re clear on what you’re entitled to and how you are to be paid if you take this type of leave.

The RCN believes that you should not lose pay as a result of needing to look after your children when school provision is not available. 

England

NHS Employers guidance for staff whose children need to self isolate or are affected by school closures (please see the section on caring commitments)

Scotland 

Coronavirus (COVID-19) guidance: education and children

Northern Ireland

Questions and answers for HSC staff

Wales

Education and childcare: coronavirus
Frequently asked questions for managers and staff (please see question 28)

Delay with medical procedure

If you are covered by NHS terms and conditions, your entitlements to sick pay are set out in section 14 of the NHS handbook. If you are not covered by NHS terms and conditions, you should check your contract and/or your employer’s sick pay policy. The RCN believes that you should not experience financial detriment due to the impact of COVID-19 on your scheduled treatment or surgery. We are therefore lobbying for all health and social care employers to be sympathetic to the hardship reduced sick pay may cause to staff, to use their discretion and recognise that the length of absence has been increased through the unique circumstances of COVID-19, and to consider paying full pay as part of a COVID-19 related absence. Where possible, they should also prioritise or fast track staff treatment.

The RCN offers support to all members on long term sick leave and can provide representation at formal meetings. Please contact us if you need further help.

Needing to self-isolate for medical procedures

The RCN believes that you should not experience financial detriment due to the impact of COVID-19 on your scheduled treatment or surgery. 

If you work in the NHS, or for organisations providing commissioned services to the NHS, you should receive full pay, as if you had been at work, for the period of self isolation. This should be recorded as COVID-19 absence in line with local policies. The period of absence for your procedure should be recorded as sickness absence in the usual way. Please also see the following: 

England: NHS employers
Northern Ireland: Questions and answers for HSC staff
Scotland: NHS Scotland 
Wales: NHS Wales employers

If you work for a non NHS employer, you should explore the options with your employer (such as working from home). Otherwise you should be paid your usual contractual entitlements for COVID-19 and sickness absence.

Please also see the sections on homeworking and self isolation-pay.

Please see the UK government guidance on 'travel to England from another country' for more information.  

If rules change when you are already overseas

Government guidance is under constant review and may change at short notice. As a result, you may face quarantine requirements on your return to the UK that weren’t in place previously. 

Speak to your manager as soon as possible to agree the arrangements for your quarantine period, including whether you will be able to work from home, can take leave (paid/unpaid) or use TOIL. 

I am trapped overseas. What should I do?

If you are currently abroad and are struggling to return to the UK, please see further advice on what to do next. You should also contact your employer at the earliest opportunity to discuss the situation and note any quarantining measures that may be required on your return.

Your employer may require you to obtain written confirmation from the relevant airline/ferry/train company that services have been cancelled.

In situations where pre-booked transportation has been cancelled, employers can reasonably expect you to find an alternative form of transport if the cost is not prohibitive (for example asking employees to fly home if ferries have been cancelled). Where you can demonstrate that no reasonably affordable travel options are currently available, we would expect employers to treat the absence as COVID-19 related and continue normal pay until such time as travel becomes possible.

Further information

Please also see our travel health pages.

Government guidance on entering UK.

For information on measures taken by non-UK countries, please visit the UK government website.

If you cannot go to work due to COVID-19 (because you need to self-isolate or for childcare reasons), your employer should work with you to look at different options such as working from home. 

If you are self-isolating, but are otherwise well enough to work, you should agree with your line manager whether working from home is possible. Your line manager should consider the work that can be done remotely, and organisations should consider developing/updating their local homeworking policies.

Unsustainable pressures

The COVID-19 pandemic has intensified existing pressures on staffing and resources in all health and care settings.

This resource has been designed to support members in delivering safe and effective care and with the difficult decisions they make every day.




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Page last updated - 01/07/2022