COVID-19 employment advice

The RCN recognises the increase in pressure on the nursing and wider healthcare workforce as a result of Covid-19.

As the situation progresses, we understand you will have questions about your rights in the workplace.

Here is some information on employment issues you may be faced with over the coming weeks and months. Our frequently asked questions can be found at Covid-19: what you need to know.

We are working hard in these challenging times to keep you updated. If you can't find what you are looking for please contact us and we will get back to you as soon as we can. 

The RCN believes where members follow national public health guidelines to self-isolate but are not displaying symptoms of ill health, they should not suffer any financial detriment or loss of pay for being away from work on account of public safety.

Furthermore, any absence relating to compliance with national public health guidance should not count towards triggering formal sickness absence procedures.

The NHS Staff Council has jointly agreed a statement on good partnership working and issues to consider when developing local plans to combat Covid-19.  

Organisations should have effective procedures in place to allow nursing staff and their representatives to raise any concerns in relation to staffing, equipment, policies and processes for managing COVID-19 at the earliest opportunity. Nursing staff should feel able to raise concerns without detriment and should receive timely feedback on their concerns.

Find our guidance on raising concerns here.

Please see our guidance on redeployment.

Working long days, with little or no breaks or limited recovery time between shifts can lead to fatigue.  Furthermore, wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) for long periods can cause heat stress and discomfort to the user. 

Fatigue is a recognised factor in safety incidents and can lead to staff exhaustion and burn out. Find out more here.

Lessons learnt from the Ebola outbreak identified fatigue associated with the use of full PPE was a risk to staff being able to perform clinical tasks safely and for extended periods of time.  Donning and doffing of PPE and clothing carries a high risk to healthcare workers of contamination of micro-organisms and therefore will place staff at risk of exposure to COVID-19.

Employers should ensure staff are able to take regular breaks and they monitor working hours to prevent the onset of mental and physical fatigue. Shift patterns and working hours should be designed to limit the onset of fatigue and follow the requirements of the working time regulations and NHS Terms and Conditions handbook (section 27) which states:

  • Under the working time regulations, employees will normally not be expected to work on average more than 48 hours per each seven-day period, calculated over 17 weeks. In exceptional circumstances the reference period may be extended, by agreement with locally recognised unions, to a maximum of 52 weeks.
  • Employees should normally have a rest period of not less than 11 hours in each 24 hour period. In exceptional circumstances, where this is not practicable because of the contingencies of the service, daily rest may be less than 11 hours. In these circumstances records should be kept by the employer which will be available to locally recognised unions. Local arrangements should be agreed to ensure that a period of equivalent compensatory rest is provided.
  • All employees should receive an uninterrupted weekly rest period of 35 hours (including the eleven hours of daily rest) in each seven day period for which they work for their employer. Where this is not possible they should receive equivalent rest over a 14 day period, either as one 70 hour period or two 35 hour periods.
  • Staff who are on-call, i.e. available to work if called upon, will be regarded as working from the time they are required to undertake any work-related activity. Where staff are on-call but otherwise free to use the time as their own, this will not count towards working time.

Please see our guidance on working time and breaks and consult your employer’s own policies around your working hours.

Where staff that are screening or caring for people with possible or confirmed COVID-19 are not working their existing shift patterns, any changes to working patterns should be agreed with them.  Employers should ensure that they have agreed and confirmed with local trade unions, arrangements in place for accruing overtime payments/TOIL for any additional work.

Where any individual works more than 15 minutes at the start or end of their shift in excess of contracted hours should be recorded as TOIL.

Systems should also be put in place to ensure that staff can take TOIL as soon as possible after it is accrued. Where TOIL cannot be taken within 3 months, managers are responsible for ensuring payments are made, as set out in Section 3.5 of the NHS Terms and Conditions of Service Handbook.

Please check your employer’s policy for more information about how additional working hours will be allocated, recorded and recouped. 

Members are advised to check with their own employers what guidance and procedures they have put in place to ensure that the working environment is safe and that any changes to working practices are agreed in advance.

Where staff are being moved from other clinical areas to support work on COVID-19, assessments should made on the ability to continue to deliver safe and effective care in the services affected.  Steps should be taken to mitigate any risks resulting from staff moving to other areas.

Here is our advice on being moved from your normal working environment.

Organisations should have systems in place for keeping the details of staff involved in caring for patients with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 confidential.  Employees should also respect each other’s confidentially and take care not to inadvertently share information, when using social media.  

Where staff are suspected or confirmed to have contracted COVID-19, their personal details should be treated as confidential, as they would be for any other patient.

Time off work - for advice around time off for dependants, emergency leave. However, your first port of call will be your employer’s own policy.

Travel disruption and getting to work – good communication with your employer will be key in the event that travel disruption impacts your attendance at work. Again, your employer’s own policy will be your staring point.

Coronavirus: what you need to know - for all our other frequently asked questions.


COVID-19: what you need to know

Find out how to protect yourself, what you should expect from your employer and what to do if you have concerns.

RCN advice guides

You can also read our advice guides for guidance on a range of employment issues.

Clinical guidance

Read our latest clinical guidance on understanding and managing COVID-19.

Hand washing guidance

Download a poster featuring our latest guidance on hand washing and hand hygiene