COVID-19: People and Culture FAQs
Page currently under review:
Please not that this page is currently under review. You should continue to refer to the Public Health Agency website for the latest health advice.
Welcome to the People and Culture Coronavirus (COVID-19) staff FAQs page. Here you will find information and guidance relating to the ongoing impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic through a series of Frequently Asked Questions.
This page includes FAQs in relation to:
- Phasing back to working on campus
- Support for self-isolation
- Working from Home
- Leave allowances and other support
Please note: This page is currently under review. You should continue to refer to the Public Health Agency website for the latest health advice.
Phasing back to working on campus
Should I return to campus?
The guidance from the NI Executive regarding working from home has not been lifted, although most other restrictions have now been removed. The current political context provides uncertainty as to when this guidance will be removed and in light of this, the University has taken the decision to independently review our position regarding working from home. This decision has been taken while considering the health and safety implications, and it is intended to provide greater clarity and stability for staff.
Many staff are already working regularly on campus and following an agile working approach since the launch of the pilot on 2 November 2021. However for those who are still adhering to the working from home guidance, to support their transition to on-campus working, the expectation is that from 28 March they are required return to pre-Covid on-campus working patterns for a minimum of 40% of the time (pro-rata for part time staff). For example, for colleagues who, prior to March 2020, would have been fully campus-based for five days per week, this would mean working on campus two days per week
After the initial two week period of phasing back to on-campus working, agile working arrangements, as agreed through local Team Standards, will apply for all staff categories from 11 April onwards. All Agile Working arrangements must always be balanced by the nature of the individual role, specific considerations within each team and the type of work being delivered.
You can view the Agile Working Toolkit for more information and are encouraged to engage with the various support that is in place to facilitate a transition to agile working at the University.
- What safety measures are in place on campus?
Our priority remains the safety and wellbeing of our staff community and all staff should be reassured that we continue to follow the relevant Public Health and NI Executive safety guidelines as well as our own risk assessments to ensure that the campus is a healthy and safe environment for all those working here. While working on campus, colleagues are encouraged to be respectful of one another, maintaining social distancing and wearing a face covering where possible and appropriate.
All staff and students are encouraged to take regular asymptomatic tests when working regularly on campus.
If you have any specific concerns, please discuss with your manager.
- I am exempt from wearing a face covering. How can I avoid being asked to wear one when on campus?
Some members of staff will not be able to wear a face covering due to a hidden disability, medical condition or other exemption as specified by the PHA. All staff and students are expected to be sensitive and respectful of this and if someone is not wearing a face covering in an area where it is mandatory, it should be assumed that there is a legitimate reason why they cannot.
We recognise that some staff may feel more comfortable showing something that says they do not have to wear a face covering. The University has produced exemption cards which can be slipped into your staff-ID. Exemption cards can be requested from the Diversity and Inclusion Unit email and can be posted to either your home or work address.
- I am Clinically Extremely Vulnerable (CEV). Do I have to return to working on campus?
From 12 April 2021, the advice from the Northern Ireland Executive is that if you are Clinically Extremely Vulnerable you should work from home where this is possible. Queen’s has not changed their approach to working arrangements for those considered CEV at this point and you should continue to work in the way you have been throughout the Pandemic, while keeping in regular contact with your line manager.
It is your responsibility to check that you are considered ‘Clinically Extremely Vulnerable’ (CEV) as defined by the NI Executive, and to inform your line manager and your Human Resources Business Partner.
Once you have informed your line manager, they will need to see a Shielding Letter or written confirmation by your General Practitioner confirming that you are Clinically Extremely Vulnerable. Then you manager will need to arrange for a risk assessment to be undertaken and for a referral to Occupational Health to be arranged. This will be arranged to assess the need for any reasonable adjustments to be made.
- I live in the same household as someone who is Clinically Extremely Vulnerable (CEV). Do I need to return to campus?
If you live with someone who is considered ‘Clinically Extremely Vulnerable’ (CEV) as defined by the NI Executive, you do not need to self-isolate and are expected to return to working on campus from 26 March 2022 in line with the steps outlined above. You should discuss your circumstances with your manager so as they can factor this in when making plans to return to working on campus including carrying out a Health and Safety Risk Assessment, a Return to Work (RTW) on Campus discussion. In certain circumstances, it may be the case that your manager can allocate work to you that can be done from home.
I have, or someone in my household has, underlying health conditions. Am I required to return to working on campus?
Please check if you or the member of your household is considered ‘Clinically Extremely Vulnerable’ (CEV) as defined by the NI Executive. From 12 April 2021, the advice from the Northern Ireland Executive is that if you are Clinically Extremely Vulnerable you should work from home where this is possible. Working arrangements for those considered CEV are not changing at this point and you should continue to work in the way you have been throughout the Pandemic, while keeping in regular contact with your line manager.
If you or anyone in your household are not considered CEV, and/or are not displaying any symptoms of COVID-19, you do not need to self-isolate. You are expected to return to working on campus from 26 March 2022 in line with the steps outlined above. You should discuss your circumstances with your manager so as they can factor this in when making plans for work to be carried out on campus including carrying out a Health and Safety Risk Assessment, a Return to Work (RTW) on Campus discussion and to ask for medical guidance from the member of staff’s GP where appropriate. In certain circumstances, your manager may allocate work that can be carried out from home.
- What adjustments (other than working from home) can be made for someone who has had the virus?
As with the duty to make reasonable adjustments under equality legislation, the best way of ascertaining what adjustments need to be made is for the Manager to:
- talk to the employee
- find out what they need in order to do their job
- and to make the adjustments if it reasonable to do so
- I have increased anxiety and stress due to the prospect of returning to campus. What help and support is available?
The University recognises that this continues to be a difficult time for staff and that the prospect of returning to campus after what may be a prolonged period of working from home may be daunting. It is more important than ever for colleagues to look after their mental and physical health. You should discuss any circumstances that are affecting you with your manager in the first instance. The University has a number of supporting resources which can be accessed via the website, including Inspire Staff Counselling and wellbeing events. Further information can be accessed on the People and Culture website.
- I rely on public transport to commute to and from the campus and am concerned about the risk this poses when I return to working on campus. What is the University doing to minimise the risk of this?
You should speak to your line manager to discuss any concerns you may have about using public transport to travel to and from campus for work. Where possible, you may be able to avail of hybrid working to reduce the number of days you work on campus, or you may be able to stagger start and finish times in order to travel at less congested times. These measures should be discussed with your manager and team and agreed as part of Agile Working team standards. While working on campus, all staff are strongly encouraged to be respectful of one another's space and to wear face coverings where possible and appropriate.
- What happens if I do not want to return to working on campus?
All staff are required to return to pre-Covid on-campus working patterns for a minimum of 40% of the time (pro-rata for part time staff) from Monday 28 March 2022. After the initial two week period of phasing back to on-campus working, agile working arrangements, as agreed through local Team Standards, will apply for all staff categories from 11 April onwards. All Agile Working arrangements must always be balanced by the nature of the individual role, specific considerations within each team and the type of work being delivered.
You can view the Agile Working Toolkit for more information and are encouraged to engage with the various support that is in place to facilitate a transition to agile working at the University. The exception to this is those members of staff who are considered ‘Clinically Extremely Vulnerable’ (CEV) as defined by the NI Executive
If you do have concerns about returning to campus, you should discuss this with your line manager and consider what reasonable adjustment may be made. In addition, you should consider your working arrangements when discussing Team Standards for working as part of our new Agile Working approach.
Should you refuse these options or not return to work without reasonable justification, the University may treat this as unauthorised absence and you may be subject to disciplinary action in accordance with the University's Code of Conduct.
Where can I find more information?
Below are some useful links to further information:
- Our People and Culture website
- Staff COVID FAQs
- Sickness Absence Toolkit
- Supporting Staff with a Disability
- Occupational Health Service
- Inspire counselling services – call 0800 389 5362 at any time of the day or night, seven days a week.
- Further information on training, advice and a wide range of Staff Wellbeing support can be accessed in the Wellbeing at Queen's section of the People and Culture website
- Further resources on managing stress
- QUB Stress Risk Assessment Toolkit(download document from right hand side of page)
- FAQs on Managing Stress
- iRise (QUB BAMEI Staff Network)
- PRISM (QUB LGBT+ Staff Network)
In what circumstances should a member of staff self-isolate due to COVID-19?
Staff should always follow the published advice on the NI Executive website and the Public Health Agency (PHA) website to ensure they are following the most up-to-date regulations and guidance. In addition, if you have been travelling and are unsure about quarantine regulations, please follow the advice on the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) website.
Northern Ireland now has full access to the NHS 111 helpline service on coronavirus. Callers should press 1 when they are advised. This service is provided in Northern Ireland solely for coronavirus guidance and not for other conditions.
- Will I be paid if I self-isolate?
If you are either unwell with COVID-19, or have another genuine reason for self-isolation based on the NI Executive/PHA/FCO advice, and you have informed your manager of that reason, a period of self-isolation of up to 10 calendar days will be paid. Payment for a longer or further period of self-isolation (where you are not unwell) will be at the discretion of the University.
Even without symptoms of the virus, your absence will be treated as paid leave by reason of self-isolation for coronavirus.
If you are self-isolating but are well and able to work, you should discuss with your manager if you are able to work from home. The University provides access to Citrix, or a Virtual Private Network (VPN), which gives you access to Queen’s systems from home. Read about Queen's Remote Working from Information Services Directorate. People and Culture also have some helpful Remote Working Guidance and Resources to support you while working from home.
In order to work from home, all staff must have access to either a University laptop or your own device. Throughout the 10 calendar day period of isolation, staff are expected to link closely with your manager and agree outputs to be achieved.
- If I am self-isolating based on official advice from the NI Executive, the PHA or the FCO and I display symptoms of Covid-19, how will this be treated for absence reporting?
If you are self-isolating and unable to work due to illness this will be treated as sick leave and you should follow the University's Sickness Absence policy.
A Fit note from your doctor is not required if you are absent due to self-isolation related to Covid-19. This is to help prevent the spread of infection in doctors' surgeries.
- My line manager has instructed me not to come into work. What should I do?
In line with the official advice and regulations, your line-manager may ask that you do not come to work for a period. This may be because you have had tested positive for the virus.
Under such circumstances, you would normally be required to work from home, provided you are well enough to do so. Read about Queen's Remote Working from Information Services Directorate. People and Culture also have some helpful Remote Working Guidance and Resources to support you while working from home.
Your line-manager will discuss the work that you may be required to carry out from home, which may include amended duties. You would continue to receive your salary as normal.
- Can I self-isolate if I am concerned about catching covid-19 by being on campus but I am not in a group advised to self-isolate?
No. Staff should only self-isolate if they have genuine reason for doing so such as:
- you have symptoms of Coronavirus (you can end isolation after a negative PCR result)
- you have tested positive for Coronavirus (refer to NI Direct website for more information on the number of isolation days)
If you have an underlying health condition and have concerns regarding your health, please refer to the question below regarding Clinically Extremely Vulnerable (CEV) people. If you do not qualify as CEV but are still concerned about any risks to your health, you should contact your GP or Specialist and follow their advice and keep your line manager informed.
If you do not have a valid reason for self-isolation based on PHA or FCO advice, you may request to take a period of annual leave or unpaid leave. This will be considered on a case-by-case basis through discussion with your line manager.
If I am self-isolating, can I come on to campus?
During your period of isolation, you cannot come on to any part of campus.
- If I decide to go abroad will I need to quarantine (self-isolate) on my return? How will I be paid?
Regulations are changing all the time in response to the changing situation. Therefore, staff should always follow the current advice from the NI Executive
Prior to planning travel or going overseas, please discuss with your manager and refer to the Foreign Office website for advice on the quarantine requirements. If you are not able to carry out any form of work from home on your return you should discuss potential options with your manager, which include taking additional annual leave or unpaid leave.
Working from home
When I am working from home am I covered by the University’s insurance?
The University’s Public Liability Insurance policy covers staff during their normal course of work, including working from home. The University’s Employers’ Liability Insurance policy applies in the same way as if the employee was working at their usual place of work. Staff are advised to check with their home insurance providers in relation to any possible impact on their own policy.
- How do I look after my wellbeing while working from home?
It is just as important to look after your wellbeing when working from home as it is when working on campus. Here are a few tips:
- Take regular breaks from your computer screen
- Get up and move at least every 25 minutes – getting outside, some fresh air or even just undertaking some simple stretches, such as those suggested by the NHS.
- Adhere to our Always On guidance
- Consult the Resources to support you when working from home
Please also check out the Working from Home advice on our Staff Wellbeing page
- What should I do if I find myself in back-to-back Teams meetings all day?
It is important to take breaks throughout the day to maintain your health and wellbeing.
Schedule out some time in your day where meetings are not put in the diary or agree with your team that meetings should not be scheduled back to back without a gap. You could also try a meeting free afternoon in the week to offer some time to catch-up and to take a break from Teams meetings.
Agreement around etiquette for meetings should be discussed with your team and line manager when you are discussing your Team Standards for Agile Working. You can also view the Hybrid Working Guidance within the Agile Working Toolkit.
- Can I reclaim expenses associated with acquiring equipment and maintaining a home office when working from home?
The University will not cover additional expenses and discourages staff purchasing their own equipment and printing materials. As the Agile Working pilot continues, consideration will be given to the equipment needs of staff working from home.
- Can I claim tax relief for working from home due to Covid-19?
Currently the University has no plans to pay a tax free sum of up to £6 per week to staff members in relation to additional household expenses incurred when a staff member is working from home due to Covid-19.
However you may be entitled to claim tax relief directly from HMRC, on £6/wk (tax savings worth £1.20/wk (about £62/year) for basis 20% rate taxpayer and £2.40/wk (about £124/yr) for higher 40% rate taxpayer). Therefore if you have extra costs due to necessary working from home you can ask for the amount to be deducted from your taxable income.
If you believe you have higher increased costs then you can claim more than £6/wk, but you will need evidence of the cost increases. A claim can be made through your HMRC self-assessment form if you complete one. Alternatively you can complete an online P87 form through your Government Gateway account or by filling out a postal P87 form and sending it to HMRC.
HMRC has issued guidance on the tax position where employers reimburse expenses for employees working from home as a result of coronavirus and this can be accessed here.
For any other queries, please contact the Salaries Office.
Leave allowances and other support
What are the rules around accrual of Annual Leave affected by COVID-19?
Amendments to the Working Time Regulations have been made to allow workers in Northern Ireland to carry over leave only ‘where in any leave year it was not reasonably practicable for a worker to take some or all of the leave to which the worker was entitled under this regulation as a result of the effects of coronavirus’.
The intention of the change in legislation is to protect the leave entitlements of workers who are required to continue working, without leave, during the pandemic. Therefore it is expected that the majority of staff, including those working from home and those on furlough, should still be able to take their leave proportionately throughout the year, in agreement with their line manager, and the University will expect you to do so.
However, the University agreed in November 2020, that up to 10 days annual leave from 2020 can be carried forward and used across 2021 and 2022. Under exceptional circumstances, the carry-over can increase to 15 days and further guidance is available from People and Culture. This means that there is no requirement to use carry-over leave by the end of March in 2021 or 2022, but this will revert to normal policy for carry-over in 2023.
We would like to stress the importance of taking time away from work throughout the year, especially during these challenging times, to look after your own physical and mental wellbeing.
- I have to self-isolate due to a positive Covid test but I am asymptomatic/well enough to work. I cannot work from home due to my role. What arrangement are available to me?
If you have to self-isolate based on the NI Executive/PHA/FCO advice, and you have informed your manager of that reason, a period of self-isolation of up to 10 calendar days will be paid. Payment for a longer or further period of self-isolation (where you are not sick) will be at the discretion of the University.
- I have to self-isolate due to a positive Covid test but I am asymptomatic/well enough to work. What arrangement are available to me?
The University acknowledges the ongoing complexities of looking after dependants and working from home. You should discuss the possibility of adjusting your working arrangement/pattern with your line manager and facilitated where possible.
- I am not sick with Covid-19 but I have caring responsibilities for children or others who are self-isolating. What leave options or other arrangements are available to me during this self-isolation period?
Adjusted working arrangement The University acknowledges the ongoing complexities of looking after dependants and working from home. You should discuss the possibility of adjusting your working arrangement/pattern with your line manager and facilitated where possible.
Dependants Leave You may use Dependants Leave with the agreement of your line manager. The entitlement will remain at ten working days (pro-rated for part time staff) on full pay only. The University will permit a variable approach to the Dependant Leave quota to allow for time during the working week that you cannot flexibly rearrange. Any arrangement should be fully discussed with your line manager and reviewed at regular intervals.
Special Leave Staff may take a maximum of up to 5 days (pro-rated) special leave after discussion with their line manager to accommodate any exceptional circumstances. Special Leave should only be used when all other options – that is, adjusted working arrangement, Dependants Leave, annual leave – have been exhausted.
Once the above options have been utilised and staff require additional time off, they are expected to use annual leave or to take Parental leave.
If the manager and the member of staff cannot agree on the staff member's requirement for the above leave options, the matter may be escalated to the Head of School or Faculty Pro-Vice-Chancellor or Professional Services Director as appropriate, for a decision on the matter. If the issue remains unresolved, then it may be further escalated to the Director of People and Culture for a final determination. Staff may be accompanied by a colleague or Trade Union representative in these discussions.