COVID-19 advice for HE staff

Safer universities, safer jobs – UNISON advice for Higher Education members

We know that many staff will be worried and anxious during this time, and UNISON is working across the UK to ensure that your university campuses are as safe as possible and to ensure that your job and income are protected too.

You can find the latest government advice here:

What is UNISON doing?

UNISON is working with national employers, local employers and governments to protect university employees. During the first lockdown, UNISON agreed a national statement with UCEA, the national higher education employers, when the lockdown happened. This joint statement makes it clear that universities should work closely with the campus unions to navigate staffing issues that arise from COVID-19.

The national employers and joint unions have produced a joint statement on vaccinations that you can read on the link below. This encourages everyone to have the COVID vaccine when they are offered it.

Joint statement on vaccination

The national employers and joint unions have also produced a joint statement on testing that you can read at the link below. This encourages everyone to regularly use the COVID tests make sure that your workplaces are as safe as possible. The statement makes it clear that testing does not reduce the need to have adequate health and safety measures in place on campus.

Joint statement on testing

Risk assessments at your university

All universities must revise and review their risk assessments before more students and more staff return to campus, including:

  • encouraging all staff and students to take part in twice weekly COVID testing (lateral flow tests) to check for those who are carrying the virus but not displaying symptoms. Please note, these tests are voluntary but we encourage all to take part;
  • a need to reduce the risk of airborne transmission through adequate ventilation of all parts of the buildings.
  • potentially keeping face coverings as a requirement inside university buildings (especially if social distancing is not possible);

UNISON has produced detailed guidance on conducting risk assessments to support branches and reps who are involved with this.

COVID-19 Risk assessment

The national HE employers have agreed with the HE trade unions that risk assessments must continue to be at the heart of working in higher education. This joint national agreement embeds these principles as well as confirming that unions must be consulted and the equality impact needs to be an integral part of the process.

Joint union agreement on safe working during pandemic

Guidance on face coverings

The English government updated its guidance on face coverings and the requirement to wear face coverings has been removed, unless social distancing or good ventilation is difficult to maintain. However, UNISON’s advice is that face coverings may remain one of the necessary control measures specified within a risk assessment. Many universities are continuing to encourage face coverings to be worn inside building, unless the person is exempt, as a reasonable control measure.

You can find HE sector updates from the devolved nations at these links:

What if I have a question?

UNISON has produced some FAQs below setting out the latest advice for university staff working in England and Wales. They cover pay, operational issues, health and safety, home working and furlough.

For more general information about your rights at work during this health emergency please visit our dedicated web page.

My rights at work

For queries relating to local pay, terms and conditions issues, please contact your local UNISON branch.

Find my branch

We would like to assure you that across the UK – at workplace, branch, regional and national levels – UNISON is at the heart of the discussions and raising your issues and concerns directly with governments and employers.

UNISON is here for you.

Jump to FAQs for HE staff