Coronavirus guidance for local government workers

This page provides advice for local government and council staff in relation to the COVID-19 outbreak.

UNISON has negotiated with local government employers and jointly agreed advice can be found below, including information on home working and vulnerable groups.

Local government employers have agreed that staff should work from home as far as possible.

Critical services

Local government staff are likely to be critical to the delivery of the COVID-19 response irrespective of their formal role. In schools this includes teaching assistants and other support staff.

Where critical services need to be maintained, it may be necessary for some staff to move to other duties. This should be agreed beforehand with individuals and local trade unions. Employees should not suffer any detriment in pay and conditions for the period of any temporary changes that are introduced.

Where staff are being asked to work flexibly, initially volunteers should be sought and appropriate training and personal protective equipment provided.

Unless there are urgent, mitigating reasons, employers should not require staff who do not have experience of supervising large groups of children as part of their usual role, to do so now, without the adequate support provided.

Employees who agree to undertake a different role should suffer no financial detriment and continue to be paid at their usual contracted rate. Where they undertake roles that are paid at a higher rate than their usual contracted rate, they should receive the higher rate of pay for the duration of the redeployment.

Clinically extremely vulnerable and clinically vulnerable workers


After England entered a third national lockdown, the NJC employers wrote to all local authorities, reminding them that NJC guidance jointly agreed with the trade unions still applied.

This followed a request from the trade unions to ensure maximum protection for workers who are clinically extremely vulnerable (CEV) or clinically vulnerable (CV).

They made clear that joint circulars of 17 March and 23 March 2020 are particularly important.

Vulnerable employees should work from home if they can.

If they cannot, then they could be redeployed to an alternative post that can be done from home.

But if they cannot work from home, they should be allowed to remain at home and must receive their normal full pay.

Read the joint guidance in the 17 March circular (PDF) and the 23 March circular (PDF).

Return to work, quarantine, test and trace

Most UNISON members in local government have been working throughout the COVID-19 crisis, and many have been doing so in their normal workplaces. However, as the lockdown is gradually eased, new joint NJC guidance has been agreed on the gradual return to work.

In each workplace that re-opens, a full risk assessment must be carried out, and the results shared with employees. Where individual employees have concerns (for example due to their Black background, gender, age, physical or mental health conditions, other caring responsibilities, vulnerable members of the household or practicalities of uncertain childcare arrangements), employers should seek to address these concerns and carry out individual risk assessments.

Where healthy employees are instructed to self-isolate under the test and trace system, this should not be regarded as sickness absence. Employees should be on normal full pay for the duration of the self-isolation period, including those who cannot work at home.

If an employee has to quarantine for 14 days having been abroad, employers should give sympathetic consideration if an employee has to travel abroad because of extenuating circumstances like a family funeral, or because they had booked their holiday before the pandemic and could not change it. Employees should be allowed to work from home during the 14-day quarantine period if at all possible, and employers should also consider redeploying them to alternative work that can be carried out at home.

Library workers

The Library Recovery Toolkit has been published by Libraries Connected and contains useful information for library staff as libraries reopen.

Access the toolkit

Read our briefing on this and other information for library staff (Word)

Refuse workers

Some local authorities and contractors have failed to change normal practices to reflect social distancing rules. For example, usually there are three in the refuse collection vehicle’s cab, but during this emergency there should be no more than two in a cab. We have made our views clear to local authorities and the Waste Industry Safety and Health forum (WISH) and we are campaigning with other organisations to improve practices.

In the meantime, we are working hard locally and nationally to ensure there is:

  • No more than two to a cab – and preferably just one
  • Regular deep cleans of cabs
  • Hand sanitiser always stocked up (access to toilet facilities, and hence soap and water, will be rare)
  • Provision of protective gloves

Further detail in the briefing here

Support staff in schools and early years

UNISON has raised various questions with the government. Current guidance says that staff should be sought on a volunteer basis and we have made clear that staff must be paid for extra work. Staff employed by private catering and cleaning companies also need guidance. We will keep you informed of any news and updates and please use this webpage for more detailed information.

Registered professionals

UNISON’s Professional Services Unit continue to operate as usual during the COVID-19 pandemic, ensuring we are there for members on a professional register. Due to travel restrictions, some regulators are making changes to usual procedures. This includes some hearings taking place via video conference.

More detail from UNISON’s Professional Services Unit

Social workers

Employers should have adequate safeguards in place for social workers so they can continue to provide services and undertake direct work safely in the COVID-19 world. These should include:

  • Arrangements for only critical face to face home visits to replace face to face based on risk assessments
  • Adequate access to Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)and hand sanitiser
  • Social worker specific PPE guidance which deals with ‘just in case’ scenarios
  • Clear guidance and training on virtual working and suitable electronic communications
  • Arrangements to minimise use of public transport through provision of parking permits
  • Essential car user allowances for those who have cars and access to dedicated taxis etc for those who do not.

UNISON has agreed joint NJC advice with the Local Government Association for employers and employees. Full details can be found in the social work briefing below, including information on statutory powers for looked after children, PPE and home visits, the social work together campaign, professional registration issues and continuing professional development:

Social work briefing

Food Standards Agency

UNISON are negotiating to ensure social distancing measures are implemented in slaughterhouses. We’ve called for a ‘protect our workforce, protect our food’ approach, to ensure workers remain safe and the country remains fed.

We are working hard to ensure:

  • Workers in slaughterhouses are separated by at least two metres
  • Adequate separation at all stages from entry to exit of the premises
  • Provision of hand sanitiser by the FSA for employees and contractors
  • The correct segregation while on the line, which may mean slowing down the line – the line is where meat hygiene inspectors stand to make sure food is fit for human consumption
  • No sharing of washing/sterilising facilities in the food processing areas
  • Adequate time and space available for washing down after the shift ends as well as at break times

Further details are in the full briefing

Annual leave

Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, staff may find themselves unable to take annual leave at a time of their choosing – or they may wish to carry over more days than would usually be allowed. The FAQ provides guidance for NJC staff on local annual leave schemes or the new statutory government scheme.

Annual leave FAQ

Local government funding

Councils and council workers are at the front line dealing with COVID-19. But the crisis is a huge drain on council resources, and they urgently need more funding to keep doing their vital work. The Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, Robert Jenrick, has said the government will do “whatever is necessary” to support councils through the crisis. UNISON is campaigning for the government to honour that.

We are calling for:

  • More money for councils: We welcome the extra funding of £1.6bn, with another £1.6bn to come, but our research suggests that this money will cover at most a third of what local government needs to fill the funding gap. In England, the Local Government Association (LGA) say councils need another £10bn, and we want to work with them to achieve this. More money is also needed in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
  • New resources now: Councils need their share of the new money quickly. There has been too long a gap between announcements of new money and the money being received. The devolved governments must make sure they pass on in full the extra money they’ve been granted.
  • A voice for the workforce: Council staff are at the front line and they have much to offer in discussions about how the government deals with the crisis.
  • Fair pay: The government also needs to provide more money for a fair pay settlement for local government workers. We support the LGA in their call for resources from central government to reward local government staff properly.
  • Re-build local government: We need early discussions about what lessons have been learned from the crisis, and how we can work together to rebuild local government.
  • Certainty for the future: Councils need to be able to plan for the next few years. They need clarity from government about longer term funding, particularly as business rates and other sources of income are likely to fall.

We will be campaigning alongside others for full and fast funding for councils.

Further detail

If your question has not been answered, there are links below to detailed documents, which may help provide information for your specific situation.

Latest update on quarantine (England, Wales and Northern Ireland)

Latest update on return to work, test & trace and admission to hospital (England, Wales and Northern Ireland) 

Latest update on social distancing in England, Wales and NI

More information on critical workers, people with health conditions and those who live with them, and undertaking different roles for England, Wales and NI

More information on home working and vulnerable groups for England, Wales and NI

More information on absence from work for England, Wales and NI

More information on home working from the Scottish Joint Council

More information on leave provisions from the Scottish Joint Council