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.

New guidelines from 19 July

With the relaxing of COVID restrictions, new National Joint Council (NJC) guidance has been agreed between the trade unions and the employers, covering England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

While the Government has relaxed various rules, for example on social distancing and face coverings, this new joint NJC guidance provides some help for local government workers.

It says that the timing and phasing of the return to workplaces should be discussed with employees and their trade union reps. It emphasises the use of risk assessments before making changes, and makes clear that continued home working, social distancing measures, face coverings, changing workplace layouts, ventilation and screens/barriers should all be carefully considered.

Clinically extremely vulnerable employees should be offered individual risk assessments, and their requests to continue working from home should be properly considered and granted, unless there are compelling reasons not to do so. Consideration should be given to requests from employees to be based at a site other than their usual workplace.

You can read the full joint circular for England, Wales and Northern Ireland here (PDF).

Sickness absence

An employee who is off sick with any COVID-related sickness absence (including vaccination side effects) should receive pay and leave in accordance with their length of service so that the usual provisions of the sickness scheme apply.

For absences identified by a medical professional as ‘long COVID’, the joint guidance reminds employers that there is provision in the Green Book (the national terms and conditions) enabling them to exercise discretion and extend sick pay in exceptional circumstances. We would encourage employers to take this approach in relation to long COVID.

Should sickness absence continue, or be expected to continue, for such a period of time that the employee’s return to work is unlikely within a reasonable period, employers are advised to adopt the same practice as they would for any other long-term illness.

This should include regular contact with the employee and involving Occupational Health and trade union representatives at the appropriate time.

Self-isolation

We have been made aware that some employers have mis-categorised self-isolation due to contact with someone with COVID, and have made employees take sick leave.

To be clear, the NJC Green Book states that if an employee is off work due to contact with an infectious disease, they are entitled to normal pay, and the time off is not counted as sickness absence.

Vaccinations

The NJC has urged all employees who are called forward to be inoculated to ensure that they take up the opportunity as soon as possible. It is also important that employers ensure that every possible effort is made in providing employees with reasonable time off in order for them to receive their jab.

Library workers

Libraries Connected have published operational guidelines for libraries in England for the period after 19 July which contains useful information for library staff.

Access the operational guidelines:

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

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

Further details

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