Coronavirus guidance for police staff in England and Wales

UNISON is negotiating with police staff employers – NPCC, APCC and the Home Office – to try to get protection, clarity and guidance in place for our members during the COVID-19 crisis.

COVID-19 is an unprecedented event, which will stretch police forces to the extreme. We know that you will want to give your best, to serve your communities and keep them safe.

However, this doesn’t mean that your existing terms and conditions can be ignored. Police staff employment is governed by employment law and this position is unaffected by COVID-19. As your union, we are working to protect and support you.

Our key guidance for police staff during COVID-19 is below but please keep in contact with your local branch if any changes are made to your employment, or if you have any concerns.

Exigencies of duty and changes to individual working patterns

The COVID-19 crisis, and the way in which it impacts on staffing requirements in forces, is likely to trigger an ‘exigency of duty’ as defined by the Police Staff Council Handbook of Terms and Conditions, namely:

‘The term ‘exigencies of duty’ should be interpreted as relating only to situations of exceptional organisational demand, where a pressing staff requirement arises which could not be reasonably anticipated and which necessitates a change of working pattern.’

Forces should notify us in good time if an exigency of duty is likely to be declared.

If a force declares an exigency of duty in relation to COVID-19 it may require individual staff to:

• Work on a day not originally published/scheduled
• Change a shift start/finish time

These are the limits to changes to individual working patterns which can be required as a result of the declaration of an exigency of duty. Forces cannot use an exigency of duty to make a wholesale shift change for a whole department or unit without consulting with your trade union – see ‘Changes to collective working patterns’ below.

The Police Staff Council Handbook sets out pay and other arrangements, which compensate staff whose working patterns are changed as above. Please speak with your local branch if you are unsure about what you are entitled to.

Changes to working patterns to facilitate caring responsibilities

If you wish to change your individual working pattern to accommodate caring responsibilities created by the COVID-19 crisis, and these changes are approved, this should be on the basis of no detriment to your earnings. Your take home pay should be unaffected.

Voluntary ‘sell-back’ of annual leave

Forces may approach staff to see if staff are willing, on a voluntary basis, to sell back their annual leave, in order to provide additional staffing resilience to forces during the COVID-19 crisis. Please speak to your branch if you are approached with a request to sell back annual leave to your force.

Changes to collective working patterns

If a force wishes to change collective working patterns, as a consequence of COVID-19, the usual requirement for full consultation with trade unions over the changes, as set out in the Police Staff Council Handbook, applies. Please speak to your local union branch if your department or unit is asked to change working pattern.

Respecting your contract of employment

As with your pay and conditions, your work location and what you can be required to do at work, are set out in your contract of employment. Forces may not change your contract without your agreement, or the agreement of your trade union following a collective agreement. You are advised in particular reference to:

1. Changes to work location:

  • Your mobility obligations will usually be clearly set out in your contract of employment
  • Payment for additional travelling expenses/time will usually be set out in your contract of employment. It should be noted that the usual modes of public transport may not be available due to the reduction or shut down of services.

2. Changes to work role/responsibilities

If your force wishes you to redeploy into roles/responsibilities other than your substantive role, the following should apply:

  • The force should approach you with a request to redeploy
  • If the redeployment is outside the requirement of your contract of employment, you may agree, or not, to the redeployment request. You are strongly advised to take the advice of your trade union before agreeing to any redeployment request. The force, you and your union should agree on what contractual documentation is relevant to the request.
  • Unless contractually required to redeploy, you may decline the request
  • No negative inference should be drawn from a decision of an employee to decline a request
  • If the redeployment is a contractual requirement, you and your trade union and the force should discuss whether the redeployment is reasonable and proportionate taking into account the operational requirement for the redeployment and your personal circumstances, particularly health considerations and/or caring responsibilities.
  • Where possible, your preference for shift patterns should be accommodated upon redeployment
  • You and the force and your trade union should agree the duration of the redeployment at the outset, including a review at which you or the force may serve notice of a wish for a return to the substantive role, depending upon the contractual obligations on the respective parties.

Personal protective equipment

The National Police Coordination Centre (NPoCC) guidance on personal protective equipment changed on 9 April. Unfortunately, it now states that masks are not required if social distancing cannot be maintained in police workplaces. Whereas their 3 April guidance committed that forces should provide fluid resistant surgical masks (as standard) and gloves (as required) when social distancing could not be observed. The 9 April guidance now states:

“Staff working indoors with colleagues or suppliers should attempt to adhere to social distancing wherever possible. PHE has confirmed that the government Guidance is that in this scenario the use of PPE is not required.”

We are extremely disappointed with this change in the guidance which has come about, we understand, as a result of advice to NPOCC and NPCC by Public Health England (PHE).

UNISON’s position is very clear:

  • Forces have a responsibility under law to ensure the health and safety of their staff.
  • Under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations forces must undertake an assessment of the risk of COVID-19 transmission in each workplace.
  • If social distancing cannot be maintained in a workplace, the risk of COVID-19 transmission must be mitigated as far as is possible via the use of appropriate PPE, as well as the usual hygiene measures.
  • Fluid resistant surgical masks should therefore be provided to all police staff in workplaces where social distancing cannot be maintained in order to mitigate as far as possible against the spread of COVID-19.
  • Other PPE should be provided following the risk assessment as necessary.

NPoCC and the National Police Chiefs Council have assured the trade unions and staff associations that the police service has sufficient supplies of face masks and that forces are able to order what they need from their regional hubs. The military is providing logistical assistance to the service in relation to distribution of PPE via the hubs. Forces have been reminded by NPoCC/NPCC of the correct channels to use for ordering PPE.

I.5 million face masks have been delivered to the regional hubs this week and 3 million are due to be delivered next week. NPoCC and NPCC are confident that the masks they are now distributing to all forces meet all the necessary quality standards. The military is providing quality assurance checks on the masks.

Contact your Rep

You can get your local representatives contact details using our Branch Finder. They will have the most up to date information and we advise that you contact them if any changes are being made to your employment, or if you have any concerns.

Use the branch finder to contact your local representative