Coronavirus advice for social care workers

This page is for care workers, including residential, homecare and community care for both adults and children. It provides advice in relation to the Covid-19 outbreak.

Spotting issues during the crisis: Your help needed

If you become aware of a workplace problem in a social care setting, related to the coronavirus outbreak, email us with a short summary here:  care@unison.co.uk 

Frequently Asked Questions

I work as a carer and I’m frequently in contact with elderly and vulnerable people, I’m concerned about passing on the virus to them.  What should I do?

If you’re not showing symptoms of coronavirus you should continue to attend work in the normal way, according to public health advice.

It is very important that the care system continues to operate and the crucial work done by you is vital to this. However, if you experience symptoms as set out in this advice, you should remain at home and not attend work. Also, if anyone in your household has symptoms, you need to self-isolate for 14 days.

I am very worried about my finances. If I self-isolate and stay away from work, I cannot afford for my income to drop to statutory sick pay offered by my employer.  What should I do?

It is vitally important you follow public health advice and don’t attend work if you are experiencing symptoms of coronavirus.  Many of those in receipt of care are in the high-risk category, and everything possible should be done to avoid passing on coronavirus.

In every workplace that we have recognition to negotiate, we are asking employers to make sure that workers who self-isolate do not lose out financially.  Where employers ignore this advice, we will challenge them.

As of 22nd May, The Government has made £600m available via local authorities and devolved administrations to cover extra costs to support staff and infection control measures. Official guidance for England states:

“The infection control fund is intended to help providers pay for additional staff and /or maintain the normal wages of staff who, in order to reduce the spread of infection need to reduce the number of establishments in which they work, reduce the number of hours they work, or self-isolate.”

Employers can claim this money and it should mean that you do not lose out financially if you are self-isolating. UNISON is contacting social care employers and councils to make sure that the money reaches the front line. If you work in social care and your employer is penalising staff for self-isolating and refusing to use these funds to pay staff normal wages, let us know.  You can email care@unison.co.uk or find your UNISON branch here.

Members experiencing financial difficulties can contact our welfare charity, ‘There for You’, which provides confidential advice and support service for members and their dependents.

I am self-isolating but the care provider I work for is refusing to pay my sick pay from day one.  What should I do?

The government has confirmed that statutory sick pay (SSP) is available for eligible people from day one of their absence, if they are self-isolating in line with Government advice.

This is available to all those who are advised to self-isolate, even if they don’t have symptoms.  It is particularly important that this is in place for workers in social care settings because of your close contact with individuals from high-risk groups. If your employer is refusing to comply with this, contact your UNISON rep or branch (link to branch finder). In the meantime, follow public health advice and do not attend work if you have Covid-19 symptoms.

This is the kind of issue we want you to report to care@unison.co.uk – information about what is happening on the ground is vital for us to deliver action from employers and government.

 

I’ve heard of other care employers checking their worker’s temperatures before they are allowed to start working but my employer isn’t carrying out any checks.  What should I do?

There is no requirement for care workers to have their temperature checked.  However, you should follow government advice to self-isolate if you are showing symptoms consistent with COVID 19. It is important that care workers are extra vigilant. See NHS UK advice for more information.

I’m an agency worker.  Should I be expected to move from care home to care home without being tested during the pandemic?

There is currently no requirement for care workers to be tested for COVID 19 before commencing work. However it is important that care workers show extra vigilance in following NHS UK advice.

What personal protective equipment should I expect to have been provided by my employer?

Public Health England have issued guidance on personal protective equipment (PPE). This can be found here.

PHE guidance “How to work Safely in Care Homes”, including a video on how to put on and remove PPE is here.

PHE guidance “Personal protective equipment (PPE) –
resource for care workers delivering homecare (domiciliary care) during sustained COVID-19 transmission in England” is here.

It should be noted that the Public Health England guidance now states that: “Ultimately, where staff consider there is a risk to themselves or the individuals they are caring for they should wear a fluid repellent surgical mask with or without eye protection, as determined by the individual staff member for the episode of care or single session.”

UNISON are calling for social care employers to have all the required PPE listed in the guidance available for workers including when a risk assessment carried out by the individual worker identifies they need appropriate PPE, including fluid repellent surgical mask and eye/face protection if necessary.

For more guidance on PPE, see our main coronavirus page.

What should I do if my employer has not provided me with the correct personal protective equipment?

If you believe that your employer is not providing the necessary PPE, report this to your workplace rep and/or your branch in the first instance. UNISON will raise this with your employer and challenge them to provide the required equipment.  Please also report this as an issue to care@unison.co.uk.

Social care providers in England can report PPE shortages to the National Supply Disruption Service (NSDR)

Currently, this is for employers in England only to use. You or your UNISON rep may wish to encourage the employer to use the service. We are seeking clarification on whether or not employees can report issues directly to the NSDR and we will update this advice as soon as we have this information.

In Scotland, UNISON have raised the availability of PPE with the Scottish Government.

What should you do if you have concerns about the welfare of your service users?  (e.g. lack of food, not enough care, staff shortages)

Each local authority has a local safeguarding team who should ensure this does not happen, and if it does, challenge providers where it occurs.  You should report any concerns about the welfare of service users to the local authority safeguarding team, whose contact details will be available on the local authority website.

Our local government team are working to ensure councils make sure all care workers get the details of who to contact if they have welfare concerns.

If you continue you to be concerned about inaction you can also contact the Care Quality Commission.

My colleagues and I have been told by our employer that we will have to stay in a care home/care setting for a period of days/weeks.  Are they allowed to make us do that?

No.  It would be a violation of your employment rights to force you to stay in a work setting against your will, outside of your contractual obligations.  We have received reports of care workers (particularly those without personal/family caring responsibilities) being told to do this or to expect to do this.  Workers may well need to work more flexibly during the period of the outbreak, but forcing workers to stay at work for days/weeks is completely unacceptable.

If you are told by your employer to do this, contact your branch immediately to get your Rep to raise it with your employer. The branch may raise the issue to a regional level if legal advice is required.  We have already successfully challenged policies of this nature.

There are staff shortages in the care setting(s) where I work, but nothing is being done about it.  What should I do?

Care workers will recognise the coronavirus outbreak raises the likelihood of staff shortages. UNISON negotiators are encouraging employers to deal with the issue on a departmental and workplace basis, to ensure carers are not asked to do an unrealistic amount of work.

We want providers to carry out regular workload reviews to prioritise activities and identify the least essential work that can be set aside over the crisis. Consideration should also be given to recruiting staff on temporary contracts.  Severe staff shortages which endanger the welfare of residents should be reported to local safeguarding teams and the CQC as mentioned above.

We have been told that council workers and other volunteers who do not normally work in care may be coming to work with us because of the possibility of staff shortages.  Is this allowed?

The government is passing emergency legislation to enable recently retired NHS and adult social care staff to return to work without any loss of pension rights. Volunteers to the care sector will be given employment safeguards, which means they can “pause” their substantive job for up to four weeks, while they help out. It is worth noting that joint union/Local Government Association (England and Wales) guidance states:

“Where staff are asked to work flexibly to cover other jobs, initially volunteers should be sought. New roles must be clearly explained to them and they should receive appropriate training. If they are asked to work in roles which have increased risks, such as cleaning, a risk assessment must be carried out before they start.”

In Scotland emergency legislation is being passed on this issue. Full details will be available soon.

We will continue to monitor this situation closely. Report any problems relating to this issue at care@unison.co.uk

I’ve heard my kids’ school is going to be closed and I don’t have anyone to look after them.  How can I get to work and make sure they are looked after?

On 18 March the Prime Minister announced that schools across the UK will be closed from Friday 20 March for the majority of children until further notice. The Government says it expects closures of providers of early years education, sixth form colleges, further education, higher education, independent schools and boarding schools.

Boris Johnson went on to say that there will be school provision for children of “key workers” – such as NHS staff, the police, and delivery drivers – and vulnerable children. See gov.uk for a list of who qualifies as a key worker.

What if my employer is considering layoffs or redundancies?

As a result of the coronavirus crisis some workplaces, including a small number of care homes and other care settings, have been closed. In response to this, the government has announced details of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. Employers can use this scheme to keep people employed until the workplace reopens, rather than making people redundant.

UNISON has produced guidance on the scheme for members which can be found here.

Can care workers who should be ‘shielding’ be placed on the Coronavirus job retention scheme? (Furloughed)

Yes. UNISON believes people in this category should be able to shield, in accordance with NHS guidance, on full pay. Employers can place care workers in this situation into the scheme, which covers 80% of wages.

New guidance on this point was published on 17 April.  It can be found on the “Skills for Care” website here.  The document states that “the Department of Health and Social Care has agreed the following interpretation of the guidance on the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.”

This guidance states: “We also know that some of the care workforce will have been contacted by the NHS to say that they should be “shielding” for a period of 12 weeks. These workers are not able to continue working in the usual way. An employer could decide to keep these workers on full pay without using the Coronavirus Job Retention scheme, but the Coronavirus Job Retention scheme is also available if employers choose to use it for this purpose.”

UNISON guidance on the Job Retention scheme can be found here.

I am a Black care worker, concerned about the increased risk I face from the virus.  What should I do?

Belatedly, the government has published the “Adult Social Care Risk Reduction Framework: Assessing and reducing the risk to your workforce”.  This document sets out the risk assessment process that employers should be following in order to managed increased risks to workers with protected characteristics, including ethnicity. You employer should be following these procedures to manage the risk to Black workers.

If you have concerns about the behaviour of your employer, you should contact UNISON. You can email us at care@unison.co.uk or find your UNISON branch here.

UNISON is campaigning hard to force the government to do more to protect Black workers from the virus. The pandemic has brought home just how many front line care employees are from Black communities. We know Black workers have suffered a heavy toll and need better protecting now.  UNISON’s Head of Equality, Gloria Mills, speaks about the increased incidence of COVID-19 in the Black community in an online interview here.

Visa extensions for overseas care workers

Following representation from UNISON and pressure across the service, the Home Secretary announced (29 April) that free visa extensions will be granted to overseas health and care workersThose with visas due to expire before 1 October 2020 will receive an automatic one-year extension. This will apply to staff in the NHS and independent sector and will include their family members.

The government also confirmed that family members and dependents of healthcare workers who sadly pass away as result of contracting the virus will be offered indefinite leave to remain.

Where to find help from UNISON

Contact your local branch for workplace issues

Or, if you can’t get through to the branch, contact your regional office

If you’re experiencing financial and emotional difficulties contact our welfare charity, There for You

If you are experiencing trauma or bereavement as a result of the pandemic, you can find some useful resources specifically aimed at UNISON members in social care here.

You can view an online Webinar held on 12th May 2020 which sets out UNISON’s work on social care during the pandemic, answering questions from UNISON reps in the sector and sign-posting to support here.

Government and official guidance for social care workers

England

Scotland

Cymru/Wales

Northern Ireland

Agreements and guidance in place in Local Government and the NHS

For social care workers directly employed by councils subject to the National Joint Council for Local Government Services (the majority of councils) UNISON has negotiated this agreement in regard to leave, sick pay, self-isolation and other issues relating to the outbreak.  This guidance has been sent to Chief Executives in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Some social care staff in England, Scotland and Wales will work for organisations covered by guidance for hospitals and NHS staff.  Guidance has been jointly published by NHS employers and unions covering 241 NHS trusts across the UK. The joint statements and papers can be found here.

Local government workers (Scotland) Coronavirus update.