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 pandemic.

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 

Can care workers book vaccinations direct?

Yes. All eligible frontline care workers can access their first vaccination via the National Booking Service.
This provides an additional option for employers and eligible frontline social care workers to access an appointment at a time and place that is convenient for them.
Social care workers can access their vaccination appointment with a Local Authority-issued Notice of Eligibility. They can also use a recent letter from their employer, along with photo identification which confirms their place of work. For those who do not have a work photo ID, as a minimum, a letter from their employer with another form of photo ID will be needed.
Social care workers should inform their employers of their vaccination to enable this to be included in data returns.

My employer says I have to get the vaccine as a condition of employment, can they do this?

UNISON supports vaccination in social care. The vaccine is safe and we have encouraged all members who do not have a medical exemption to get the jab.

But vaccination should be your decision and the UK government should promote persuasion and reassurance.

New legislation means that people who enter the premises of a CQC-registered care home in England for residents requiring nursing or personal care must have completed a course of authorised COVID-19 vaccine doses unless they have an exemption.

People who live in Scotland or Wales and work in England must still show proof of vaccination/ exemption in English care homes.

The regulations introducing this were approved on 22nd July 2021. There is then a 16-week ‘grace’ period.

On 11th November 2021, it will become illegal for the registered care home to permit people into the premises if they are unable to show they are vaccinated or are otherwise exempt.

This means that 16th September 2021 is the latest date that someone could receive their first vaccination dose before the regulations take effect.

The devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have all explicitly said they will not introduce mandatory vaccination for care home workers, working in those countries.

See the Government’s own guidance for affected staff and employers

In the meantime, if you have concerns about your situation speak to your UNISON branch.

The policy announced on 16 June 2021 applies to care homes in England only.

For further information, see our guidance for members on mandatory vaccination (Word)

I’m 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.

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 have told employers to make sure that workers who self-isolate do not lose out financially.  Where employers ignore this advice, we will challenge them.

The Government made £1.1 billion available via local authorities and devolved administrations to cover extra costs to support staff and infection control measures. Official guidance:

“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.

Should my employer be checking our temperature before we work?

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?

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:

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?

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.

We’ve 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 pandemic, 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.

Do I have to go to work if my children can’t go to school or childcare is not available?

If you need to stay at home to look after your children, you are legally entitled to unpaid dependant leave.  However, many UNISON members will be entitled to paid dependant leave due to agreements negotiated with their employer.

Our advice is that you should explain your situation to your employer, and we would expect your employer to be reasonable in accommodating your circumstances.

See what your contract says or talk to your UNISON branch if you are unsure what your rights are.

Read our guidance on coping with caring responsibilities

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, the UK government launched the ‘Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme’ in a bid to avoid mass redundancies. The scheme is backdated to 1 March and will operate up to the end of October 2020.

More information on furlough and the job retention scheme

Our legal guide form members on Furlough, Annual Leave, Sickness & Redundancies (PDF)

Can care workers who should be ‘shielding’ be furloughed?

Yes, but you will need to ensure you qualify according to the criteria set out in government guidance. If you cannot make alternative arrangements for work, your employer may be able to furlough you under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, which has been extended until the end of April 2021. For more information on this issue, see our advice on shielding.

Speak to your UNISON branch if you think your employer is not treating you fairly.

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 workers

Those 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.