Advice for members on coronavirus (Covid-19)

We know that members are concerned about coronavirus and any impacts on work. This page gathers relevant information from UCU, the University of Birmingham, and other sources to provide as much information for members as possible. It will be updated with any new and relevant information as the situation develops.

What the University is obliged to do

The University of Birmingham must follow the advice of the Government on health and
wellbeing and the advice of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on travel and related matters.

Government advice on Covid-19

FCO advice on travel

The University must provide clear guidance to all staff and students on
developments and the latest advice and ensure that line managers are clear on relevant processes for sickness reporting, self-isolation, pay, working from home.

The University of Birmingham has published guidance and FAQs for staff, students, and visitors: University of Birmingham coronavirus guidance.

See, in particular, the University of Birmingham FAQ for staff.

Worklink FAQ

See also:

NHS advice on Covid-19

UCU guidance on coronavirus

 

The following are questions members may have. If you have additional questions please contact the branch at admin@birminghamucu.org and we will get back to you as soon as possible.

What will happen once campus is restricted on 20 March?

The University have announced a move to restricted campus operations from 5pm on Friday 20 March to Monday 1 June. During this time, the majority of staff will be required to work remotely. Many buildings on campus will be closed or accessible only to those with pre-authorised approval. The University has confirmed that staff will still be paid during this period of closure.

I have been asked to carry out additional work to prepare for University closure. Do I have to undertake this work?

Your line manager can make reasonable requests for you to prioritise your workload as they see fit. However, while undertaking ASOS it is important that you clarify with your line manager if the task you are being asked to do is voluntary or mandatory. If they say the task is mandatory you should ask them to put this in writing to you and ask them to outline workload hours for this task. You can also ask them what work they would like you to de-prioritise in order to carry out tasks relating to Covid-19.

We recognise that some members are being asked to use digital tools and software they may be unfamiliar with. The University, as your employer, has a duty to provide adequate training and equipment for all staff. You have a right to request adequate training and time to learn how to use new tools or equipment that are required for your job and we would encourage members to request this via their line manager.

It is likely that some members will be more affected by these requests than others. It is worth remembering that a written instruction to one colleague does not count as a general instruction to all, so members should seek individual confirmation that they are also required to undertake this work.

See also BUCU advice on taking action short of a strike.

I have been asked to make lecture recordings available for my teaching. Do I have to do this?

In short, no. During the current dispute, Birmingham UCU is asking its members to remove all Panopto recordings relating to the dispute period (25th November 2019 to 29th April 2020) and not to upload any new recordings during that period. We are advising members to make recordings available on an individual basis for students with disabilities. There is a practical guide on the BUCU website.

My line manager has suggested that I share my phone number with colleagues in case of emergency. Do I have to do this?

No. Sharing personal details is not required and many members will feel, understandably, uncomfortable sharing personal information with work colleagues. There are also potential safeguarding issues with sharing personal information. We advise that members continue to use email as a primary mode of communication with colleagues.

We would also advise members that they should not feel obliged to meet colleagues in spaces off-campus (in the event of the University’s closure).

If I am required to self-isolate will I be eligible for sick pay?

Yes – the University has confirmed that it will pay University sick pay to any member of staff who has been advised to self-isolate by NHS111 or a Doctor. Worklink have confirmed that they will pay sick pay to any workers up to 9 April. We have asked the University for assurance that they will pay sick pay for any casual or hourly paid staff who are unable to work due to a diagnosis of coronavirus, to ensure they do not feel compelled to come to work to make ends meet.

Do I have to provide a sick note?

The University has said it recognises that it may not be possible for employees to provide a sick note, particularly if they are self-isolating. If you do have a sick note you should send it to your line manager as soon as safely possible.

Will I be expected to do work if I am self-isolating?

Where possible, yes. The University has said that providing an individual feels well and they are able to work from home they should try to undertake some work remotely. This should be agreed between the staff member and their line manager on a case by case basis.

Update 20 March: Where members are caring for children at home, the University has acknowledged that it may be more difficult for some colleagues to undertake their normal workload. They have confirmed that they expect colleagues to work to their “best endeavour” but that line managers have been instructed to recognise that this won’t be possible for everyone. If colleagues are not able to undertake their usual workload they should let their line manager know realistically what they can achieve. If you encounter any difficulties or would like to speak to a UCU rep about this please contact us on admin@birminghamucu.org

Will I be provided with equipment when working from home?

Probably, yes. The University has said it is currently developing guidance on working from home. If you are asked to work from home your line manager will discuss with you what equipment may be required in your particular circumstances. While working from home your contractual rights remain unchanged and you may be able to request reimbursement for expenses such as telephone calls and costs of materials. You can discuss this with a UCU rep if you are concerned. We have emailed the University to ask for clarification on expenses and equipment.

You can claim tax relief for expenses due to working from home.

See also UCU advice on working from home.

How will absence for Covid-19 be recorded?

The University will keep a record of absence but has said that “absences related to the virus will be discounted for the purposes of absence management”. The University has asked staff not to report absence via New Core but to email line managers directly.

What if I need to take time off to care for a dependent?

Updated 27 March: The University has confirmed that, with immediate effect, there is no longer any need for staff to record that they are taking ‘Dependents Leave’ if they are unable to fulfil their normal hours/duties due to caring responsibilities. The University asks that staff maintain regular contact with their line manager to discuss what work, if any, they are able to undertake while caring for dependents.

I have an underlying health condition and I am worried about attending work. Can I work from home?

The University has advised if a health condition is identified by PHE as putting someone at higher risk if they were to contract Covid-19, this should be discussed with a line manager and occupational health to establish whether alternative working arrangements can be put in place. You can contact occupational health via Wellbeing Services.

I do not want to attend work because I am concerned about catching Covid-19. What can I do?

Line managers have been instructed to listen to staff concerns. If you have an underlying health condition, follow the guidance above. If your line manager agrees, you could take annual leave or unpaid leave. However if “the member of staff has no valid reason why they should not attend work … a refusal to attend work could be considered as a failure to follow a reasonable management request and may result in disciplinary action”. Your line manager should make you aware of this. As a union, we have asked the University to remove this content from their FAQ as we consider it to be misleading and potentially contrary to employment law.

Update (20 March): The campus will move to restricted operation from 5pm on Friday 20 March.

I am classed as ‘support staff’ and I’m on probation. Do I qualify for sick pay?

The University has agreed to temporarily change their policy so that Support Staff who are on probation will qualify for sick pay if the sick leave is related to Covid-19.

I am a student worker/hourly paid/casual staff. Will I still be paid if I am not able to work due to Covid-19?

Updated 20 March: The University have confirmed that all staff who need to self-isolate will receive pay in line with the previous pay or the hours they were due to work. Worklink have confirmed that workers will receive pay for any work that has been agreed and scheduled up until 9 April 2020. Workers will need to claim their time worked through the normal timecard process by 9am on Tuesday 5 May, using the dates and times that were due to be worked.

If the University closes, will I still be paid?

Yes, you will continue to receive your usual pay.

I have paid for travel expenses to a work event which has been cancelled. Can I get a refund?

We have asked the University for a guarantee that staff will still be able to claim work-related expenses from the University even if that travel does not go ahead. We have also asked for assurances that individuals can claim for travel disruption through the University’s travel insurance policy.

I have been asked by the University not to attend work. Will I still be paid? 

Yes, you will continue to receive your usual pay.

I would like to volunteer to help others.

The University of Birmingham has provided an additional day of leave for all staff to undertake volunteering work. There is information on how to arrange a day of leave for volunteering on the UoB intranet.