FAQs for staff

Page last updated: Monday 11 January 2021, 13:00

The FAQs below aim to help answer specific questions that staff might have about any impact the national lockdown may have on work. For more general questions about working on campus please visit the general staff FAQ page. We will continue to keep this page under review and update it if the advice from the University, government, Public Health England or the city’s Public Health Team changes.

What is meant by “best endeavours”?

The University has received numerous requests for clarification on whether the principle of “best endeavours” will apply during this period of national lockdown, and if so, how it will be defined and applied. The following guidance has therefore been developed in order to try and articulate further how the University expects the principle of “best endeavours” to be applied, noting that this period of national lockdown is markedly different to that in March 2020 when all childcare facilities were closed.

We recognise the challenges of this new national lockdown on staff; it is difficult for everyone, some more than others and for a variety of reasons – whether due to childcare concerns, mental health considerations or general anxiety about the current situation regarding COVID-19. The University is committed to being as supportive and flexible as it possibly can be in order to support staff through this difficult period, but at the same time, must ensure that such flexibility is balanced with the need to maintain the ongoing operations of the University including delivering and supporting our teaching and research, and supporting our students whether that is achieved through on campus or home working.

If a member of staff is concerned that they will struggle to fulfil their contractual hours and/or duties in their normal manner during the period of national lockdown, i.e. working their normal times/days of the week, they should speak to their line manager as soon as possible in order to discuss and arrive at a set of “agreed expectations”.

Such expectations are likely to vary between employees, dependent on different job roles, requirements and demands of the job and their home circumstances but would be predicated on expecting the majority of their work obligations to be met.

It is anticipated that there may be a need for priorities to be established as part of the agreed expectations. Such agreed expectations may also include that that work is delivered at different times of the day, or in some cases different days of the week in order to accommodate exceptional circumstances which may have arisen during lockdown. It is open to the line manager and individual to explore any other options which may be relevant, dependent on the nature and requirements of the role.

It is important that colleagues collectively work together and where necessary, are flexible in their approach to how their role might typically be fulfilled. This is a challenging time for everyone and the continued support, commitment, and dedication of staff is recognised and appreciated.

Do Higher Education staff have critical worker status?

The Department for Education have stated that Higher Education employees are considered critical workers for the purposes of access to education. Therefore University staff are eligible to be considered for school places where these are available. However if critical workers can effectively work from home and look after their children at the same time or are able to utilise other arrangements then they are encouraged to do so.

How do I get confirmation of critical worker status?

It should be sufficient for you to show your University ID to your children’s school as confirmation you are employed in Higher Education. Should the school request further confirmation (other than your ID card) please contact your DoOp/Director of Professional Services area who can confirm your status.

Can I work from home?

The University has reviewed and amended its guidance on staff working arrangements in light of the government’s guidance, as set out below. The context for the guidance is the announcement of a period of national lockdown, effective from 5 January 2021.

The guidance is subject to any further changes from government.

Staff who should continue to work on campus until mid-February 2021

In some of the categories below, a full-time presence on campus will be required; in others, it will be as agreed with the line manager on a part-time or occasional basis with the remainder of working time spent working from home. If an occasional presence on campus is required, think how the number of journeys to campus can be minimised;

  • those delivering face-to-face teaching on the small number of permitted programmes, staff supporting those who deliver such teaching, and those required to support any other form of academic interaction as determined by their College;
  • those providing support and other services to students who are resident in Birmingham or are permitted to access campus facilities having fulfilled the advice for testing or self-isolation. In addition, those providing support and other services to staff continuing to work on campus where a campus presence is required to deliver that support.
  • Researchers (including postgraduate research students) are permitted to access campus to use specialist facilities or equipment (including library resources) having considered how to maximise the opportunities for working from home;
  • Technical staff supporting continuing research on campus;
  • all those responsible for the safety and security of campus buildings and equipment;
  • all those providing those campus services, including nurseries, for staff, students and others on campus, which remain consistent with current restrictions;
  • all those providing essential health screening services and Covid-related testing for staff or students where these cannot be delivered remotely;
  • all those who need to manage or provide the effective handover of information, materials or University property as a result of resignation or departure under VLS.

Staff who need not work on campus during January/early February 2021

Reflecting public health guidance, any member of staff not in a category listed above whose work can be undertaken effectively from home.

Staff who may work on campus during January/early February 2021

We have previously recognised that some staff may not be able to work effectively from home due to personal circumstances or may feel that their mental health is adversely affected by remote working. Although most buildings will remain open, given the strong public health message that only essential journeys should be undertaken this can only be with the explicit agreement of the Director of Professional Services or the College Director of Operations and with due regard to health and safety considerations, including maintenance of social distancing rules and the avoidance of lone working.

Staff who should not under any circumstance work on campus during January/early February 2021

  • Any member of staff who has been through a return to work on campus assessment and has been advised by Occupational Health or a medical professional (including a midwife in respect of pregnancy) not to travel to work on campus.
  • Staff in the clinically extremely vulnerable category (those shielding) for whom current guidance is that they should not to travel to work, even where their work cannot be undertaken remotely

Are nurseries remaining open?

Yes, nursery provision will continue through the national lockdown.

What other forms of childcare are allowed during the lockdown?

There are several ways that parents and carers can continue to access childcare throughout the lockdown, including:

  • Early Years settings (including nurseries and childminders) remain open
  • Vulnerable children and children of critical workers can continue to use registered childcare, childminders and other childcare activities (including wraparound care)
  • Parents are able to form a childcare bubble with one other household for the purposes of informal childcare, where the child is under 14. This is mainly to enable parents to work, and must not be used to enable social contact between adults
  • Some households will also be able to benefit from being in a support bubble
  • Nannies will be able to continue to provide services, including in the home

What should I do if I can’t do my work from home but have school-age children?

Where you can only carry out your work on campus, you may wish to consider one of the permitted childcare options above and as a critical worker, you may be able to access a school place for your child.

If you will struggle to fulfil your contractual hours and/or duties in the normal manner during the period of national lockdown, i.e. working your normal times/days of the week, you should speak to your line manager as soon as possible in order to discuss further to see if there is any way to deliver your role on a best endeavours basis through a set of “agreed expectations”.

What should I do if I can’t do my job from home but I want to keep my children off school/nursery?

If you can only do your work on campus, but you choose to keep your children at home you will need to discuss this with your manager. You may be able to make alternative childcare arrangements in order to be able to continue to work, however, if this is not possible you should speak to your line manager as soon as possible in order to discuss further and arrive at how your role may be delivered on a best endeavours basis through a set of “agreed expectations”.

What should I do if I can’t get my children into school/nursery?

If you are unable to get your children into school/nursery, please speak to your line manager as soon as possible in order to discuss further and arrive at how your role may be delivered on a best endeavours basis through a set of “agreed expectations” if you have concerns that you will be unable to fulfil your contractual hours and/or duties.

What should I do if my child is required to self-isolate due to a school/class/early years childcare bubble being sent home?

If you have a child who is required to self-isolate because of a school/class/early years childcare setting closure you should try and make alternative arrangements for the care of your child if your job requires your presence on campus. Where possible and agreed, you may be able to work from home for the remaining period. Where you cannot work from home, please discuss the situation with your line manager to agree whether any alternative working arrangements can be put in place. We ask that you use your best endeavours to manage work alongside other responsibilities, whilst also balancing the need to care for your child.

I don’t feel safe using public transport to travel to and from work, what should I do?

Please speak to your line manager in the first instance. The University will support staff wherever possible to travel at different times of the day to avoid peak hours and to ensure that staff are as comfortable as they can be using public transport. It should be noted that the numbers coming on to campus are extremely low and the Government has produced transport guidance.

Where possible, the University will support those who have separate part time contracts to combine their working hours in order to reduce their travel as far as possible.

The University has also been offering loan bikes to staff who wanted to travel to work without using public transport.

I don’t feel safe at work, what measures has the University put in place to ensure safety of staff and students?

The University has conducted individual building risk assessments before each building on campus reopened and these are constantly reviewed as the national situation with Covid changes. The University has taken into account Government guidance in respect of measures which should be adopted in different workplace settings and the University has put in place measures to ensure that staff feel as safe and protected as they possibly can whilst on campus.

There are very few numbers of staff and students on campus and this will remain the situation for the duration of the lockdown. The University is now able to offer a pilot lateral flow testing facility for staff who can book a test if they wish to do so.

I am not clinically extremely vulnerable but I have an underlying health issue or am over 70, what should I do?

Those aged over 70 and clinically vulnerable employees are advised to be especially careful and be diligent about social distancing and hand hygiene.

When considering working arrangements and the requirement for on campus presence, managers should consider how staff can continue to work safely and working from home may continue to be a valid option and this should be supported where it is possible to do so for the period of the national lockdown. Where people cannot work from home consideration should be given to the implementation of any additional adjustments, if they are required. Adjustments may include, for example:

  • providing them with a single person office where this is possible,
  • including them in a smaller than usual work group which will remain stable (thus limiting their contact with other people),
  • staggering start and end times so that they can travel safely
  • redeployment to a lower risk role as required and where possible
  • minimising contact with other staff or students
  • reducing face-to-face teaching or other contact with students

More information is available from the Government’s coronavirus website in the section on meeting with others safely (social distancing).

I was sent home last time, why am I expected to come to work this time?

The situation with the COVID-19 pandemic is constantly evolving. In March 2020 when the pandemic first started, the Government ordered all businesses to close and therefore staff were sent home. The situation changed over the course of 2020 and the University has consistently followed Government guidance. The Government advice during this period of lockdown is that people should stay at home and work from home. However, where people can’t work from home and their role is considered an essential service they can attend the workplace; the Higher Education sector is considered an essential service and Higher Education employees are considered critical workers.

What happens if the University can’t get PPE?

The University has plenty of PPE and has numerous supply chains and is therefore confident that appropriate PPE will be available for those members of staff who require it to work on campus.

Why should I come to work, when other staff are being paid to stay at home?

As an essential service, the Government have directed that universities remain open, in limited circumstances, to continue to provide key educational and research services. As a consequence, it is important that specific groups of staff continue to carry out their roles to ensure the essential continued maintenance, servicing and operationalising of campus.

There are some staff in other roles, which are either not currently required, or cannot be performed on campus and therefore the University will seek to make use of furlough for these groups, where it is deemed necessary and appropriate.

I have a vulnerable relative that I live with/care for and I don’t want to come to work

The Government’s guidance to those in the clinically extremely vulnerable category (CEV), i.e. those formally advised to ‘shield’, does not extend to those other household members they live with.

Where possible, the University will try and accommodate home working where this is feasible, however, there are some roles which are not able to be performed from home and the University has made campus as safe an environment as possible, adopting all the recommended Government measures to ensure that campus is a Covid-19 safe environment.

Individuals may be able to agree with their line manager temporary amendments or adjustments including working at different times of the day, or taking a period of annual or unpaid leave.

I have received a shielding notification, but want to attend work on campus. Am I allowed to do so?

The University strongly encourages those members of staff who have received a shielding notification, to follow the advice they have received from the Government and they are advised not to work on campus if they cannot work from home.

It is appreciated that extensive periods of working from home can affect individuals’ mental health and where this is the case, individuals are encouraged to access support mechanisms available, including the University’s Employee Assistance Programme.

Individuals are also encouraged to speak to their line manager as soon as they can regarding any concerns they have.

I am out of the country at the present. Can I work from abroad?

You should speak to your manager and make plans to return to the UK to pick up your duties as soon as is possible.

Employees affiliated with the Edgbaston UK campus should normally work in the UK and reside within a reasonable travelling distance of the University of Birmingham Edgbaston UK campus.

For your manager to consider if it is possible to agree to you carrying out your duties remotely on a short term basis, your manager will first seek advice from their Human Resources Business Partner (HRBP). This is because if you work outside the UK, even short term, there will be implications for you and the School/Department on the following:

  1. Tax, Social Security
  2. Healthcare
  3. Pension
  4. Payroll
  5. Permission to work/Visa
  6. Intellectual Property arrangements
  7. Extra costs for you and the School/Department on some of the above

After taking advice from the HRBP your manager might agree it is possible, on a short term basis, for you to carry out some duties remotely. Otherwise you may need to explore other options with your line manager.

Are we putting all our teaching online?

The government has updated its guidance to universities on resuming face-to-face teaching with the expectation that, apart from the small number of exempt programmes (medicine, allied health, teacher training and social care), teaching will be online only until mid-February.

What facilities and services will be open on campus?

During this additional period of national lockdown, the below adjustments will be made to the facilities and services available on campus.

Cafes and catering

In line with government lockdown rules no household mixing, aside from support bubbles and two people meeting in public outdoor spaces is permitted so cafes and catering will be closed with the exception of sales by takeaway or click and collect. The latest opening times for outlets are set out below. We will also continue to provide ‘isolation packs’ for any students that need to self-isolate during this period.

Opening times for campus outlets from Tuesday 12 January 2021
Outlets - Main campus
Take away plus click and collect only where available
 Opening times
Mon-Fri
Medical School   09:00 - 16:00
Library  09:00 - 16:00
Costa Bramall  08:00 - 16:00
Costa Uni Centre  08:00 - 17:00
Starbucks Muirhead Tower  08:00 - 17:00
Starbucks Pavilion   08:30 - 16:00 (Saturday & Sunday 10:00 – 16:00)
Spar  08:00 - 17:00
Opening times for Vale outlets from Wednesday 6 January 2021
 Outlets - The Vale Opening times
Mon-Sun
The Melt  10:30 - 19:00
Infusion (Wednesday only)  12:00 - 14:00
Costcutter  09:00 - 17:00

Sports, Museums and Galleries

In line with government lockdown rules, the University’s Sports Centre and Tiverton Gym have temporarily closed. The government has confirmed that museums and galleries must close and therefore the Lapworth Museum, Barber Institute, Elgar Concert Hall, and Winterbourne House will remain closed for visitors.

Winterbourne Garden opens to visitors for the 2021 season on Friday 8 January. Open seven days a week from 10:30 to 16:00 (with last entry at 15:30), entry is free for UoB staff and students upon presentation of a valid ID card. Botanic Gardens are able to remain open under Tier 4 restrictions as they provide valuable access to fresh air and nature, so beneficial to health and wellbeing. The house, shop and tearoom remain closed until further notice. However the online 'Click and Collect' shop will also be re-opening for orders from the 8 January and include a brand new range of spring bulbs. 

Nurseries

The government has made clear that all nurseries should remain open. Staff whose children currently attend one of the University day nurseries will be able to access a care service throughout this further lockdown period.

Libraries and study spaces

Maintaining an on-campus experience for those students that remain here is particularly important and library and study spaces on campus will remain open, operating under our established COVID-safe measures.

Car Parking

Car parks will remain open and we will be suspending all car parking charges for staff during the National Lockdown period.

Buildings and maintenance

Work is ongoing to identify buildings which need to remain fully operational, and buildings which may be placed into standby mode. Standby mode means they will remain compliant and ready to open but will not be accessible on a daily basis. This differs to the March Lockdown where buildings were temporarily closed for staff and student access. This list will be shared once finalised.

What should I do to keep myself safe?

In order to keep yourself and others safe, please ensure that you adhere to government guidance. It is critical that everybody observes the following key behaviours:

  • HANDS - Wash your hands regularly and for 20 seconds.
  • FACE - Wear a face covering in indoor settings where social distancing may be difficult, and where you will come into contact with people you do not normally meet.
  • SPACE - Stay 2 metres apart from people you do not live with where possible, or 1 metre with extra precautions in place (such as wearing face coverings or increasing ventilation indoors).

Further information for each tier, including a postcode checker to find out about the tier and rules regarding a specific geographical area is available on Gov.UK.

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