Last Updated: 02/02/2021
The situation relating to COVID-19 is continually evolving and therefore these questions and answers will be subject to ongoing review and amendment as appropriate. Please endeavour to keep up to date with developments via links and channels outlined within the answers section.
Previous guidance around annual leave was provided prior to the Easter and Summer breaks. The focus of the guidance was on the health and well-being of employees to ensure they were able to take annual leave and have sufficient rest, given that a significant number of staff continued to work very hard in critical services, supporting schools and education restart.
That focus on employees’ health and well-being continues to be a key strategic priority.
The following guidance for corporate and school based staff has been updated in relation to annual leave for the remainder of 2020-21:
- In line with guidance issued in July 2020 , all corporate and school based staff, as far as possible, should have taken a minimum one third of their annual leave entitlement between 1 April and 30 September 2020.
- All corporate and school based staff should continue to take their annual leave as normal, as far as possible, during the remainder of the 2020-21 leave year up to 31 March 2021 to prevent staff building up leave where they are not required to do so, particularly where this could adversely impact future service delivery.
- Managers should, as far as possible, allow staff flexibility to revise planned/booked leave dates and to avail of leave for childcare responsibilities, particularly during periods when schools and child care provision are not operating normally. Where annual leave has been booked and an individual then has to self-isolate during this period, the leave may be cancelled. Where an employee is well and is able to work from home during a period of self-isolation, they should continue to do so if they do not wish to take annual leave.
Staff who have a child who is required to self-isolate as a result of COVID-19; it is recognised that in an emergency situation a member of staff may be unable to attend school/work place in their usual capacity at very short notice due to their child being required to self-isolate for a period of time as a precaution against COVID-19 and there being no one else available to care for the child. In these specific circumstances, the member of staff should be facilitated to work from home. If the nature of the individual’s job prevents this the member of staff, in these circumstances and for the period of the COVID-19 pandemic, may request exceptional dependant leave from their Principal/manager up to a maximum of ten working days (pro-rated for part time staff) on normal pay. In all other circumstances staff with dependents should continue to investigate and source all care options available to them in order that they can attend the school/ workplace. Further guidance for staff is available here: Guidance on absence relating to Coronavirus updated 8 October 2020.
- Government guidance currently states that you should avoid all unnecessary travel. Click here to learn more about Current Restrictions. Staff who do travel should adhere to the relevant government guidance in place at the time of travel and must be cognisant of any requirements preventing immediate return to work e.g. quarantine requirements. Further guidance for staff is available here: Guidance on absence relating to Coronavirus updated 8 October 2020. Staff should continue to reference government guidance and be aware that some guidance may change.
- In exceptional circumstances staff may be required to work and unable to take their annual leave as normal. All such requests must be based on the need to support schools and critical services supporting education through COVID-19, and take account of an employee’s personal circumstances, balanced with the need for staff to be provided with rest from work during prolonged periods. The EA will work to ensure that staff can access leave to enable them to rest in support of staff well-being and that untaken annual leave is not lost.
- Staff are reminded that they are permitted to carry forward up to 7 days annual leave into the following leave year in accordance with JNC Circular No 20.
Only in exceptional circumstances will staff be permitted to carry forward more than 7 days annual leave, subject to prior agreement with their Principal/ Assistant Director. Where exceptional circumstances may apply, staff are advised to discuss with their line manager in the first instance. The Authority continues to prioritise the health and well-being of all our employees and ensuring staff can avail of annual leave is very important.
As a result of the introduction of the Working Time (Coronavirus) (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2020 there may be exceptional circumstances when a worker may be able to carry over up to 4 weeks annual leave into the next 2 leave years.
When this amendment was brought forward it was clarified to MLAs that this would apply to staff who were prohibited from taking annual leave due to their involvement in delivering critical services as a result of COVID-19. This will therefore only apply to those staff who are able to demonstrate they have been prevented from taking their annual leave by the EA due to the criticalities of the service which they are delivering.
It should be noted that any exemption will apply only to circumstances where workers are unable to take their leave as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak, and carry-over of annual leave will be limited to the next 2 leave years. It is not intended to be a general relaxation of rules on holiday leave and entitlement.
Staffing Issues / Staff Concerns
I am currently carrying out an essential service and I am feeling unwell and my symptoms match those of COVID-19. What should I do?
Staff in these circumstances must not attend school/the work place and should stay at home as advised and follow the latest Government stay at home guidance for households with possible coronavirus (COVID-19) infection.
Staff in this category and their families should have a test undertaken to establish if they have COVID-19.
Principals/line managers will inform staff on the arrangements for testing (see link below). Staff who are displaying sympthoms have a duty of care to themselves and others so therefore must self-check to be tested.
It is important that Principals/line managers are fully aware of staff within their school/team who are self-isolating at any time. Testing is available for them or a member of their household (whoever is displaying the symptoms). To self-refer the follow this click
My staff member now wishes to return from long term sickness absence. How do I go about managing this?
The normal managing attendance procedure will be upheld.
Where Principal/ Line Managers are concerned about the support arrangements in place for those returning they should contact HR on 028 9041 8023.
In most cases some or all of these supportive measures will be required prior to safeguard a return.
- Appropriate notice and supportive dialogue with management to ensure a smooth transition back to work.
- Statement of Fitness for Work completed to sign them off as now fully fit to be at work
- An OH referral if concerns around support are still present (telephone/ virtual).
Can Classroom Assistants provide support to pupils they ordinarily work with in school in their homes?
Taking a range of factors into account, during this time, it is not appropriate for Classroom Assistants to provide support to pupils in their own homes during EA contracted hours.
If you are not in the workplace you are reminded that as an EA employee you are expected to be available for work and you may be reasonably directed to support the work of your, or another, team.
- Share a mobile/contact number with your line manager and be contactable during normal working hours
- Check emails daily if practically possible - you can access your email from home via https://webmail.eani.org.uk
- Undertake such work tasks/functions from home as you reasonably can
- Divert your desktop phone to your mobile if you can
- Notify your line manager if you have a confirmed case of COVID-19 or are required to self-isolate
What support is in place for staff to support their health and wellbeing during self-isolation and social distancing?
We recognise that long periods of reduced social contact and a less active lifestyle can have an adverse impact on an individual’s mental health and physical health. Below represents some of the key support mechanisms EA has in place.
Our main Employee Assistance Provider (EAP) is Inspire Wellbeing. EA staff have free 24/7 access to confidential and independent counselling support service.
Inspire is the leading provider of workplace wellbeing solutions, delivering mental health and wellbeing support to some of the UK and Ireland’s leading private, public and third sector organisations.
The number for staff to call for support is 0808 800 0002.
EA Health Well
To support you and best ensure your accessibility to important information and advice during this challenging time, EA has made the decision to fast-track the launch of its all staff Health and Wellbeing digital Hub – Branded EA Health Well.
What is EA Health Well
- a digital solution developed to support the themes of EA’s first Health and Wellbeing Strategy 2019-22. The solution will improve accessibility for staff to key health and wellbeing information and initiatives.
- an interactive website which provides EA employees with support, education and information on a wide range of topics as a way of improving their overall health and wellbeing.
- a solution which in time will complimented by a programme of activities and events organised through Workplace Champions.
A network of Health and Wellbeing Champions has being created and will be developed and supported so that individuals can get involved in driving wellbeing forward for themselves and their colleagues.
You can access the EA Health Well via the below link
If viewing on a PC we recommend using Google Chrome.
Supporting “Healthy Minds and Bodies” of all staff during these unpresented changes in lifestyles and need for reduced social contact will be the initial focus. However this internet based solution will provide a greater breath of support as we move forward linked to the themes of the EA Health and Wellbeing Strategy 2019-22 and the changing needs of our people.
How do I deal with a situation where a member of staff who does not wish to return to work due to living with a vulnerable person?
If a member of staff is living with someone who is considered clinically vulnerable, the current Public Health Agency (PHA) advice does not require them to self-isolate therefore they are able to attend work.
It may be the case where a member of staff living with a vulnerable person, feels they cannot return to work in any capacity at present despite the assurances and appropriate measures being put in place by the school. In this case the staff member and Principal/line manager should consider options which may include reduced hours/days, annual leave (if the contract of employment allows for this) or unpaid leave as appropriate.
If however, despite all of the above arrangements and assurances being put in place, the member of staff still does not come to work or avail of the options available then HR advice should be sought from the employing Authority.
Can you please explain what is meant by ‘Clinically Vulnerable’ and ‘Clinically Extremely Vulnerable’?
Definition of Clinically vulnerable
Some people are considered to be ‘vulnerable’ but not ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’ in relation to COVID-19. People over the age of 70 are considered ‘vulnerable’, even if they do not have an underlying health condition. This also applies to those who are pregnant.
Others considered vulnerable include people who have are under 70 with one or more underlying health conditions from the list – Click here to see the full list.
For adults this usually is anyone instructed to get a flu jab as an adult each year on medical grounds.
Definition of Extremely Clinically vulnerable (CEV)
Medical experts identified specific medical conditions that, based on what we know about COVID-19 so far, place some people at greatest risk of severe illness from COVID-19.
The list of highest risk diseases can be found here
Only those with the conditions listed have been defined as ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’.
If you have concerns, it is best to speak with your GP or hospital clinician as they will have knowledge of your medical history and circumstances.
Click here for advice and further information on those considered Clinically Vulnerable.
Click here for advice and further information on those considered Clinically Extremely Vulnerable.
What are the current work restrictions for my Clinically Extremely Vulnerable staff and how do I best support them?
From 26 December 2020, Clinically Extremely Vulnerable (CEV) people who are working and are unable to do so from home have been advised not to attend the workplace. This is advice only. People are free to make their own judgements about whether or not they should attend work, depending on the COVID-security of their working environment.
However, the general restrictions which apply to everyone must be followed.
The Chief Medical Officer has written to CEV people to advise of this change. Staff members can use the CMO letter as evidence for their employer as was the case when shielding was first introduced at the start of the pandemic.
This is not a return to shielding as it was previously. CEV staff are not being advised to stay permanently indoors, and are encouraged to continue to go outside for exercise, provided they observe social distancing when they do so.
If CEV staff choose to attend the work place, a risk assessment should be carried out by their Principal/line manager with the individual.
The risk assessment must assess and ensure control measures to mitigate/ remove any risks. Note the relevant Risk Assessment template.
Based on a risk assessment the Principal/line manager and Employing Authority reserve the right to request that clinically extremely vulnerable staff do not attend the work place.
The Principal/line manager and Employing Authority also may request evidence that a staff member is in the CEV category.
The Government is regularly monitoring its position on clinically extremely vulnerable individuals.
For more information on the latest advice for CEV staff click here
Further guidance on households containing clinically extremely vulnerable (CEV) people
The above advice applies to CEV staff only. Others living in a household with someone who is CEV are not advised to follow it, but should continue to stringently follow the guidance on social distancing, face coverings and hand hygiene.
If a member of your staff’s household is considered CEV, current PHA advice does not require them to self-isolate. If a member of their household falls into this category, they are able to attend work.
How should staff who are clinically vulnerable (but not extremely clinically vulnerable CEV) be supported were they are unable to maintain 2m social distancing due to the nature of their job?
PHA advice would be to maintain social distancing of 2metres or more, particularly for vulnerable people.
If clinically vulnerable (but not clinically extremely vulnerable) individuals cannot work from home they should take extra care in the work place observing social distancing, staying 2 metres away from others wherever possible, although the individual may choose to take on a role that does not allow for this distance if they prefer to do so.
In situations where 2 metres cannot be maintained Principals/line managers should undertake an individual risk assessment involving occupational health and the staff member’s GP if necessary to assess and control measures to reduce risk.
If significant risks remain unmitigated, alternative work should be offered at the safest available onsite location (where working from home isn’t possible). Where alternative work isn’t available the employee should be asked to remain at home on normal pay.
All COVID-19 vulnerable staff require an individual risk assessment to ensure their unique circumstances are considered.
Pregnant women have been included in the list of people at moderate risk (clinically vulnerable) initially as a precaution.
All clinically vulnerable individuals have been advised to take extra care in observing social distancing and should work from home where possible. Principals/line managers should endeavour to support this, where possible, for example by asking staff to support remote education, carry out lesson planning or other roles which can be done from home.
Where vulnerable individuals cannot work from home they can attend the work place subject to risk assessment and adequate mitigations in place. Extra consideration is required for pregnant staff when they
- have underlying health conditions that place them at a greater risk of severe illness from COVID-19
- are 28 weeks or more pregnant
Pregnancy in public facing roles
Principals/line managers must undertake a risk assessment and put in place mitigating measures to reduce risk for public/ customer facing roles such as Teacher, Classroom Assistant, Driver etc.
If unavoidable risks remain, alternative work should be offered at the safest available onsite location (where working from home is not possible). Where alternative work is not available the employee should be asked to remain at home on normal pay. For more information click here
Risk considerations linked to the stage of pregnancy
Recent PHA advised (Jan 21) confirmed the following;
Staff with less than 28 weeks of pregnancy do not appear to be more likely to be seriously unwell than other healthy adults if they develop COVID-19
However, for staff who are 28 weeks pregnant and beyond, there is an increased risk of becoming severely ill should they contract COVID-19. This is true of any viral illness contracted, such as flu. Click here for the latest PHA advice or here for more on Maternal COVID
What is the PHA advice on protecting pregnant women, at various trimesters, where social distancing at 1m plus mitigations cannot be guaranteed?
Up to 28 Weeks
If a pregnant woman is under 28 weeks, a risk assessment should be undertaken and precautions such as PPE put in place to minimise risk in the work environment.
Post 28 Weeks
If a pregnant woman is over 28 weeks, a risk assessment should be undertaken and precautions such as PPE put in place to minimise risk in the work environment. If the pregnant woman has a heart or lung condition, it is advised that they should not have direct contact with service users/ children. They could undertake other duties e.g. administrative work.
Social distancing of 2m is particularly important for pregnant staff beyond 28 weeks.
For many, this may require working flexibly from home in a different capacity. Principals/line managers should consider both how to redeploy these staff and how to maximise the potential for homeworking, wherever possible.
Where required adjustments to the work environment / role are not possible and alternative work cannot be found, staff in this category should be suspended on normal pay.
Individual considerations when carrying out a risk assessment linked to pregnancy
- Ability to social distance at 2m within current role should be taken into consideration.
- The medical history and current health status of the individual worker needs to be considered. The Principal/ Line Manager may consider an Occupational Health referral for an individual if they still remain concerned.
- The Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology Guidance is designed primarily for Health Workers but also applies to anyone in a public facing role. The Chief Medical Officers of the 4 Nations have noted that ONS identifies teaching as a lower risk profession.
To view the Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology Guidance for COVID–19 click here
If a staff member is displaying symptoms of COVID-19 as Principal what advice should I give to them regarding testing?
Staff who exhibit any symptoms associated with COVID-19 should not attend school/ the work place. Symptomatic Staff are expected to follow the advice and obtain a test for COVID-19.
Testing is available for school staff https://self-referral.test-for-coronavirus.service.gov.uk/test-type
The N.I. Executive has rolled out a Test and Trace and Protect strategy designed to control the spread of COVID-19. Staff contacted through this service are expected to follow the advice and self-isolate as instructed.
A member of staff has claimed that they have a medical condition which prevents them from returning to school. Am I entitled to request information on what the medical condition is?
The Principal/line manager and employing Authority are entitled to request and be provided with evidence to confirm medical conditions and inform, where necessary, risk assessments.
By carrying out an individual risk assessment the Principal/ line manager can consider the requirements of the vulnerable member of staff and decide what control measures can be put in place to minimise the risk to the member of staff. The Principal/ line manager should discuss with the member of staff the details in the risk assessment.
It is unlikely that generic assessments will be totally appropriate for each individual employee, there may be different circumstances pertinent to each case. They should therefore be modified for each individual making that assessment specific to their medical vulnerability and specific area of work.
The information on an individual risk assessment should be regarding as highly confidential and appropriate security/safeguards should be in place to ensure confidentiality.
Is a face covering required if I need to visit a school site in the normal course of my corporate role?
In line with the latest government directives, where possible, meetings should be held remotely. If this isn’t feasible the Coronavirus (COVID-19): Guidance for Schools and Educational Settings in Northern Ireland (published 08 December) advises that face coverings must be worn in staff rooms and during adult to adult meetings lasting more than 15 minutes and by adults visiting the school site.
There is advice about how to make your own face covering available on the UK Government website.
It is important when choosing what face covering to wear that you exercise care so as not to embarrass or intimidate co-workers or disrupt an harmonious working environment.
Please be mindful that the wearing of a face covering may inhibit communication with people who rely on lip reading, facial expressions and clear sound. Some useful information is available here.
Further information on the use of face coverings, including guidance on how to wear a face covering and how to maintain and dispose of face coverings, is available here.
Because face coverings are mainly intended to protect others, not the wearer, from coronavirus (COVID-19) they’re not a replacement for social distancing and regular hand washing.
There is a clear distinction between PPE and face coverings. PHA guidance makes clear that staff should continue to use PPE in line with current health and safety policies and risk assessments. Depending on the working environment, an individual or organisational risk assessment may identify a need for PPE, including facemasks. For any contact that has been risk assessed as requiring PPE, this will be provided.
Will Extended School Staff continue to be paid if they are absent from work as a result of Covid-19?
Yes. All Extended School Staff will be paid for the time that they have been booked to work.
Agency workers will also receive their normal pay for the period of time that they have been engaged to work and early termination of agency workers is not anticipated, although it will be necessary to keep this under review. We will need agency workers to be flexible at this time and this may include the need to divert them to other roles as we continue to work to maintain business critical services.
If an employee normally works overtime each pay period they will continue to be paid for their contracted hours plus overtime. It is the responsibility of the line manager to complete timesheets reflective of the hours employees would have worked in normal circumstances ensuring overtime arrangements in place prior to 4 January 2021 are honoured.
I am managing a member of staff who is within their probationary period; is there any action I need to take during these exceptional circumstances relating to COVID-19?
As services are now operational it is expected that in the majority of cases staff will be able to progress through their probationary period, whether working from home or in the workplace, and be notified of the outcome. No exceptional action is required by the Manager.
If a member of staff is, in the Line Manager's opinion, prevented from demonstrating the required standards aligned to the normal expectations of their substantive role due to special factors relating to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Line Manager should pause the probationary period
Line managers should follow these guidelines:
- The probation period is "paused" from a date that is reasonable in the circumstances;
- The remaining period of probation should resume as soon as reasonably practicable and the duration of the "pause" should not be any longer than is necessary;
- In some cases it may be practicable that the remaining period of probation is resumed whilst the staff member is working from home, although in other cases, it will not be feasible until there is a resumption of normal working arrangements;
- Staff should be advised that the "pause" is due to the impact that the factors pertaining to the Covid-19 pandemic has had on their individual work circumstances; and
- Such arrangements are to be confirmed in writing with the member of staff, ideally following an informal discussion with their Line Manager.
See below for a letter template, to be edited as appropriate.
Recruitment (Part 1)
On-going management of the recruitment processes
EA’s Resourcing Service is fully operational and vacancies continue to be advertised, particularly in respect of school-based posts and front-line services including teaching, school and leadership posts, posts linked to Special Educational Needs and other critical services such as cleaning and catering.
If you have not already done so, we recommend that you create a profile on the on-line recruitment system and register for job alerts so that you are notified as soon as jobs which meet your requirements are advertised.
The vast majority of all job applications are made online. If you have submitted an on-line application we will be in touch via email as soon as an update is available.
If you have made a manual application with no email address we will contact you by post or telephone.
Whilst the majority of recruitment activity is being effectively completed remotely at this time it is possible that recruitment exercises may take longer than normal to complete due to the challenges of the pandemic.
Your patience and understanding is appreciated. We will be in touch as soon as any update is available.
Any Government restrictions and guidance current at the time of recruitment will be carefully adhered to. Following the announcement of Government Stay at Home Regulations in early January 2021, the majority of interviews will take place remotely by tele-conference or video-conference.
If, in exceptional circumstances, you are asked to attend a face to face interview, all guidance as relevant at the time will be adhered to including social distancing and the wearing of face coverings.
I have been asked to attend a face to face interview but I am in the ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’ category or self-isolating. How should I proceed?
Should COVID-19 prevent you from physically attending a scheduled interview because you are self-isolating or clinically extremely vulnerable please contact us so that your specific requirements can be considered in more detail.
This may include providing a remote interview and when we are in touch to reschedule your interview we will provide you with full details and guidance on how the remote interview process will work.
If you are not fit to attend for interview as a result of COVID, as far as reasonably practicable we will arrange for you to be provided with an alternative interview date.
As long as you are fit, you should report for interview on the revised date.
If advice around the importance of social distancing is still applicable at that time of my interview, how will this be incorporated into my interview process?
Please be assured that we will adhere to Government advice, as current at the time, regarding social distancing.
Social distancing arrangements will be observed from how you will be greeted when you report for interview, in the size and layout of the interview room itself and in the cleaning of the interview facility.
If you have any specific concerns, please advise us in advance of your interview date.
If required to attend for face to face interview, what can I expect in relation to the wearing of face-coverings?
Face coverings must be worn in adult to adult meetings (including interviews) lasting more than 15 minutes and by adults visiting a school site or EA office, unless unable to wear a face covering for medical reasons.
You are also required to wear a face covering when in communal areas including toilets, corridors and reception areas.
Recruitment (Part 2)
You are already in receipt of an offer of employment
We are currently working with schools and line managers to progress offers of employment.
Where start dates had already been agreed between the line manager and the candidate, we are working to honour these commitments by progressing pre-employment checks and the issue of contracts.
Where a start date had not yet been agreed in relation to a conditional offer of employment, it is possible that some of these may need to be deferred.
Please be assured that we will keep you up to date in relation to your appointment.
I have received a confirmed offer and contract. Should I report on the start date given on the letter?
You should only report for work on your first day if you are symptom-free and fit for work. If there is any change to reporting arrangements your line manager will keep you informed.
If there is any change in your health or circumstances prior to your given start date which means you are not able to report as agreed, then you should contact us as soon as possible to update us.
Your new contract of employment will commence from the start date agreed with your new line manager and that included within your new contract.
We continue to value your interest in the Education Authority and your co-operation and patience at this time is much appreciated.
Acting-up Appointments during the COVID-19 Pandemic
A member of staff is absent. As a line manager what are my options for covering the duties and responsibilities for the period of absence?
EA’s Acting-up Policy for Support Staff has been adapted to provide guidance on acting-up arrangements for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Acting-up should not be the first solution considered by Line Managers where temporary cover is required, as job descriptions provide reasonable flexibility to assign additional duties and responsibilities. Line Managers may first wish to give consideration to ways in which work may be re-organised on a temporary basis. If the requirement for cover is reasonably expected to last 4 weeks or more an acting-up appointment should be considered.
The Acting-up Framework developed for use throughout the COVID-19 pandemic sets out the available options for acting-up and the principles for selecting staff for the acting-up opportunity. These are set in the context of ensuring effective business continuity at a time when normal recruitment and trawl activities are restricted.
The higher salary associated with the acting-up will be paid with effect from the first day on which a member of staff was required to undertake acting-up duties. The normal 4 week qualifying period will not apply in respect of COVID-19 related acting appointments.
HR Business Partnering and Employee Relations
What do I do if there is an employee relations or business partnering matter that needs to be addressed during the current situation?
As COVID -19 continues to affect us all, the EA is taking all possible actions to protect staff, whilst continuing to deliver critical services for our children and young people. A priority has been placed on critical services outlined in EA communications on www.eani.org.uk/staff and implementing important measures, in line with government guidance in relation to social distancing.
As a consequence of this, the progression of employee relations and business partnering work will be scaled back but kept under review in line with the above. However, in order to avoid a significant back log of work when restrictions are lifted, where resource is available and it is possible to progress cases in accordance with agreed procedures this work can continue.
If there is a pressing employee relations or business partnering matter, advice can be obtained from:
Area of work
(Operations & Estates) (Education) and (HR)
Disciplinary, Grievance, Dignity at Work/Bullying & Harassment, Performance Management & Probation
Tel: 028 9041 8012
Early Conciliation by the Labour Relations Agency (LRA)
Tel: 028 9056 6554
Tel: 028 9056 4390
Redundancy, termination of fixed term contracts, variation of contracts, restructuring
Tel: 028 3751 2416
Tel: 028 8225 3383
Tel: 028 9056 6255
Tel: 028 9056 4388
Tel: 074034 3193