Network Rail: Return to Work of Shielding Employees

Head Office Circular NP/197/20
12th August 2020
The Secretary

Dear Colleague


Network Rail provided me with a written update on how it is assisting shielding employees return to work.

The requirement to shield was paused from 1st August in England and Scotland, and is scheduled to be from 17th August in Wales. The government has advised that employees can therefore return to workplace where they cannot work from home.

To summarise Network Rail’s approach and the steps being taken:

• The company has have written to each line manager/case owner for the absence and asked them to contact the employee. They were asked to arrange a time to discuss a return to work plan with the individual. Managers were asked to set out what measures are in place to make the workplace ‘covid safe’ and speak to the individual about how they are feeling about the return

• Within the return to work plan, each manager should complete an adapted workplace assessment and focus on reasonable adjustments that need to be reinstated or new adjustments required, and steps to be taken to ensure COVID safety in the workplace and mental wellbeing

• If the employee has any concerns returning to the workplace from a health risk perspective, the manager should contact Occupational Health (Optima) to arrange a COVID consultation for clinical support, Vita Health for muscular skeletal concerns and Validium for wellbeing support

• Once the workplace assessment is complete and a return to work date complete then the manager should contact HR Direct to close the case.

The government has stated that from 1 August, individuals will no longer be eligible for statutory sick pay (SSP) on the basis of being clinically extremely vulnerable. Network Rail did not place these individuals on sick leave, whilst shielding, but special leave with base roster pay. Many of the shielding employees were in work prior to Covid-19 and through effective support it is expected that the majority will return quickly.

For those that did not return on 1st August the manager will be asked to log the absence as ‘covid sickness absence’ and the individual will need to visit their GP and receive a fit note (if their absence is to be 7 calendar days or more). As a result of managers logging the absence as ‘covid’ the company will be able to track that absence and ensure that the individual is receiving the best support and is referred to Occupational Health (Optima) for a covid consultation. Network Rail encourages interaction with GPs to ensure that the individual is actually on the health professionals radar and receives all health considerations with the right treatment plan and access to NHS services. This may not be the case on continued special leave.

If an individual is not fit for work and not attending they will receive sick pay in accordance with their terms and conditions. As a result of individuals being on special leave the company does not anticipate that any of these individuals will have exhausted their sick pay on 1st August. However, it will review the cases where sick pay reduces or is exhausted and ensure they receive full sick pay whilst awaiting the appointment with Optima.

By logging the absence as ‘covid’ it can also be ensured that the absence does not count towards attendance triggers. Throughout August, the ‘shielding working group’, on which has RMT is represented, will review the progress of staff returning to work. Sickness cases, with anonymised information, will be reviewed to ensure best practice is shared and reasonable adjustments and/or workplace modifications are being implemented as quickly as possible.

Your National Executive Committee noted and agreed the following report of its Health and Safety Sub Committee on 11th August:

We note Network Rail’s proposal. The General Secretary is instructed to write to Network Rail to inform them that RMT will participate fully in the “shielding group”. The progress of this programme will be monitored with any further developments to be placed back in front of this NEC.

Branches and Regional Councils to be advised.

I am acting in accordance with these instructions and will keep members advised of any developments.

Yours sincerely

Mick Cash
General Secretary