Forms of absence during COVID-19 [Withdrawn]

Guidance on how to manage forms of absence such as carers' leave and special leave in your organisation during the pandemic.

27 March 2020

The following DHSC guidance was withdrawn on 7 July 2022 and is now archived. 

See the latest guidance regarding COVID-19.

As a result of the pandemic, the NHS will face higher than usual staff absence due to isolation and sickness absence, among other factors. The following information explains how absence as a result of other factors should be managed.

Employers will already have local policies covering areas such as special leave and carers leave and, as a general principle, employers should exercise the maximum amount of flexibility and discretion possible recognising the circumstances of the pandemic.

It is not yet clear how long the pandemic will persist. Requiring staff to exhaust their existing entitlements to annual, special or carers leave at this point would be inappropriate. This approach recognises the exceptional circumstances and the need for trusts to exercise their discretion and to use the flexibilities they already have as they seek to help staff manage potentially difficult personal and family responsibilities and also attract staff to work in the NHS during a national emergency.

Carer's leave and special leave

The government has issued guidance, last reviewed on 19 April, for parents and carers on the closure of educational settings.

Some educational settings will remain open so that parents or carers that are critical workers can continue to do their jobs. Health and social care staff are included on the critical worker list.

However, it may still be possible that staff with caring responsibilities for children and/or adults, may require time away from work. Around 75 per cent of NHS staff are women and more likely to have caring responsibilities.

The approach employers should follow is that where staff cannot make use of existing provisions such as care provided by schools for critical staff, as set out above, they should exercise their discretion and use the flexibilities they already have to support staff at this difficult time.

It is critical that employers are as supportive as possible, considering carefully the need for flexibility given the exceptional circumstances. Staff may need to work flexibly or from home, or temporarily alter their working hours, and employers will be expected to be as flexible as possible when considering these requests, while balancing the needs of the service at that point in time.

Staff who rely on care in professional or informal settings, for example, through partners, relatives, friends, may be affected by government policies on social distancing, which will in turn affect the ability of the organisation to ensure essential staff are available to work.

To ensure consistency across integrated care systems/sustainability and transformation partnerships (ICS/STP) regional footprints, employers may wish to speak with their neighbouring trusts about their local policies. This may help identify whether local policies are broadly in line and to avoid the creation of significant regional differences.

Employers should be as supportive and as flexible as possible in relation to carer’s leave requests, given the exceptional circumstances.

Read our FAQs in this area for more information. 

Absence because of bereavement

Employers will already have local bereavement leave policies in place and maximum flexibility and discretion should be exercised during the national emergency.

There are national terms for the bereavement of a child at section 23 of the handbook. However, for any bereavement, not just related to COVID-19 at this very difficult time, trusts should be as supportive as possible given the consequences and challenges for staff that, for example, may need to arrange a funeral.

Employers may wish to speak with their neighbouring trusts about their local bereavement policies in cases where staff suffer the loss of a family member or close friend. This may help identify whether local policies are broadly consistent.