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Coronavirus Staffing and HR Advice for Schools

Please find below a range of FAQs related to Coronavirus staffing and HR advice for schools.

On general matters related to COVID-19, schools should follow Government and Public Health England advice and Local Authority advice which is updated regularly. Schools should contact Schools.Communication@essex.gov.uk (or home Local Authority) for information and advice.

We are in an unprecedented situation and this HR advice is based on the information available, which is limited in some areas, and our professional judgements. Advice from the Government is ever changing and this current advice is dated 3rd April 2020.

The Government have set up an online system whereby employees can now obtain an isolation note if they are absent for more than 7 days.  These notes can be accessed through https://www.111.nhs.uk/covid-19 and employees should be asked to submit a copy to the school.

A template Self-Isolation Declaration has now been produced for those employees self-isolating.  When an employee has to go into self-isolation they should be asked to complete this form.  Anyone already self-isolating should be asked to complete the form now.  The form has been produced so that schools can keep track of employees who are absent and unable to work.

A range of model letters are also available below.  The letters will need to be amended according to local circumstances/decision.

Employees (Staff on Contracts of Employment)

Coronavirus Staffing and HR Advice for Schools

1. A member of my staff has contracted the Covid-19 Virus

They are sick and entitled to contractual sick pay under their contract of employment. They should complete a self-certificate as soon as possible.

Where a teacher can reasonably show that the virus was contracted in the course of their employment, they may be entitled to full pay which is not sick pay.

It may be difficult to demonstrate where an employee contracted the virus.

It is unlikely that they will be able to provide a Fit Note from Day 8 as usually required, as GPs are not seeing patients.

Employees can now obtain an isolation certificate and should be asked to submit a copy to the school.  This should be kept on the personal file.

Staff should notify the school when they are fit to work.

2. A member of my staff is self- isolating on medical/ government advice (i.e. they have been to an affected area, have possible symptoms, have a family member who has possible symptoms, lives with an “at risk person” so is self-isolating to protect them)

Staff are absent under the “contact with infectious diseases provisions” under the Terms and Conditions for Teachers and Support Staff (Burgundy and Green Books).

The provisions for each are slightly different:

  • Burgundy Book – sick pay in line with their contractual entitlement
  • Green Book – normal pay (not sick pay)

Wherever possible staff in this group should work from home.

*NB sick pay in these circumstances is not counted for any future sickness entitlement and for most will be full pay.  However, given the current position of full and partial school closures, and the fact that teachers will largely be working from home if self-isolating, it is reasonable to ensure teachers remain on full pay during the duration of their isolation (i.e. not reducing those with limited service to half pay if self-isolation extends beyond their sick pay entitlement).

Employees can now obtain an isolation certificate if they are living with someone showing symptoms and should be asked to submit a copy to the school.  This should be kept on the personal file.

Others should be asked to complete a self-declaration – template available.

Once the employee has completed the recommended period of self-isolation, currently 14 days, they will be returning to work unless it is confirmed that they have contracted the virus, in which case sick pay, in accordance with 1 above, will apply.

3. I have employees who;
• Are aged 70+
• have underlying health issues, as listed by the Government
• are pregnant

As this is based on Government advice – they will fall under the conditions in 2. above.

Staff should be asked to complete a self-declaration – template available.  This should be kept on the personal file.

Once the employee has completed the recommended period of self- isolation, (e.g. 12 weeks), they will return to work unless it is confirmed that they have contracted the virus, in which case sick pay, in accordance with 1 above, will apply.

Schools should update the Pregnancy Risk Assessment to confirm the employee has gone into self-isolation.

3a. We have employees in the “at risk group” who wants to attend for work – what should we do?

In line with Government guidance, Schools should not permit such individuals to attend the workplace.  Wherever possible, they can and should work from home.

Even if they can work in isolation from other people (e.g. cleaners) they still have the potential to come into contact with surfaces infected by others at school.

3b. We have member of staff who wants to self-isolate to protect a person in their household who is in the “at risk” group. What is the position?

Schools will have to look at individual cases of particular vulnerability and be as flexible as possible.

Staff should be asked to complete a self-declaration – template available.

Wherever possible schools should enable staff in this group to work from home and only if they are absolutely essential to maintaining the required school provision should they be asked to attend work (and follow Government Guidelines about social distancing at home.)

Schools will have to look at how best to distribute work as evenly as possible between those at school and those working from home.

4. I have employees who are self-isolating because they are worried but are not covered by the conditions in 2. and 3. above (i.e. not on medical or Government advice).

Technically such staff are on unauthorised absence and should not be paid.  They should be advised to come to work.

However, it will be very difficult to distinguish those who are self-isolating on advice/for genuine reasons and those who are not – as there will be little chance of getting medical evidence.

Schools will have to do their best to explore the circumstances of them being off and advise/act accordingly.

4a. I have an employee who is living with an NHS worker and does not want to attend work to protect them. What is the position?

As in 4. above they would be on unauthorised absence.

This situation does not meet the criteria for self-isolation and as key workers themselves, they should attend work as required.  They should be practising social distancing at work and in the home.

5. I have staff who regularly work additional hours – what is their entitlement?

If hours are contractual (i.e. expected) and/or regular – they should be included in the calculation for sick pay / pay during self-isolation / full pay in the event of closure (See also 11. (casual staff) and School Closure Section).

Ad hoc additional hours need not be paid during any absence.

Child/Elder care

Coronavirus Staffing and HR Advice for Schools

6. I have employees absent because their child has symptoms related to Covid-19 or has the Virus

If their child is sick, the parent/employee has to self-isolate.  In this case they will fall under the conditions in 2 above (self-isolation).

Where a school becomes aware that an employee is at risk, due to contact with someone at home who is showing systems they should insist that the person self-isolate as 2 above.

7. I have employees who are absent because their childcare has broken down (due to school closure, unavailable childcare etc.)

Schools should explore all available options such as flexible working, working from home, annual leave etc. for those that have private childcare i.e. not Nursery or School provision which are remaining open for Critical Workers.

The Government has confirmed that school staff are Critical Workers and schools are not closed for vulnerable children and critical worker children. Staff are therefore in breach of contract if they refuse to come to work during term-time if required to do so and/or because they refuse to put their children in available provision, (if not in a self-isolation category or sick themselves) and schools should deal with this in the usual way.  The member of staff will be on unauthorised unpaid absence and could face Disciplinary action. Education staff are classified as critical workers and as such should access provision for their children in schools, if they need supervision of their own child/ren and are required to attend for work.

In cases where children have two parents, especially where one is a critical worker, the family is expected to manage their arrangements to enable the critical worker to work where required.

Schools are however, unlikely to need all staff to attend and the Government has clarified that Critical Workers should only send their children to school if necessary.  A flexible and pragmatic approach is therefore required on needs basis.

Where working at home is an option, it is expected that schools will be flexible with staff who are working from home whilst looking after children.  Only where staff refuse to do any work should they be considered as on unpaid leave of absence.

(see also School Closure Section).

8. I have an employee who is off to look after elderly relatives

This is similar to childcare.

Normal leave of absence rules apply (see 7.), unless the relative is sick and the employee is self-isolating because of contact with them (so self-isolating rules apply).

Again it may be difficult to distinguish those who are isolating because of contact with a sick person and those who just “want” to look after a relative and schools will have to do their best to asertain the exact position.

School closures

Coronavirus Staffing and HR Advice for Schools

It has now been confirmed that schools will be closed to most pupils but will remain open for children of key workers and vulnerable children.

9. What is the position with pay for staff if the school closes entirely or staff are not required to work due to reduced pupil numbers?

If the school closes entirely or staff are not required to attend to work with the reduced pupil numbers, all contracted staff are entitled to be paid full pay.

Wherever possible staff these should carry on working at home.

(See also 9a below)

9a. As the school is remaining open for children of critical workers and vulnerable children, how do we decide who will need to attend the workplace?

Schools will be putting together plans for staffing to manage the reduced pupil numbers.  This may include collaborating with other schools and staffing will need to be decided on a case by case basis.

The general principle is that all staff are still employed and can be required to attend work.  School staff are Critical Workers and so will have provision for their childcare at schools and nurseries.  However, there are of course some who cannot attend due to being required to self-isolate, or having non-school/nursery based childcare and the Government advice is to only use these facilities if necessary.

Schools will need to follow Government advice about the type of provision to be offered to the students attending school, and this will to a certain extent determine the staffing required.  Additionally, the type of provision offered, may be dictated by the availability of relevant staff.

Where sufficient staff are available, schools may for example ask staff to work on a rota basis.

Schools should not require all staff to attend every day if they are not needed to deliver the provision for pupils attending.

Staff not required to attend work, who are not ill themselves, should as far as possible work from home for their contracted hours.

10. What is the position of staff who were off sick and/or self-isolating prior to the closure?

If staff are on self-isolation or sick pay when the school closes, technically they remain on this until they notify the school that are out of isolation / fit to attend work.

Once they are fit, 9. above will apply.

10a. We have staff who have been on long term sick who are now saying they are fit to return but in self-isolation. What is the position?

Usually an employee can return to work on the expiry of a Fit Note without a further visit to the GP, although in cases of long term absence, the school would normally make a referral to Occupational Health prior to the persons return.

Visits to Occupational Health are not possible at present but they may be able to provide some advice via telephone consultations. We need to be aware of demand and only refer cases where absolutely needed. This could mean that there is no way of verifying their fitness to work.

Staff in self-isolation should be required to work from home and this should apply here.  Schools will need to assess what work would be relevant considering their previous period of absence.  After the 12 week isolation period they should return to work as required.  If the person refuses to work from home/return to work they will be on unauthorised unpaid leave.

Staff should be required to keep in regular contact with the school.

These case are likely to raise issues about sick pay entitlements in the future, once this crisis is over.

10b. We have an employee on/requesting a phased return following a period of sickness absence. How should this be managed?

Clearly very few roles are operating normally at the moment, so it will be case of discussing what the employee is able to do in the context of what is needed at the current time (ie attending school, working from home, no work available). Phased returns should have a limited timescale (usually no longer than 6 weeks) with a gradual increase in work. In most cases staff are likely to be able to return to “full capacity” relatively quickly, bearing in mind that full capacity at this time is reduced from normal.

It is hoped that as they will have a longer recovery time during this reduced operating period, they will be fit for full duties once normal operations resume. However, it may be, in some cases, that when operations return to normal, a further discussion will need to take place about their capacity to work at full normal level.

Casual/Supply Staff

Coronavirus Staffing and HR Advice for Schools

11. The school had “booked” a supply teacher/casual cover and they now say they will not come into school - do I have to pay them?

No – if they chose not to come to work they are not entitled to be paid.

It does not matter the reasons they will not attend – they are not employees and therefore not entitled to be paid.

The Government has announced changes to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) – but those who don’t earn enough and workers (as opposed to employees) are still not eligible.

12. If the school closes, and the supply teacher/casual staff are no longer required - what is the position?

If the person is “booked” in advance to work on a particular day/for a particular period (and the school pays them directly) they should be paid for any period they were promised work. So if the school had booked a supply teacher for this whole term – they will have to pay them.

If the closure goes on for an extended period, the school could give notice that they will not be required as expected e.g. after Easter but this will carry a risk as the person could claim there was a “contract” in place.  We can’t be definitive about this – it will depend on the particular circumstances of each case.

13. We have a breakfast club where staff are not on a contract (i.e. on an “as and when” arrangement) but work regularly every week. What is the position?

They should be paid at least in the short term (as a “contract” is in place i.e. a promise of work). However, if the closure goes on for an extended period the school could give notice that hours will no longer be required (e..g after Easter).  As in 12, this may carry a risk especially if the staff have worked regularly for an extended period.

See also question 26.

13a. What is the position with Invigilators?

The general principle is that schools should honour promises of work and pay those who have already been “booked” to work and those who have a reasonable expectation of this work (i.e who have worked regularly in this position).  Payment for these staff will have been budgeted for and school funding continues.

Such staff could be asked to do reasonable alternative activities – in keeping with the role of invigilation e.g supervising students in study.  Schools will be best placed to determine what are reasonable comparative activities.

14. What is the position with Agency Staff?

Where schools have booked an agency worker for an assignment, this should be honoured, and payment made to the Agency.  Schools can of course deploy such agency staff to work.

The Government Cabinet Office has issued guidance to public sector employers urging them to maintain contracts to avoid putting suppliers at risk and to ensure continuity during and after the current crisis

If considering terminating the booking, schools will need to look at the terms of the agreement with the agency in terms of notice periods etc.

Schools should bear in mind that where the assignment has been running for 12 weeks or more, the worker has particular rights – to be treated the same as a direct employee in terms of pay and conditions and schools may be at risk, alongside the agency, if the contract for services is terminated under the current circumstances, as this will be less favourable treatment than direct employees.

 

The issue of Furloughing remains unclear, but it is believed that Supply Agencies may be able to Furlough their workers for whom no new assignments are available.

Other Questions

Coronavirus Staffing and HR Advice for Schools

15. We employ a foreign national who wishes to return to their home country. They are likely to be away for a long time. What is the position?

If an employee is self isolating or the school closes they are expected, wherever possible, to work from home and/or be available to work, as required.

Where an employee leaves the country, and are not therefore available for work they should be granted unpaid leave of Absence.  This situation cannot run indefinitely and schools will need to review once we have a clearer idea of the duration of isolation/closure.

16. We have an employee who is due to go on maternity leave but has been advised to self-isolate. What is the position?

The same rules apply as for other staff (see 2.) up until the day they have stated as their commencement of maternity leave.  Schools may need to be flexible on the receipt of MATB1s  and accept the employees stated Expected Date of Childbirth.

For clarity you cannot require someone to commence their maternity leave early unless they have a pregnancy related illness from four weeks before the Expected Date of Childbirth.

16a. A pregnant employee wants to change the date her maternity leave is to start, given that she will not be attending work due to isolation.

Employees can change the date they wish to start their maternity leave subject to giving the required notice.  Notice required is 28 days prior to the original date given by the employee for their maternity leave to start, or 28 days before the new date whichever is sooner.

17. Home Working

Where employees are working from home schools will need to;

  • be clear about methods of communication to, from and between employees
  • remind staff about the need for security and confidentiality of information/papers that may be taken home
  • ensure IT systems are robust and secure

18. We have a new member of staff due to start next week/after Easter – what is the position?

If you have offered employment and this has been accepted, you have made a contract.   Even if the offer is conditional (e.g. upon pre-employment checks), closure/partial closure of school is not one of those conditions.

Clearly, in many cases the employee will have resigned from another position and be expecting to receive a salary from you.  While the new staff may not actually be able to attend for work, you will need to do what you can to provide them with information and work that they can do remotely e.g. getting familiar with policies and procedures, lesson planning and preparation etc.

If schools consider withdrawing the offer or deferring the start date of such employees (e.g. until September) this will carry risk of a claim for breach of contract.  The consequences could be a requirement on the school to pay for the deferred period and potentially where relevant, compensation for loss of continuous service and pension benefits.

19. Schools are being asked to remain open over the Easter closure – what is the position with staff?

The Government is due to issue advice on this.

The indications are that schools will be asked to work together and rota staff to ensure everyone has a break.

Staff who work over the closure period when they would not normally do so cannot be compelled to attend during closure periods and some will have issues with childcare etc.

Schools and staff will need to take a flexible approach.  Staff who are not working “normal hours” during term-time as they are not required to attend school and/or cannot work from home, could be asked on a voluntary basis to work those hours during the closure period.

Technically staff working at times over and above their contracted hours will be entitled to be paid for the hours they work or could be offered time off in lieu.  The Government is due to issue advice on payment and funding.

20. What if staff refuse to work as they would not normally work during school closures?

Schools cannot insist that staff work during school closures if they are not contracted to do so.

Schools will need to ask for volunteers and work collaboratively as far as possible to achieve required staffing numbers.

21. We have staff on fixed term contracts which are coming to an end in August – how do we manage this?

You need to follow the usual guidance on ending fixed term contracts. In most cases it may not be possible to have face to face meetings, in which case you will need to explain the situation by telephone/letter.

Schools are advised against seeking to terminate fixed term contracts early because of the current position.  The reason for the termination must be valid, and if in response to a diminished need due to the Covid-19 situation, this will be redundancy.  In these cases, it may be viewed as treating fixed term workers less favourably if you only identify them as being at risk.

In any case, schools should be mindful of the need to maintain a flexible workforce during this period.  As more staff have to self-isolate or become ill, you may need others to assist in maintaining provision.

22. What is the position with current employee relations issues such as disciplinary and capability cases?

In theory, these could proceed, with procedures being actioned through email, telephone, letters etc. with the consent of both parties. It will depend to some extent on where you are in the process

However in reality, there will be many barriers to continuation e.g. union engagement (no face to face meeting), isolation, health, childcare etc.  Schools should communicate with relevant staff confirming where necessary that procedures have been put on hold, but will be resumed as soon as practicable.

It is expected that staff will only be suspended in the most serious of cases and that therefore the appropriateness of alternate work arrangements will already have been discounted.   The risk assessment should still however be reviewed as previously agreed and where appropriate the suspension can remain in effect and schools should confirm the position in writing.  Where staff are on “special arrangements as an alternative to suspension” these should be periodically reviewed and amended as appropriate.

Please liaise with your HR consultant on such cases.

23. We are in the middle of a restructuring/redundancy process – what is the position?

In theory, these could proceed, with procedures being actioned through email, telephone, letters etc.  It will depend to some extent on where you are in the process.

However in reality, there will be many barriers to continuation e.g. meaningful consultation and selection (with no face to face meetings), isolation, health, childcare etc.

Schools should communicate with relevant staff confirming where necessary that procedures have been put on hold, but will be resumed as soon as practicable.

Please liaise with your HR consultant on such cases.

24. How do we manage staff in their probation period?

It may depend on what stage you are at in the process. If near the end, and the final meeting has taken place you may be able to proceed with confirming or not confirming the probation (seek advice from your HR link in the case of not confirming).

However in other cases, in the current climate it is unlikely to be possible to effectively operate probation in terms of monitoring and and support. We recommend therefore that probation is frozen and picked up once we return to normal operations.

Schools will need to write to staff confirming the extension to the period, the stage they are at (e.g. 12 week review) and where previous meetings have already taken place, the current position (e.g. progressing well or areas of concern/for development).

A model letter is available under the Probation section of the HR Website (letter 7).

25. We employ someone part-time who also works for the NHS, and they have been asked to work additional hours for the NHS.
OR
We employ someone who used to work for the NHS and is being asked to return. What is the position?

The first question is about the school’s need for them to perform work. If they are required, then they must fulfil their contract with the school. If they are not needed by the school they could be granted unpaid leave of absence from the school to undertake more NHS work.

Clearly they can and should not be paid by both employers at the same time.

You should confirm the arrangements in writing, keep them under review, and be clear that they are obliged to resume their duties at/for the school at such time as the school requires.

26. Can schools Furlough staff?

Furloughing is a job retention scheme whereby employees who would be at risk of redundancy due to the unavailability of work, are kept on the books, but not required to work.  Employers can claim up to 80% of their salary from the Government.

The Government has confirmed that Schools cannot Furlough staff.
https://www.gov.uk/guidance/claim-for-wage-costs-through-the-coronavirus-job-retention-scheme

Schools’ funding continues and a second claim, through the job retention scheme, on the public purse would not be appropriate.

The Local Authority is supporting our call to the DfE to provide further clarity on the position of Furloughing in relation to those staff working in a provision which is dependent entirely on parental funding (e.g. before/after school provision and music teachers paid solely by parents).

The Government has made separate arrangements for self-employed workers:
https://www.gov.uk/guidance/claim-a-grant-through-the-coronavirus-covid-19-self-employment-income-support-scheme

27. What is the situation with NQTS and their Statutory Induction?

The DfE has issued a statement on mitigating the impact of COVID-19 on the current cohort of NQTs:

Please see advice from the Essex Appropriate Body.

Schools not using Essex, should refer to their own Appropriate Body for advice.

Please direct further queries to your Appropriate Body, not HR.

28. Will there be any change to resignation dates for teachers?

There is no proposal to change the Burgundy Book resignation dates for teachers.   Schools are being asked to exercise flexibility around resignation dates which may include schools accepting resignations after the normal dates where teachers are affected by COVID-19.

In addition, teachers are being asked to provide as much notice as possible if they are intending to resign. A jointly agreed statement between ASCL, LGA, NAHT, NASUWT NEU and NGA on Burgundy Book notice periods for teachers and school leaders has been released.

29. How will teacher recruitment be affected?

As set out in the agreed statement (see 28. above) it will be difficult to follow a normal recruitment process at the present time.  There is a possibility that interviews can take place virtually, however, schools should not be asking candidates to attend for face to face interviews or school visits.

We are awaiting further guidance from the Department for Education on teacher recruitment and any support available to schools who may be affected by teacher shortages where recruitment has not been possible.  We will communicate this to schools as soon as it becomes available.

31. Are Pensions affected by absences related to Covid-19?

The Local Government Association (LGA) has produced a guide which covers LGPS members most frequently asked questions about the impact of Coronavirus (Covid-19) on their pension benefits.

The Teachers’ Pension Covid-19 update can be accessed here:
https://www.teacherspensions.co.uk/news/public-news/2020/03/coronavirus-update.aspx