The government’s recent Guidance for the full opening of schools (available here) contains key points for schools to note when planning for September 2020.
In relation to school workforces, the Guidance states: “Following the reduction in the prevalence of coronavirus and relaxation of shielding measures from 1 August, we expect that most staff will attend school. It remains the case that wider government policy advises those who can work from home to do so. We recognise this will not be applicable to most school staff, but where a role may be conducive to home working, for example some administrative roles, school leaders should consider what is feasible and appropriate.”
This emphasis on employees working from home if they can will shift from 1 August 2020 when employees can be brought back to their physical place of work if it has been made COVID-19 Secure (see our earlier update here for more details). This will give schools more flexibility.
However, the Guidance raises a number of other important issues that schools need to be aware of in the employment context. It is lengthy but we have summarised some of the key employment points below. We would urge you to get in touch if you need help with the issues raised.
- For vulnerable staff, early and consistent communication about returning to school will be key.
- Schools should be mindful that vulnerable staff may be particularly fearful of returning to work and they should have a plan in place to deal fairly with those employees, always bearing in mind an employer’s duties in relation to health and safety.
- The Guidance states that school leaders should be “flexible in how those members of staff are deployed to enable them to work remotely where possible or in roles in school where it is possible to maintain social distancing”. Schools will need to determine how many employees fall into this category and plan accordingly taking a consistent and fair approach to minimise the risk of complaints. The use of individual risk assessments would be a reasonably practicable way of allaying any fears (and our Regulatory Team can assist with this).
Changes to staff duties
- The Guidance states that “Schools may need to alter the way in which they deploy their staff, and use existing staff more flexibly, to welcome back all pupils at the start of the autumn term. Managers should discuss and agree any changes to staff roles with individuals.”
- Whilst some deployment changes may be necessary, bear in mind that changing employees’ terms and conditions of employment without consent can be risky and may lead to employment claims.
- The Guidance also highlights the need to avoid unnecessary and unmanageable workloads when considering what deployment changes may be necessary.
Annual leave arrangements
- It is likely that some employees will be going abroad over the summer break and will need to quarantine in line with quarantine rules applicable at the time upon returning to the UK. The Guidance makes it clear that, where it is not possible to avoid an employee having to quarantine during term time, school leaders should consider if it is possible to temporarily amend working arrangements to enable them to work from home.
- Given the potential disruption this may cause, you may wish to gather staff travel plans and consider likely arrangements ahead of time.
- It is highly likely that some employees will be anxious about returning to school. Governing boards and school management teams will need to ensure that employees are supported and that staff wellbeing is protected.
- All employers have a duty, under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, to take care of their employees’ health, safety and welfare and this extends to their mental health. Employers should follow the mental health “Core Standards” to manage mental health risk. Again, our Regulatory Team can assist you to draft your policies and procedures and put in place strategies for their clear communication.
- The Guidance highlights that additional support for both pupil and staff wellbeing in the current situation will be available (see here and here for more details).
Our Education Sector lead, Jo Scally, is an expert in employment law and can help with employment issues arising in your school. Please do get in touch if you need any help.