School reopening - FAQs relating to returning staff

Following the announcement that some schools in the UK will be reopening from June, we have collated various (anticipated) concerns that many schools may have when asking staff to return to the classroom. Our full FAQs addressing further concerns on this are available here.

How do I know whether staff will be able to attend on 1 June and who might have issues?

Reporting procedures, if not already done so, should be clearly communicated to all staff. The current guidance states that schools should start planning for a return, this involves communicating with staff as to their availability i.e. those who are shielding. This is covered in the initial planning framework from the Department for Education here.
Please ensure if you use this document it is the most up to date version.

What if staff refuse to return or cannot return due to childcare issues?

If the school attended by the staff member’s child/children is considered safe in line with the government guidelines and their own risk assessment, then any failure to return is a choice on the part of the employee. However, if the employee believes it is unsafe to return as the threat of catching Coronavirus is too serious, then a conversation should take place and alternatives could be recommended.

A discussion should take place with your employees as to whether work can still be carried out at home or there should be a reasonable timeframe given for staff to find alternative childcare (bearing in mind childminders are now open and working). If staff are still unable to return then parental or unpaid leave could be considered.

An employee can take time off work to look after dependents. This provision is intended for short periods of absence and there no statutory right to be paid.

What happens about those returning staff that are vulnerable?

Clinically extremely vulnerable people have been advised to shield and they will have received a letter to state this at the beginning of May. These people are advised to continue to shield and stay at home. Staff should continue to work at home. This is likely to continue post June.

Those who are clinically vulnerable (distinct from clinically extremely vulnerable) are those over 70, who are pregnant or who have certain pre-existing conditions. They are now advised to take extra care in observing social distancing and where possible should continue to work from home. However, they are no longer required to shield. If it is not possible for these members of staff to work from home then they should be assigned the safest possible on-site role which will include staying at least two metres away from others where possible. Appropriate risk assessments should be undertaken.

What happens if a member of staff lives with someone who is clinically vulnerable or clinically extremely vulnerable and doesn’t feel comfortable returning to work due to the risk to those at home? What about early years?

The DfE’s guidance states that if a member of staff lives with someone who is clinically extremely vulnerable that member of staff can return to work as long as social distancing can be adhered to.  In some settings this may not be possible, e.g. early years, so the option to work from home should be considered. If social distancing can be adhered to and it is safe for the member of staff to attend then they should be encouraged to return.

If a member of staff lives with someone who is clinically vulnerable they should attend school as normal.

Can we ask employees to provide evidence that a person they are living with is extremely clinically vulnerable?

Yes, however in line with GDPR the letter should only be seen and not copied.

What if staff don’t feel safe or are anxious about returning?

We would recommend communicating the steps that you have taken as a school to make the workplace safe including risk assessments. This may ease nerves of anxious employees. We would also encourage workplaces to involve their staff and trade unions in planning the return. However, there will be staff who are still unsure about returning.

Anxiety caused by the Coronavirus pandemic was seen prior to school closures and we would reiterate our advice previously which was that in principle, if an employee is anxious about (but not sick with) coronavirus it is arguable that they are choosing not to work. In this case, following the “ready and willing to work” principle, and an employee would not have a right to be paid. However, an employer should be mindful of the Equality Act and of those employees with disabilities which put them at a higher risk from coronavirus. ACAS guidance states that employers should offer flexible working or mutually agree that the employee should take annual leave, or unpaid leave. If an employee suffers with coronavirus-related anxiety, this may make them unfit to work and thus eligible for time off and sick pay

The law and practice referred to in this article or webinar has been paraphrased or summarised. It might not be up-to-date with changes in the law and we do not guarantee the accuracy of any information provided at the time of reading. It should not be construed or relied upon as legal advice in relation to a specific set of circumstances.

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