Coronavirus FAQ

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Coronavirus FAQ

Last updated - Tuesday 07th April 2020

Bradford Council Education Settings – HR – related Frequently asked Questions

The following document covers HR-specific frequently asked questions in light of Government Guidance for schools, colleges and local authorities on maintaining educational provision.

On Wednesday 18th March the Government asked parents to keep their children at home, wherever possible, and asked schools to remain open only for those children who absolutely need to attend. Since then, further guidance has been produced attempting to clarify matters such as who are key workers.

Bradford Council have compiled a list of common questions relating to HR and the deployment and management of staff in your organisation. These are unprecedented times and therefore this document will continue to grow and adapt as we get further guidance from central government and as we start to see how things work when practically applying measures.

The following FAQ’s are accurate as at 3rd April 2020.

1. Will schools be expected to be open on the Easter bank holidays as a continuum childcare provision for key workers and vulnerable children?

Latest guidance is that schools are asked to stay open during the Easter break, including bank holidays & the Easter weekend in between the bank holidays.
Schools have been working with the Local authority to report daily on the number of children attending. There is an expectation that these schools will remain open and schools are required to let the LEA know if remaining open will be a problem.
There is currently a lot of good will within staff teams and we would hope that by staff being on rotas and required to be in school less than their normal contractual hours, that schools can manage this well with current staffing by offering time off in lieu.

2. Should school staff be expected to be visiting families or dropping off food?

All such activities must either be stopped or carried out differently where possible or risk assessed if not. This has never been a requirement, some schools have chosen to done this for vulnerable families that don’t have food. Advice has been given around how to do this safely.

3. When working from home, some school staff have been asked to contact families using their own personal phones and/or personal emails, what is the LEA’s expectations?

Where staff are asked to contact parents/pupils then the school must provide a safe way for staff to do this, either by using a work email and/or a school phone. We would never advise staff to contact parents / pupils using their own equipment due to safeguarding reasons.

4. Are all available staff expected to be in school on their usual working days?

No, not if there is no need, for example, if there are very few pupils in that day. There are occasions where children are not reporting for school in the morning but are arriving for lunch and then remaining in school for the afternoon. There needs to be a balance, schools need to maintain goodwill & have a common-sense approach. Schools cannot always predict who will attend for lunch or for the afternoon. Staff are doing an excellent job and we don’t want to be too prescriptive with schools in order to maintain cooperation

5. We have a member of staff who is returning from maternity leave but whose planned childcare is no longer viable due to this emergency, will she have to delay her return?

No, these circumstances are beyond the control of employees and a pragmatic view must be taken. An underlying principle is that employees should not lose pay in these circumstances. Other staff are being required to remain off work on full pay and the returner should be paid from her given return date whilst alternative childcare is considered.

5. We have a member of staff who is returning from maternity leave but whose planned childcare is no longer viable due to this emergency, will she have to delay her return?

No, these circumstances are beyond the control of employees and a pragmatic view must be taken. An underlying principle is that employees should not lose pay in these circumstances. Other staff are being required to remain off work on full pay and the returner should be paid from her given return date whilst alternative childcare is considered.

6. Staff are saying that they cannot get Fit Notes in time to comply with sickness reporting procedures, is that acceptable?

Yes. Because of the impact on GP surgeries, employees may not be able to obtain Fit Notes in time and schools should be flexible and not take any action against employees for not meeting Fit Note deadlines during this time. There is additional guidance below in relation to this

7. I have an NQT who will not be able to complete their induction year, what will happen to them?

There is now guidance from the DfE in relation to this and can be found below. Some NQT’s have already been contacted regarding this by the local authority.

8. In the event of a school closure will agency workers remain entitled to be paid where employees continue to be paid?

Whether an agency worker will remain entitled to be paid will depend first on whether they have a right to be paid under the Agency Worker Regulations 2010. That right only applies after a 12-week qualifying period.

Broadly speaking, those Regulations give agency workers the right to equal treatment in terms of "basic working and employment conditions", as if they had been employed by the hirer to do the same job. In many cases this means that agency workers will be entitled to the same rate of pay as a comparable employee, so if a comparable employee is being paid during the school closure period, then the agency worker may be entitled to be paid.

Importantly though, any entitlement under the Regulations will apply only for the length of the assignment. For example, if an agency worker was brought in to cover absence for a week, then they would remain entitled only to be paid until the end of that week. To determine the length of the assignment, the first step will be to check the agreement between the agency and the school to see whether that sets out its length. In some cases, the length of the assignment may be more difficult to determine, for example if they were covering sick leave on an open ended basis. In such cases schools may want to make an assessment of how long the assignment might reasonably be expected to have lasted.

9. What will happen to Supply Teachers who are not provided through an Agency?

You will need to examine the contractual arrangement under which they were engaged. If they were engaged as a casual worker, you will need to consider the casual worker guidance for entitlement to continued payment.

If they were engaged on a freelance self employed basis, then the relevant Government guidance on continued payment will need to be considered.

10. I’m being asked to communicate with parents and pupils outside of my normal working hours, is this correct?

There is no expectation that teachers or support staff should be responding to parents and/or pupils outside of normal hours.

11. We have Casual Workers some of whom work fairly regularly and others very occasionally, do I need to continue paying them?

You may do. If hours of work had already been offered and agreed then you will need to pay them for those hours, irrespective of whether they were actually worked. If you had given the Casual Workers an expectation that work would continue, then you will need to pay them for the expected duration of the work. You should consider if the work can be done from home. See the Casual Worker guidance on the consideration of continued payments.

Last updated - Tuesday 07th April 2020

The unions were consulted about this advice on the 23rd March 2020 and additional and update advice on 2nd April 2020

1. Who can we expect to be available for work from Monday, 23rd March 2020 when schools are operating under the new guidance?

We expect any employee who would usually attend work, that do not need to be “off-site” due to either:

  • Self isolation
  • Illness (recovery and quarantine)
  • Social distancing/vulnerability

Or to be available for work and organised into a skeleton staffing in a rota.  

Please follow the most up to date Government guidance in relation to this.

(Please note that the overriding principle of the Government is to have as many staff working from home as possible consistent with ensuring that the childcare needs of the children of key workers and vulnerable children are provided).

2. How do we ensure all staff are being treated fairly? 

Staff cannot be made to change their usual working patterns. However, it would be expected that there is some goodwill applied. Once it is clear what staffing is available, this may not need all the staff to be in for their usual contracted hours and that may help when we ask staff to work a different pattern during the day, i.e. an earlier or later start time.

3. Should I expect my staff to stick to their usual working hours?

Yes, where possible and if needed. You may find that you have staff available to work but are not needed on site, due to only having a small number of children on site.

It would be advised that if staff can’t be utilised from home or elsewhere in school that you put a rota together so that you’re being fair and treating people equitably. Please note: this does not affect their normal pay.

4. Can I ask staff to work adjusted hours so I can offer support to key workers from earlier/until later in the day?

Yes, you can ask staff but you cannot force them so this needs to be managed carefully within school.  Where this involves additional hours, they should be paid for the additional hours or offered the ability to take TOIL at a later date.

5. How do I help my staff with social distancing whilst still attending work? 

Headteachers and Managers will need to think about how they can do this based on the size of their school.

You may look at the use of all the space throughout the school, to keep staff and pupils further apart than they would be usually and using every classroom in the building to ensure that staff and pupils are more distanced than usual. This may be context specific, but rearranging furniture may be needed to support social distancing. 

6. I have staff willing and able to create work-packs for home schooling, including online resources and videos. Is this ok? What should I consider?

Yes, this is completely acceptable and could form part of the work that staff can do at home in an attempt to reduce the numbers of staff and pupils that have to attend school.

7. How can I ensure everyone is “in the loop” even when working remotely?

It would be advised that you try and speak with colleagues who are working remotely on a daily basis, this may be a telephone call, or you may be able to do a telephone conference. 

8. What if my staff have their own children to care for? They are keyworkers as well.

If the children of staff can be supported at home, then they should not be going to their normal school, but all School staff are classed as Key workers, the children of Key workers can go to their own school if this is needed to support the staff member.

Unless they are displaying symptoms and if so, self-isolation applies.

Normal leave of absence measures should be applied if your children are unable to attend school, i.e. if it is closed due to staffing.

Headteacher and managers are encouraged to use their discretion at the current time.

9. What if a member of staff relies on public transport to get to and from work? Can I insist they continue to use this and attend work?

No, it would be better for the member of staff to look at alternative ways to get to work. Could you stagger their start times so they can use public transport at a time when it is less busy?

10. What PPE would I be providing to my staff who will continue to attend school site?

Some staff will need PPE, especially if they are involved in cleaning. There is no evidence that face masks or gloves help to stop the spread of the virus. So, for other staff, the advice is that extra care should be taken regarding hygiene, such as regular hand washing for 20 seconds.

11. I have staff returning from Maternity/Paternity/Adoption leave/sickness absence – should they stay away?

Every case should be considered on an individual basis but, in general there would be no reason to ask an employee to remain away from the workplace unless they fall into the vulnerable category and you cannot facilitate them working from home.

You may however wish to keep in regular contact with those individuals to ensure you have a good understanding of their situation and bring them up to speed with the situation in your workplace.

12. Can I ask my caretaking and cleaning staff to work longer hours?

You can ask! It is appreciated that the cleanliness of the site and facilities has increased in importance in order to ensure the spread of the virus is reduced and controlled where possible. You may wish to discuss adjusted rotas with your cleaning and site staff during this time, ensuring individuals are given a fair opportunity to take additional hours and are paid appropriately for the work they undertake. 

13. Can I ask staff to do “unusual” tasks?

Again, you can ask! We are expecting that a significant number of people will be doing activities and duties slightly different to their usual role. However, it is important to consider whether the person is appropriately trained, resourced and skilled as well as safeguarding and health and safety expectations being met.

14. I have a member of staff who falls under vulnerable but wishes to remain in work – can I insist they work from home or can I allow them to attend school premises?

The guidance over the weekend is that staff in the vulnerable categories social distance and therefore schools should be insisting on this.

Staff will be in receipt of normal pay if this applies.

15. Can I support another school by asking my staff to temporarily deploy to that site?

Again, you can ask. If this is done by mutual agreement then that is fine, however, you cannot instruct your staff to work at a different site.

16. I’d like to run a service to key workers and vulnerable children throughout the Easter and May holidays – can I do this and how do I staff it?

Additional childcare cover over holiday periods would be welcomed by those identified as key workers, however this must be planned and negotiated with your workforce as you would if you provide summer camps or holiday camps at any other time. You may find that your staff are willing to carry out this work. 
If staff are currently unable to fulfil their contractual hours due to school closures and are continuing to be paid full pay, then additional payment would not be required for any work undertaken over the Easter holidays. Additional payment would only be warranted where any hours worked are over and above the contractual hours.
It is advisable to closely manage and monitor the rota so that staff receive their two weeks’ leave around this period if not during. Given the school closures it is likely staff will receive the equivalent leave. 

17. Can my staff bring their own children to work with them?

This should not be necessary as all your teaching and support staff are classed as key workers and therefore their children will have access to attend an educational setting. The expectation is that staff attend work as normal which would not include bringing their dependents to site. It is acknowledged that all schools may not remain open and issues such as location and public transport may be a concern therefore all situations must be considered sensitively, and home working and special paid leave may be granted where warranted. 

18. What makes a person a “vulnerable” person? 

Advice states that people at particular risk includes those with weakened immune systems, older workers, and workers with long term conditions such as diabetes, cancer and chronic lung disease. Pregnant employees and staff with disabilities have also been identified as being at an increased risk. Government Guidance has been issued around this and can be accessed at the link below.

School employees should discuss any underlying conditions with their employer as a matter of urgency so that appropriate arrangements can be made in line with Government advice. 

We advise that those who are at increased risk of severe illness need to be particularly stringent in following social distancing measures. School leaders are strongly advised to follow these measures and allow working from home. If working from home cannot be accommodated special leave with pay should be considered. Particularly for those:

  • aged 70 or older (regardless of medical conditions)
  • under 70 with an underlying health condition listed below (ie anyone instructed to get a flu jab as an adult each year on medical grounds):
  1. chronic (long-term) respiratory diseases, such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema or bronchitis
  2. chronic heart disease, such as heart failure

  3. chronic kidney disease

  4. chronic liver disease, such as hepatitis

  5. chronic neurological conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease, motor neurone disease, multiple sclerosis (MS), a learning disability or cerebral palsy

  6. diabetes

  7. problems with your spleen – for example, sickle cell disease or if you have had your spleen removed

  8. weakened immune system as the result of conditions such as HIV and AIDS, or medicines such as steroid tablets or chemotherapy

  9. being seriously overweight (a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or above) 

  • those who are pregnant 

Guidance is available on identifying and advising individuals who are particularly vulnerable to contracting the virus and who should take extra care as a result. Public Health England has advised that letters are being sent direct to these individuals and will be received by 29th March 2020.

Pregnancy: In the absence of a MATB1, pregnant teaching/support staff could be asked to complete an Application for Maternity Leave Form with the expected date of confinement being accepted and discussions around risk assessment needs taking place. It is important to remember the member of staff may be unable to obtain a certificate of expected confinement due to surgeries / clinics being under increased pressure. 

Where a member of staff shares a household with a family member in the vulnerable categories, and, as a consequence, has a justified concern that working in the school will increase the risk of infection to the family member, that member of staff should be allowed to work from home.

19. How do I handle it if someone refuses to attend school site?

Fear of contracting the virus is not a valid reason to not attend work therefore is it possible that someone refusing to attend work is likely to be unpaid and could in some cases, find themselves in disciplinary action.

Headteachers can choose to be flexible and allow a concerned employee to cover in other ways, however in a school setting this could be difficult. Where teaching/support staff are employed to work 52 weeks a year, annual leave could be considered. 

In summary our advice would be to speak to the person to identify the specific concerns and situation so that you can try to reach agreement on the role that individual can and will play over the coming months. 

20. Can I ask for a fit note or medical proof that someone is self-isolating?

Employees can obtain a digital isolation note if they have been advised to self-isolate, either because of their own symptoms or symptoms of someone in their household. Once generated the isolation note will be sent to the individual via email. More information including where the notes can be accessed is found here.

21. Do I need a fit note for someone who falls ill whilst self-isolating or whilst working from home?

Yes, they will need to notify you that they are ill and provide a sick note should their illness last more than 7 days. It is particularly important that anyone with coronavirus notifies the school as soon as possible. 

22. I’m not using my casual staff – can I stop paying them and end their contract?

If they are true casual workers who you call upon as and when to work and it is work that they can decide to take or not, then yes you don’t have to pay them (unless they had already agreed to take the work).

If they are working regular hours and often, then you should continue to pay them for the period of work and hours that you had already agreed (or created a clear expectation of work) with them.

23. If I deploy staff to a different school site – who is responsible for paying their salary?

They are your staff and therefore you would be responsible for paying them if deployed elsewhere. 

24. If my school is not remaining open – should my workforce still attend site?

Please use discretion and follow the government guidance. If your staff are not required to be in school due to your school not being open then the staff in school should be limited.

Use home working and discretion where possible. 

25. I was using agency staff – what do I do about them?

If you don’t require them to be in work during this period then you will not be required to pay them.

If the assignment began before the 21st March they should be paid until the end of the agreed assignment e.g. a maternity leave or absence leave cover must be honoured.

26. Should I attempt to hold disciplinary/Grievance/Medical Capability Hearings at this time? 

As the government guidance is to avoid any non-essential contact, it will be increasingly difficult to identify an appropriate panel and ensure the appropriate people can be present to hear any matters such as grievance / disciplinary / performance / attendance hearing.

Whilst it may be possible to use technology to allow hearings to proceed, it is important to ensure the individual has a fair hearing. In light of this Bradford Council recommend that hearings are initially postponed until 1st May 2020 and then reviewed and the situation re-visited.  There may be instances where resolving an on-going employment relation issue is in the best interest of the staff member, ie for their own well-being however, however, this must be considered on a case by case basis.

It is of course important to ensure all those involved are made aware of this. 

27. Should I continue to undertake a workforce change process at this time? 

Consideration should be given to your ability to carry out a fair consultation and overall fair process during these times. Every case is different but in general it may be difficult to consult with your workforce at this time and could therefore lead to claims of unfair dismissal at a later date should you proceed. 

28. I have a member of staff who wishes to resign, can I refuse to accept their resignation as I might need them?

Employees have a right to terminate the contract by resigning and giving the requisite notice.

If you feel that allowing that member of staff to leave would leave your school at a detriment and they are an essential member of staff, you can discuss this with them and ask them to postpone their resignation or give you a longer period of notice to support the school through this unprecedented period.

29. When do I need to self-isolate, and what should I do? 

The most common symptoms of COVID-19 are recent onset of a new continuous cough and/or high temperature. If you have these symptoms, however mild, stay at home and do not leave your house for 7 days from when your symptoms started (if you live alone), or 14 days (if you live with someone who has symptoms). You do not need to call NHS 111 to go into self-isolation. If your symptoms worsen during home isolation or are no better after 7 days, contact NHS 111 online.

See also the government's stay at home guidance.

30. Should I be working from home?

If you are in a role that enables you to work from home, you should continue to agree working from home arrangements with your line manager.   If working from home you need to keep up regular conversations with your line manager, including discussing workload and key priorities on a regular basis, recording the time you start and finish work and your lunch break in your Outlook calendar, and making sure your contact details are clearly shown.  

31. What happens when a member of staff is self isolating as they have Covid-19 symptoms and they are too unwell to work? 
This will be classed as sickness absence and recorded appropriately. The staff member’s entitlement to sick pay will apply; as per the Government’s decision statutory sick pay will be paid from day one and occupational sick pay will be paid as applicable in line with the employee’s contract of employment.  School should keep in regular contact with the member of staff. 

32. If a member of staff is self isolating due to having symptoms but are continuing to work from home? 

Where an employee is well enough to work from home and continues to do so, full pay should continue to be paid as normal. Staff will not be required to take annual leave and the absence will not be recorded as sickness absence.  School should keep in regular contact with the member of staff as a duty of care and to ensure that their condition is being monitored.  If their condition deteriorates and they are not able as they are too sick to work then it will be classed as sickness absence and they will be paid sick pay and recorded appropriately.

33. I have a member of staff who is self isolating due to a member of their household.  How is this recorded and what impact will this have on their pay?

This will not be recorded as sickness absence and full pay will be paid for the 14 day isolation period.  They will need to submit an isolation note Staff should work from home wherever possible and discuss the appropriate arrangements and priorities with their line manager.  School should keep in regular contact with the member of staff as a duty of care and to ensure that their condition is being monitored and work is being completed.  If their condition deteriorates and they become too sick to work then it will be classed as sickness.

34. What evidence is required to establish if parents are key workers?

The Department for Education advises schools ask parents for ‘simple evidence’ that they are a critical worker such as ‘a work ID badge or payslip’. 

35. Are staff allowed to take holiday if it has already been booked?

That would be an operational matter to decide on school need and staffing levels.  If it had previously been booked the likelihood is with the travel ban an individual may prefer to change it to a different time. It is the school’s decision whether or not to allow the employee to cancel their leave; being mindful that if they do not take the leave there may be a short window of time later on in the year where a large number of staff all have accrued annual leave to take. 

36. Can you impose that staff members who work all year round take their leave?

Yes as it is the employer’s decision whether someone takes leave. If this is the case you need to give the employee double the amount of notice for the leave they are instructed to take. For example, if you require them to take one week’s leave, you should give them two week’s notice.

It should be noted however that an exception to this would be if the contract of employment gives more favourable rights. 

37. Would furlough leave apply to school staff?

Whilst there is no official guidance on this from the Government or the DfE, it is not envisaged that furlough leave would apply to school staff. Furlough leave applies where staff would otherwise be ‘laid off’ or made redundant and as school staff are still being paid and working where possible in some form, it is highly unlikely they would be eligible for furlough leave. 

38. Can I still proceed with recruiting for a Teacher to start in September 2020?

Any recruitment and advertising processes should continue as planned; however, schools are encouraged to think differently and creatively about how the selection processes could comply with the Government guidance on social distancing. For example, conducting Skype/Zoom interviews using video conferencing, telephone interviews, email correspondence.

Schools are advised to take caution in committing to any start dates in the current circumstances. This doesn’t deter from planning for September 2020; however, any offers of employment should exercise caution around a definitive start date as the situation regarding Covid-19 continues to unfold.

39. Do I need to report on staff attendance?

Yes, the DfE requires a short daily return be completed via an online form to capture children and staff in attendance. This only includes staff working in schools; staff working from home should not be included. See guidance here for further information. 

40. My child’s school is closed and I don’t want to send my child to a different school? 

All Council employees are key workers and therefore are guaranteed childcare at a school. Not all schools are required to open for this provision and therefore, you may be offered a place at another school. The government has required this provision so that key workers can remain in work. Unless your child can be cared for at home by somebody who is not a key worker, then you should take up the childcare place(s) at the school allocated.