Coronavirus FAQ

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Coronavirus FAQ

Last updated - Tuesday 24th March 2020 at 15:04

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 unions were consulted about this advice on the 23rd March 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. For example, if a Teaching Assistant who usually works term-time only offers to cover similar duties but during the Easter break, they should be paid for the additional hours or offered the ability to take TOIL at a later date.

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. 

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-guidance-on-social-distancing-and-for-vulnerable-people

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 

We appreciate that a lot of information is having to be taken on trust and face-value presently but we recommend that Headteachers continue to take seriously any request to practice social distancing. 

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?

No, this is Government advice and no fit note is required. 

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.