COVID-19 HR guidance for schools and staff
Coronavirus – HR guidance for schools and their staff
Government and other Guidance
All coronavirus guidance for educational settings can now be found in one place on GOV.UK: Guidance for educational settings
Frequently asked questions
The situation surrounding Coronavirus is fast-moving and developing rapidly, so it is important to keep yourself up to date.
If you have any immediate issues or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact the HR service desk.
When schools were closed for normal business there was still be a requirement for staff to attend and/or for work to be undertaken (subject to their health and personal situation). Now that schools will be able to open for specific year groups from 1 June further questions have arisen. The government have provided detailed advice and we have added a new section which deals with some of the HR questions arising from the change. We will keep this section updated for you.
The FAQs are grouped as follows:
- Health and Self-isolation
- Caring responsibilities
- Working from home and alternative working arrangements
- Annual leave
- Other miscellaneous questions
- Wider opening of schools from 1 June onwards
Health and self isolation
What do I do if I am ill with Coronavirus or have Coronavirus symptoms?
In line with normal sickness absence reporting procedures you should inform your Head teacher or manager from the senior leadership team.
If you have Coronavirus symptoms and are unable to work then you should inform your Head teacher or manager from the senior leadership team and this will be recorded as sickness absence and sick pay will be covered in line with individual terms and conditions.
If you have Coronavirus symptoms but feel able to work then we would ask that you do so from home. In these circumstances you should inform your Head teacher or manager and talk about work that you can carry out from home. This will not be recorded as sickness absence and you should be paid as normal.
If your symptoms become worse and you feel unable to work, please inform your Head teacher or the appropriate member of your senior leadership team.
When do I need to self-isolate?
You need to self-isolate if you or anyone in your home has:
- A new continuous cough
b. High temperature (of 37.8 degrees centigrade or higher)
AND/OR NEW SYMPTOM
- Loss of sense of taste or smell
In these circumstances you should self-isolate in line with government guidance.
Please refer to Stay at home guidance
What do I do when I am self-isolating?
As outlined above, if you have Coronavirus symptoms and are unable to work then you should inform your Head teacher or the appropriate member of your senior leadership team and this will be recorded as sickness absence.
If you have Coronavirus symptoms or are self-isolating because you have been in contact with someone in your home, but feel able to work from home, then you should do so. In these circumstances you should inform your Head teacher or the appropriate member of your senior leadership team and talk about work that you can carry out from home. This will not be recorded as sickness absence and you should be paid as normal. However if your symptoms become worse and you feel unable to work, please inform your Head teacher or the appropriate member of your senior leadership team.
What should I do if I feel that my own individual circumstances put me at additional risk should I become ill with Coronavirus?
The government guidance on social distancing sets out the measures we should all be taking to reduce social interaction between people in order to reduce the transmission of Coronavirus. This guidance is at Social distancing guidance
The social distancing guidance asks everyone to work from home, where possible.
People falling into the group with existing health conditions are those who may be at particular risk due to complex health problems such as:
- People who have received an organ transplant and remain on ongoing immunosuppression medication
- People with cancer who are undergoing active chemotherapy or radiotherapy
- People with cancers of the blood or bone marrow such as leukaemia who are at any stage of treatment
- People with severe chest conditions such as cystic fibrosis or severe asthma (requiring hospital admissions or courses of steroid tablets)
People with severe diseases of body systems, such as severe kidney disease (dialysis)
Please ensure you keep up to date on this. For full details please refer to Stay at home guidance
People in these groups should work from home with immediate effect. Please speak to your Head teacher about arrangements to work from home.
How do we record self-isolation on SIMS?
If you are self-isolating but still working from home, you do not need to record anything as you are still working. If you are off sick because you are ill with symptoms you should record sickness in the usual way.
How will Coronavirus absence impact on my record if my absence is being monitored under sickness absence management arrangements?
Sickness absence management procedures will continue, however it is recognised that some of the timescales for managing sickness absence processes may be relaxed during this time. Your Head teacher or member of senior leadership team will discuss your specific circumstances with you at the appropriate time.
What will happen with employees who are currently off sick?
Employees should continue to provide fit notes to their Head teacher or manager while the school is closed unless the GP has deemed them fit to return to work. It is appreciated that there may be some delay in obtaining a fit note, but employees are advised to keep their Head teacher informed.
Where an employee is declared fit they must contact their Head teacher even if the school is still not open, to discuss return to work arrangements.
A staff member is not self-isolating or displaying symptoms, but has told me they are worried and don’t want to come to work, what should I do?
Advice from the Local Government Association is as follows:
- It is anticipated that employees will, as far as possible within the constraints of school closures, caring responsibilities and complying with Government advice on self-isolating and social distancing, continue to perform their duties and be flexible to ensure that services continue to be provided
- If difficulties arise with a refusal to attend work or a refusal to carry out certain duties, managers should ascertain what the concerns are, consider what, if anything, can be reasonably done to address those concerns and take action accordingly, to encourage the individual to work.
- If the above has been done, but the individual still refuses to attend or perform the task then this may constitute unauthorised absence or partial performance (ie where they are only prepared to carry out certain tasks rather than their full range of duties)., which may justify a reduction or withdrawal of pay. The manager should explain the individual’s contractual obligations and the consequences of unreasonably refusing to work,
- If there is still no change in the individual’s position, immediate advice should be sought from HR to ensure an appropriate and consistent approach can be taken.
Ultimately it is a decision for the head as to whether it is a reasonable management instruction for the employee to attend work, and if they refuse whether or not to with-hold pay.
The latest advice (as at 21.5.2020) from the Local Government Association states:
“We would recommend this issue is dealt with on a case by case and sympathetic basis, with any formal process only being used as a last resort.“
Please see the Health and Safety section for guidance on the use of PPE, social distancing, cleaning routines and other advice on
I have care responsibilities for someone who has a cough or fever or who has contracted Coronavirus, what should I do?
If you are caring for someone who has Coronavirus or who has Coronavirus symptoms then speak to your Head teacher about how they can support you by putting in place flexible working arrangements – this could include working from home or adapting work patterns. You may be able to use annual leave, or take carers leave or compassionate leave if this is accounted for in your terms and conditions.
My child’s school has closed – what do I do?
Please refer to the government guidance for schools during the school closure period.
Speak to your Head teacher or member of senior leadership team. They will need to consider the latest government guidance and bear in mind the role you are in. If it is possible for you to work from home, you might be able to flex your hours to work around your children including during naps, in the evenings or outside normal work hours if this helps.
If your role does not allow you to work from home, you may be able to use annual leave, or take carers leave or compassionate leave if this is accounted for in your terms and conditions.
I have care responsibilities for someone in my household who is in a vulnerable category but does not have symptoms - what do I do?
Speak to your Head teacher or member of senior leadership team. They will need to consider the latest Government guidance and bear in mind the role you are in. If it is possible for you to work from home, you might be able to flex your hours to work around your children including during naps, in the evenings or outside normal work hours if this helps.
If your role does not allow you to work from home, you may be able to use annual leave, or take carers leave or compassionate leave if this is accounted for in your terms and conditions.
Working from home or alternative working
Working from home arrangements
The government guidance encourages people to work from home where possible. Schools should consider the below points:
- Some staff may have to self-isolate based on government guidance – where possible they should work from home
- Consider whether working from home meets the school’s current requirements
- Some people will not be able to work from home
- Some schools will continue to need some people at work to support pupils who are still required to attend (children of key workers and identified vulnerable children)
- Even if you do not currently perform a front line role, we may need some staff to help cover essential roles (see redeployment below).
- There are people without existing health conditions but who are excessively anxious about coming to work
- Some staff will have caring arrangements (either for children or vulnerable persons) and may need to reschedule their work or work flexibly around this
The Head teacher or Chair of Governors will be in contact to inform staff about the arrangements to be put in place for their school(s).
What things do I need to think about when working from home?
You need to ensure that you manage your wellbeing. This includes:
- maintaining regular contact with your manager and colleagues
- taking regular breaks
- avoiding being ‘always on’ by ensuring that you identify non-working time
- contacting the Employee Assistance Programme if you need support, for example, in relation to heightened feelings of anxiety
- being aware of the things that can cause you poor wellbeing and the activities and resources that can help to address this
Please see attached Health and Safety Guidance for working from home
What if I can't work from home?
Not everyone will want to, or be able to work from home. If you are well enough to work and not subject to the current government guidance to self-isolate, and you would prefer to be school based then provided it is safe to do so, you may be able to continue to attend your usual place of work.
Your Head teacher or Chair of Governors will be in contact to inform you about the arrangements to be put in place for your school.
How do I get remote working facilities in place?
Let your Head teacher or the school business manager know that you need remote working facilities so that the necessary arrangements can be made.
Where you have already have a laptop it is really important that you test your remote working access as soon as possible and if you have any issues that you log these with the school’s ICT provider/school business manager, so issues can be resolved as soon as possible.
You can also use your personal devices – personal phones and iPads. However you will need to register your device with your ICT provider/school business manager.
Can I claim tax relief if the bills I have to pay increase because I am working at home?
In line with Government advice, we have asked people to work from home wherever possible. Whilst working from home people avoid the time and cost of commuting to their place of work and, on balance, the Council does not have arrangements for expense claims for any additional costs arising for working from home. However, you may be able to claim tax relief for some of the bills you have to pay because you have to work at home on a regular basis.
You can only claim for things to do with your work, for example, business telephone calls or the extra cost of gas and electricity for your work area. You cannot claim for things that you use for both private and business use, for example, rent or broadband access.
If you wish to know more and/or make a claim for tax relief, you can go to https://www.gov.uk/tax-relief-for-employees/working-at-home
Should I still be attending conferences, attending seminars, arranging events?
Government guidance advises against all unnecessary social contact with others and all unnecessary travel.
Will I be asked to cancel my pre-booked annual leave?
For non-term time only staff who have booked annual leave, it may be necessary for your manager to have a conversation with you about cancelling upcoming leave, should the needs of the school require it. If you are asked and agree to cancel your annual leave, the restriction on carrying over of five days annual leave (for Bucks pay – Schools staff) will be relaxed.
As much notice will be given as possible if this situation arises and being mindful of the needs of our employees to take regular breaks from the workplace in order to protect their own health and wellbeing.
What happens to my leave if my planned holiday is either cancelled by me or by a holiday operator because of Coronavirus?
Your holiday will be re-credited even where this means that you will carry forward more than 5 days leave.
Are school staff able to take on another role which supports other critical services whilst schools are closed due to lockdown?
Unless there are very specific circumstances, school staff have not been furloughed and therefore staff should be working to support key worker and vulnerable children or delivering remote learning.
For staff who have not been furloughed, but are not working because pupils are not in school and they are not involved in delivering learning in any other way, we can either agree to second the person for their normal working hours to an alternative care provider, and we have a new agreed process in place to do this, or a person can decide to volunteer or decide to take on another job in their non-contracted hours.
In those exceptional circumstances where school staff have been furloughed, then they will be able to receive payment from another employer providing there is no breach of the existing contract. In this case, the individual would enter a separate employment contract with the care provider.
Although the Local Authority is in support of this request for school staff to support other critical services, we would stress that all scenarios, whether it be secondment, voluntary or furloughed, staff will need agreement from their head teacher before they progress to ensure we are able to support the individual, protect their wellbeing and ensure resilience in their permanent role.
We are seeing unprecedented times, there are many things to consider in this ever changing situation. It’s important to try and be as flexible as we can, while maintaining safeguarding standards to ensure we can still carry out the work that needs to happen whilst all of this is going on. Further information can be obtained by e mailing: email@example.com
If you are recruiting a Headteacher to a maintained school, please ensure that you contact School Improvement Advisor Naureen Kausar at firstname.lastname@example.org for advice, support and for LA representation.
Should I continue to advertise my vacancies?
Yes, you can still continue with your recruitment activities, you will need to consider different ways in which you conduct interviews and assessments (see question 4 & 5). You should also think about how you can start your new employees, if you advertise can they realistically start work if the school is closed? (see question 6)
How can we engage with potential candidates during this time?
During this time, candidates may well be focussed on the work they currently have to do in their own schools; we are all going through a busy time since the announcement of school closures. You might like to think about a longer advertising period to give candidates more time to apply or think about different advertising routes, such as social media to capture candidates who might not be actively looking for new roles at the moment.
What can we do instead of schools tours?
Whilst it is important to give candidates tours of the school so they can get a feel for the culture and speak to staff and pupils, you can still give candidates an opportunity to speak with the Headteacher or Chair of Governors or other members of staff. You can also direct candidates to view your school website to find out more, if you have videos or images of the school, that’s also a good way for them to view the school.
You may also consider having a virtual tour with candidates via facetime on your phone, whilst there may not be many pupils in the school at this time, it will be a good chance for them to see the school in real time and speak with you and ask questions.
How can we interview during this time?
You should think about remote interviewing, this can be a telephone call or a facetime/skype video call. This may not be as simple for teaching and leadership roles that include lesson observation or assemblies but where possible it is important to be flexible.
How can we assess candidates during this time?
Whilst you will not be able to hold lesson observations and assemblies remotely, you can still conduct written exercises remotely. This can be done by sending the candidate the written exercise and asking for them to return it by email within a certain time scale, ensure this is a reasonable timescale for example if the exercise usually takes one hour to complete, send the exercise via email at 10am asking the candidate to complete and return it by 11:30am this gives 15 minutes either side for the candidate to receive and send back. Please agree timings for sending information with each candidate.
Similarly with presentations you may ask the candidate to do this via skype video, emailing you the slides prior to the presentation.
What should we do if we have new starters in the next few weeks?
This will depend on the work the new starter will be carrying out and if they are well, they might have childcare responsibilities or carer responsibilities that prevent them from starting as planned, it’s important to keep in touch with them regularly and be as flexible as you can, reassure them that they will not be forgotten about and keep them up to date with your plans.
For those that are in self-isolation you may want to go through the induction process via skype video and send materials over via email.
As some schools will be staying open for children of key workers (and some schools will be opening more widely from 1 June ) you may want your new starters to help you with this, in this case you can start them as normal ensuring they are briefed on your schools social distancing measures.
Do we still have to do safeguarding checks?
Yes, it remains essential that people who are unsuitable are not allowed to enter the children’s workforce or gain access to children. Please see full guidance on safer recruitment during this period in the safeguarding section of FAQs.
For information on the furlough scheme, see the Furlough and Financial Support Section.
What will happen with performance management arrangements for teachers?
The DfE’s School Workforce Q&A confirms that maintained schools must continue to adhere to the school teachers' pay and conditions statutory guidance. This includes the requirement to ensure that all pay progression for teachers is linked to performance management. However, DfE expect schools to use their discretion and take pragmatic steps, to adapt performance management and appraisal arrangements to take account of the current circumstances. This could include basing performance on the period schools were open, adjusting, if necessary, for expected trajectory had there been no closures.
What will happen with appraisal arrangements for support staff?
The appraisal cycle for staff on Bucks pay (schools) normally runs from 1 April to 31 March each year. Where possible you should be having your usual appraisal end of year discussions with staff. This may be either face to face (preferably) or via video link/skype or telephone as necessary. For staff who are unwell or who are very challenging circumstances it might be reasonable to delay discussions until a more suitable time depending on the issues involved.
Please seek advice from the ERA team if you need more specific support.
Statutory Sick Pay Rebate Scheme
At Budget 2020 the Chancellor announced details about a new coronavirus (COVID-19) Statutory Sick Pay Rebate Scheme. This scheme will allow small and medium sized employers, with fewer than 250 employees, to apply to HMRC to recover the costs of paying Statutory Sick Pay to their employees.
HMRC has published new online guidance HMRC- Claim back SSP which includes information about who can use the scheme and the records employers must keep.
HMRC is working urgently to set up a system for reimbursement. Existing systems are not set up to facilitate payments to employers.
Details about when the new Statutory Sick Pay Rebate Scheme can be accessed and when employers can make a claim will be announced as soon as possible.
Please can you keep a record of anyone within your school, that has been affected by this and we will be in touch when the announcement has been made.
What do schools need to provide their staff to confirm their key worker status?
Buckinghamshire Council has asked that every employee receives confirmation that they are a key worker as set out in the COVID -19 guidance. Each Chair of Governors is asked to provide a letter to their staff on school headed paper confirming this. A template is provided below. This letter must only be used by staff if they need to confirm their key worker status, for instance, if challenged by the police when travelling as part of their work. The letter is deliberately generic to encompass different working scenarios.
To whom it may concern
Confirmation of Key Worker Status
I am writing to confirm that (employee’ first and last name) has been classified as a key worker under the Government’s COVID-19 guidelines. They are currently employed by xxx (insert name of school). Please allow this person to travel to and from their various places of work which may include people’s homes.
Thank you for your support.
If you need to confirm this further please contact xxx (school contact)
I have incurred costs due to Coronavirus, what can you do to help?
We need to understand the direct additional costs of Coronavirus, so any spend specifically because of Coronavirus will need to be agreed under the normal procurement processes.
Where the spend is directly related to Coronavirus, e.g. you have had to purchase additional equipment, then you must also let your School Business Manager know in advance so that the cost can be agreed and funded by the school.
See the Finance section for more details.
What advice is available for educational staff from overseas?
If you are, or work with, staff from overseas who have immigration concerns, you should follow government guidance about visas and immigration.
If you are, or work with, staff from overseas who have questions about travelling during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, you should follow government guidance for education staff.
You can recall foreign nationals who have returned home. However, you should notifiy them asap to give them time to make necessary arrangements (e.g. book flights). Bear in mind that there are indications from the Government that those coming from abroad will have to self-isolate for 14 days so will not be available to attend work immediately upon their return.
Staff from overseas who have immigration concerns should follow government guidance about visas and immigration. Extensions are being granted for those whose visa expires up to 31 May 2020
I have staff working in my school who TUPE’d to a different organisation. What do I do if I want them to come into work?
These staff are not employees of the school so any revised working arrangements (working on a rota basis for example) will need to be arranged and discussed with the member of staff, taking account of their personal circumstances, and their employer.
If staff come to work outside of their normal working pattern or in the school holidays what happens about their pay?
We know that schools will discuss any alternative working arrangements with individual members of staff to seek agreement for any change to current contractual arrangements. This should take account that changes are agreed with due consideration for staff well-being and to provide reasonable time off. Teachers and other school staff will continue to be paid during this period as normal, and we expect schools to continue to fulfill their contractual duties to their staff.
Find out more about Covid 19 and school closures.
Resignation dates for teachers and leaders
The LGA has released a statement confirming the resignation dates for teachers and leaders will remain the same. They have asked schools during this time to be as flexible as possible when considering resignation after the dates if a teacher or leader has been affected by COVID-19.
If you feel you cannot continue with your recruitment activities, you could think about postponing until later in the year, you will need to confirm an interim arrangement or possible acting up arrangement.
DfE have confirmed they do not envisage that schools will need to formally change staff notice periods due to coronavirus but schools may wish to operate in a co-operative and flexible manner to facilitate continuity of employment and staffing levels.
Wider opening of schools from 1 June onwards
Will teachers and other school staff be asked to work in alternative settings?
Staff may be asked by their employer to work in different locations to help maintain the required provision during this challenging period. In some cases, staff members may be prepared to undertake a different role to their normal role temporarily. We ask all those working in schools to be flexible when considering whether to make or agree to such requests. Whether an individual can be required to work in an alternative setting will depend on their individual contract of employment.
Once schools have assessed their demand and capacity, any schools experiencing problems should liaise with their local authority or trust to establish whether there is a need to move any pupils, teachers or other school staff to an alternative setting.
Schools and local authorities should have regard to DfE’s guidance on Protective measures when making these arrangements.
Teachers and other school staff should continue to be paid by their employer as normal, regardless of where they are working.
Do teachers and other school staff require new DBS checks to work in an alternative setting?
Where members of the school workforce are already engaging in regulated activity, and already have the appropriate DBS check, there is no expectation that a new DBS check should be obtained for them to temporarily move to another setting to support the care of children.
The type of setting on the DBS check for example, a specific category of school, is not a barrier. The receiving setting should risk assess as they would for a volunteer.
Whilst the onus remains on schools to satisfy themselves that someone in their setting has had the required checks including, as required, those set out in part 3 of KCSIE;, in the above scenario this can be achieved if the receiving setting chooses to, via seeking assurance from the current employer rather than requiring new checks.
Please see the safeguarding section for more information and a model letter of assurance
Can we use agency/supply staff/casual staff?
Yes. Schools will need to access whatever resources they can/need in order to deliver provision. However, In light of guidance about minimising the circulation of staff (i.e. assigning specific staff to one group of pupils), schools will need to discuss with agencies/supply teachers/casuals:
- agreement of a regular consistent commitment to cover a particular group, the work pattern and length of time that the work will cover.
- any other work they are undertaking and what, if any, additional risks this may pose (e.g. we would not want a supply teacher visiting two different schools in the same day)
Agencies which have furloughed workers will need to end furlough before they can allocate assignments.
Schools should only use agency/supply/casual staff where support cannot be obtained from their current permanent workforce.
We have staff with second jobs, can they still come into school?
Yes. The specifics of each case must be looked at and adjustments made as necessary. For example, schools would not want someone coming straight from another workplace into school without an opportunity to wash thoroughly and change their clothes
Can we change working patterns of staff to meet needs?
Yes. It may be necessary and would be reasonable to temporarilly adjust working times and this will be part of the planning you discuss and agree with staff to enable provision to be delivered. Headteachers/managers will have to take individual circumstances into account and ensure staff get appropriate breaks, but it is expected that staff will co-operate with reasonable adjustments
Is the school liable if a member of staff contracts Covid-19 from a pupil?
The priority in opening schools is to put in place all possible measures, including Health & Safety Risk Assessments to minimse the risk of infection. A model health and safety risk assessment form is available from the Health and Safety team.
In most cases, someone who contracts the virus will be off sick, receive sick pay and then get well and return to work. In the regrettable case of a death as a result of the virus, this may lead to a claim (through your insurers). It is impossible to determine the outcome but the school’s written Health & Safety Risk Assessment and plans will be key important factors so it is essential to keep an audit trail of actions taken to follow the guidance issued.
In addition, there is concern about potential action by staff and the Trade Unions for example for breaches of duty of care and if a detriment is suffered as a result of refusing to attend a perceived unsafe workplace. The outcomes of any such potential actions are unknown, but following the above advice and government guidance, talking to staff and their union representatives as well as keeping the audit trail mentioned above will help to demonstrate efforts made to fulfil an employer’s “duty of care” obligations
Are teachers still entitled to PPA time?
PPA remains a contractual entitlement but we would expect teachers and schools to take a pragmatic view. It is unlikely that there will be a necessity for the full normal range of planning, preparation and assessment and in some cases staff will not have a full “teaching” timetable, such that PPA can be undertaken in non-contact time (working from home).
Where a teacher is reverting to a full teaching timetable, schools should be providing them with non-contact time to plan, prepare and assess as required.
Can we have staff meetings?
Meetings should wherever possible be held remotely, for health and safety reasons but also so that any staff working remotely can participate. Whole staff gatherings are not recommended and should be avoided where possible.
Staff (and pupils) should be operating in “bubbles” (i.e. the same group of pupils and staff together), minimising contact between these groups.
Can we proceed with face to face formal hearings (e.g. disciplinary)?
Bearing in mind the general guidance about contact and minimising unnecessary meetings/people attending the premises, it is not advised to resume face to face hearings at this time.
As previously advised, where parties agree, hearings can be progressed via video conferencing.