Opening schools for more children and young people – principles for leading on HR
During the months of May and June, union employer engagement teams are usually busy reviewing and engaging in hundreds of consultations on policies with nearly 2,500 plus employers (local authorities and academies) from across the UK. This is a fundamental function that unions undertake, as well as supporting individual members who need support with their own terms and conditions, proposed contract changes and instances of grievances/disciplinary processes.
Understandably HR teams have focused on more immediate staffing matters, which now include considering the risks and measures required for more staff and pupils to return to school, potentially from 1 June. Clearly the most pertinent issue for school leaders to consider in their scenario planning is the safety of pupils and staff, but that is not the only matter and below are some guiding principles for you to reflect on to aid your planning.
- Supporting wellbeing
Consider and put in place measures to check on staff wellbeing (including for leaders), induction for new staff joining, the impact on mental health and consider options available to support, for example, staff welfare, occupational health referral and signposting information and support. For advice on wellbeing and mental health refer to the ASCL Team Webinar 22 April (free to view).
- Undertaking absence management
Provide clear guidance to staff on the reporting systems for monitoring and responding to staff absence, for all types of absences. Provide advice on what a member of staff should do if they or a member of their household show or experience symptoms of COVID-19 or receive a confirmed diagnosis. Include appropriate ongoing adjustments to application of sickness absence policies to reflect COVID-19 related absences and issues. Consider staff returning to work from maternity or long-term sickness leave.
- Re-considering disciplinary and grievance procedures – are they fair and reasonable?
Consider the approach to handling cases of staff subject to any ongoing and/or pre-existing processes under sickness absence, capability or disciplinary policies. Fundamentally, the employer needs to decide if it would still be fair and reasonable to carry on with or start a disciplinary or grievance procedure, useful guidance on this available in this publication from ACAS Disciplinary and grievance procedures during the coronavirus pandemic
- Supporting flexible working and vulnerable members of staff
You may have some staff who need to continue shielding, self-isolating or are designated to work from home due to COVID-19. Consider whether individual return to work assessments are required, including new or revised personal risk assessments. Consider individual requirements and Government guidelines as to when and how they are they able to return as schools open.
As an employer, you have the same health and safety responsibilities for home workers as for any other workers. When an employee is working from home (permanently or temporarily) as an employer you need to consider the points provided in the HSE Protect Home Workers guidance.
- Tracking vital information
It is also important to track vital information on your staff. Track your staff groups, for example, those who are unwell, shielding and in self-isolation. It is important to differentiate between absence related to COVID-19 and other absences. Revise work plans and risk assessments as and when circumstances change, taking account of Government and Public Health guidance. Ensure a robust audit trail is in place of all support provided for in cases of staff absence; and regularly report staff absence figures.
- Clear communication is key
Provide staff who will be onsite with a briefing about how school will operate and what measures will be in place, examples include:
- Social distancing plans and measures
- Personal hygiene
- Monitoring of symptoms
- What to do if a colleague or pupil is unwell
- Dedicated first aiders and safeguarding leads
- Revisions to emergency plans
- Plan to supervise arrivals and departures, break and lunchtimes (include details for managing late/early arrivals and departures)
- Plan a system for providing feedback and relief for staff to facilitate breaks and absence
Inevitably, there will be other matters not covered above and it is not possible to anticipate specific risks in every institution. I hope that this will serve as a useful reference point for your own organisation’s planning.