Travel and self-isolation: How will this affect schools?

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06 July, 2020

Ruth Rule-Mullen
Partner and Head of Public Sector Employment

On 8 June 2020, the rules on travel changed, bringing in the obligation on individuals to provide details of their journey to the UK, contact details and where they will be staying. In addition, individuals travelling/ returning to the UK will be expected to self-isolate for 14 days upon arrival. This requirement is now solidified by the Health Protection (Coronavirus, International Travel) (England) Regulations 2020.

On 3 July 2020, the Transport Secretary, along with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, released further guidance on this requirement, with the introduction of "air bridges," also known as ''travel corridors." From 10 July 2020, people arriving from selected destinations will be able to enter England without needing to self-isolate, unless they have been in or transited through non-exempt countries in the preceding 14 days. This exemption extends to destinations including Germany, France, Spain and Italy, amongst others. All passengers, except those on a small list of exemptions, will still be required to provide contact information on arrival in the UK, including details of countries or territories they have been in or through during the previous 14 days. The exemptions from self-isolation apply to all modes of international transport, including sea and international rail routes as well as flights.

It is important to note that these exemptions currently only apply in England.

HMRC's current position for those who are travelling to areas outside of those air bridges, is that if a person was to be subject to mandatory quarantine (even if it is referred to as self-isolation), then they would not be eligible for SSP. It remains the same that if your staff develop symptoms of COVID-19 at any point, they will be entitled to SSP and could be entitled to up to full pay, depending on whether the Burgundy book applies.

A significant question for the education sector will be "what if some staff travel to countries that require them to self-isolate, how will this impact their return to school?"

What issues do we need to consider in anticipation of the summer break?

It is unlikely that staff would be regarded as being "able" to work, as a result of the self-isolation requirement. Arguably, this means if staff are not able to work, the implied right to be paid, which may be relevant if there was no legal requirement to self-isolate, would not apply.

With the introduction of "air bridges," some staff, who have returned to the UK and are unable to attend work to perform their job role, could go unpaid for the full 14-day isolation period, whilst others will be able to work as normal. A considerable danger, in not paying all staff during this period, will be that they may choose to return to school, which carries criminal sanction and puts your other staff and pupils at considerable risk.

Understandably, from a health and safety and fair treatment perspective, some schools may choose to isolate their staff, regardless of the country they have travelled to, meaning the implied right to be paid would arise in some cases. We anticipate a major contest to school leaders will be how to negotiate pay during this time and how to mitigate risk.

As part of this, it will remain a considerable challenge to ensure that any course of action schools take does not indirectly discriminate against a member of staff, who may need/wish to travel to a country where they are required to isolate on their return, to see relatives.

What should we be considering now?

One of the key considerations for the education sector will be ensuring lessons can continue to be delivered on the return of pupils in September, by providing sufficient teaching staff at any one time. To do so, you may need to consider how to successfully utilise some staff, whilst working from home.

There will also be members of staff who cannot work from home, such as in-house catering and maintenance staff. Enforcing a period of unpaid leave (depending on the country a member of staff has travelled to) may cause considerable risk and backlash, increasing the need to ensure the continuity of relations amongst your staff and to implement a robust plan.

For more information contact Ruth Rule-Mullen in our Education department via email or phone on 01772 220195. Alternatively send any question through to Forbes Solicitors via our online Contact Form.

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