28 October, 2020
Dealing with the outbreak of Covid-19 has caused significant headaches for all schools over the past few months. Schools have overcome considerable difficulties that could never have been prepared for and whilst there are challenges ahead for schools some of these challenges can at least be predicted and planned for.
One of these is the anticipated significant level of short term absences that is likely for the next few months.
The winter months can cause increased absences under normal circumstances due to the prevalence of cold and flu. However due to the significant crossover between the symptoms of cold, flu and Covid-19.
Schools should therefore set out their expectations of what they expect from staff who exhibit symptoms. Staff may believe they only have a cold or flu when exhibiting these symptoms, however the consequences of staff turning up to work if they do end up having Covid-19 are potentially damaging and so expectations need to be clear with all members of staff that if they are exhibiting any symptoms they will need to remain off work until they receive a negative Covid-19 test.
As the consequences of staff turning up to work with Covid-19 are serious then consideration should be given to the what the consequences might be for those who do not follow these rules. Disciplinary action may be justified depending on the circumstances and as most disciplinary policies will specify a breach of health and safety rules as a disciplinary offence, it should be possible under existing policies. However for the avoidance of doubt it might be worth making this clear to staff in your communication to them.
The one other things school may wish to monitor is members of staff who are frequently exhibiting symptoms which would allow them to stay absent from work. You may have a small number of staff who may opportunistically take time off for what they would expect a lack of scrutiny over absences in the next few months. This can be alleviated by following your existing policies regarding staff absences, hold back to work meetings with the staff members and look for patterns in their absences. There will be nothing stopping schools from taking action against staff members in these circumstances under their existing policies.
One key message for all schools is that you shouldn't delay taking action against members of staff if you have concerns about their absences. Whilst you may feel that you have more pressing concerns, delaying taking action may cause further issues in the future and put extra pressure on other members of staff.