Looking ahead: New years' resolutions for schools to avoid issues in the Spring and Summer terms

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11 December, 2020

Ruth Rule-Mullen
Partner and Head of Public Sector Employment

Tackle performance issues without delay

Failing to address poor performance in accordance with the school's policy means that it becomes harder to substantiate a genuine concern at a later date. In addition, the employee may feel aggrieved and left wondering why the issue was not raised sooner, or they may even use the delay as grounds to argue that the issue was manufactured by the school if it ultimately results in dismissal. This is a particular risk for schools, where performance management and capability procedures can be considerably lengthy and incur significant time and resources.

Employees may also argue that they were not supported or provided with training to improve performance, particularly where processes have had to delayed, shifting blame partly back onto the employer. Consequently, the potential for allegations that employees were left to struggle in their role increases, likely creating work related stress, sickness, or mental health problems.

Manage long-term absences in accordance with policies

Leaving employees absent from the workplace for long periods of time where they could be supported back to work is costly and leaves remaining staff dealing with increased workloads, which may result in work related stress claims for other employees. Schools are already grappling with the operational and financial strain of COVID-19 so supporting a return to work to minimise the additional cost of absences should be the goal. This should be done in accordance with policies and referrals to Occupational Health where appropriate. Notwithstanding this, absent employees should continue to be supported and contact maintained only where necessary.

Deal with disciplinary and grievance issues when they arise

It is essential that grievances are dealt with promptly, as if they are valid and continue unabated due to inaction and delay by the employer, they can give rise to claims of discrimination, bullying or harassment and even constructive dismissal. Often, matters raised in grievances do not get better over time if left unresolved but rather they escalate, becoming more complex and more damaging to employers. Disciplinary issues should also be dealt with promptly in line with policies and procedures. As all employers know, when it comes to disciplinary matters procedure is everything. Integrity of process can often be more important in protecting an employer's position than the decision itself. Delays open employers up to criticism, undermine the validity of the claim, and can escalate giving rise to associated claims from other employees.

Whilst schools are under unprecedented operational and financial stress, it is imperative that employment issues are dealt with in a robust and timely matter. Failure to act can lead to escalation and complication of matters, provide the employee with more opportunities to undermine an employer's position, and ultimately increase cost exposure. Our specialist Education Employment team at Forbes Solicitors have considerable experience in dealing with all manner of employment law issues.

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.

Learn more about our Education department here

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