Travel and Self-Isolation - How this will Affect Schools?

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01 July, 2021

Ruth Rule-Mullen
Partner and Head of Public Sector Employment

The rules around international travel and restrictions are constantly changing, with returning to the UK from some countries currently at the time of writing this article, legally requiring a 10 day quarantine upon return to the UK.

In the education sector, maintaining continuity of education for children and minismising the disruption for children is paramount during this everchanging pandemic. The easing of restrictions and the government 'road map' means that the government are continuously reviewing the rules on travel with various measures being put in place for international travel.

The way that travelling abroad is being reviewed is currently by the traffic light system, with various different countries being listed on the green, amber and red list. One of the main concerns for the education sector relates to employees travelling abroad during the summer holidays, which means the quarantine rules will legally require them to self-isolate for 10 days (depending on which country they have travelled to). The particular timing of the summer holiday abroad may result in the quarantine period upon their return affecting the start of the school term.

The current government guidance is clear that individuals should not travel to a country that is on the red list. If an individual travels to a red list country, they will be required to quarantine in a government approved hotel for 10 days upon return to the UK. Therefore, the quarantine period should be taken into account by the employee when returning to the UK to ensure that this does not affect and interfere with the school term.

Similarly, an employee who travels to a country on the amber list will be required to quarantine for 10 days upon return to the UK at their place of residence, or the address that is otherwise stated on their passenger locator form. As with the hotel quarantine requirement for returning from a country on the red list, the quarantine period will need to be accounted for by the employee to ensure they are able to attend work at the beginning of the school term.

Although there is no requirement to quarantine when returning to the UK from a country that is on the green list, there is the legal requirement to take a COVID test within two days of returning to the UK. There is of course the concern here if the test result is positive. In these circumstances, the employee will be instructed to self-isolate, in which case previous advice will apply. That is for the employee to stay at home (working if possible, although we recognise this may be difficult to accommodate in the school environment and should be agreed prior to making any travel plans) on normal full pay until either (a) further tests return a negative result and they can return to work or (b) they go on to develop COVID symptoms and are unfit to work, at which point they move onto sick leave and the usual provisions of the scheme apply.

How should Schools approach this with Staff?

SLT/managers should have open conversations with staff about the potential impact of this, and how it can be best managed with those staff that are considering travelling outside England whilst these restrictions are in place, implementing a plan for each individual.

Of course, many countries have different entry requirements or have even closed their borders completely. As we know, the UK government rules and COVID restrictions on travel are continuously changing, even bringing in new quarantine rules at extremely short notice. Therefore, keeping up to date with the current restrictions is crucial to ensure that you have fully assessed the risk of the employee travelling outside the UK and the plan for when they return. As a result, Line Managers may need to account for situations where the manager had agreed travel plans to a given destination that was permitted at the time of booking, but where the status of the destination changed whilst they were travelling. It may be sensible to implement a plan for the worst case scenario with each individual employee, to avoid any ambiguity in the event that the government guidance changes.

School leaders and managers should inform employees of all of the above information and specifically the requirement to quarantine and the particular time frames when considering this. An employee could be unable to attend school when contractually required to do so and instructing an employee not to go abroad during a time that would require self-isolation during school time is likely to be a reasonable management instruction.

Remind employees to check the travel requirements in advance to ensure that there is sufficient time to complete any period of quarantine or self-isolation before the return-to-work date. Where requirements for those returning from abroad are known in advance and a period of quarantine or self-isolation affects term-time, this may need to be taken as unpaid leave, unless permission has been agreed with the relevant line manager in advance.

Be mindful though of any discrimination related issues, for instance if a staff member is travelling abroad to visit family etc. a higher degree of caution in your approach may need to be taken.

It may be worth introducing a COVID travel policy/COVID policy if the school hasn't yet implemented such a policy. There will be a number of considerations that need to be taken into account to ensure the school's policy is clear, applied fairly and consistently, and is reasonable in relation to individual contracts of employment and personal circumstances. The recognised trade unions may need to be consulted on any proposed changes to the school's policy prior to implementation.

For more information contact Ruth Rule-Mullen in our Employment & HR 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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