This note was published on 9 June 2020 and is subject to further updates in accordance with the Government and Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) advice and guidance.
At the time of writing, the travel advice from the FCO remains that individuals should not travel abroad unless it is essential. That said, given the rate at which the advice and guidance has developed since the initial outbreak of the pandemic in the UK, we anticipate that the position on overseas travel may well change prior to and during the summer holiday period (which is still several weeks away).
This note sets out the government’s current measures and restrictions on entry to the UK, the possible impact of these on schools from a staffing perspective and some of the questions that schools are likely to have.
The measures and restrictions on entry to the UK
International travel inevitably presents a risk of the infection being reintroduced into the UK from abroad and, in an effort to manage the risk, as with many other countries, the government has introduced a series of measures and restrictions for the UK border. These measures apply equally to both residents and visitors (with some limited exceptions).
Since 8 June 2020, all new international arrivals into the UK:
- need to complete an online form to provide their journey and contact details before they travel
- are required to self-isolate for 14 days (subject to certain exemptions). Self-isolation in this context involves not going to work, public areas, using public transport or taxis and not having visitors unless they are providing essential support
- are encouraged to download the NHS tracing app.
Random checks will be undertaken to ensure compliance with the self-isolation requirement and fines may be issued for those who fail to comply.
We understand that the measures will be reviewed every three weeks, with the first review taking place on 29 June (just prior to the school summer holiday period).
The current travel advice on coronavirus can be accessed here.
Impact on schools
As the level of the Covid-19 infection in the UK reduces and the lockdown eases, employees may now consider travelling abroad, particularly during the summer holiday period when, subject to further travel advice, they may be permitted to do so.
Employees may have relatives that live overseas, whilst others may have pre-booked summer holidays or want to make travel plans.
The current need for travellers to self-isolate upon their return to the UK may well have a detrimental impact on schools from a staffing perspective.
How should schools treat employees needing to quarantine?
To date, there has been no official guidance on how employers are supposed to treat employees who need to quarantine when arriving back in the UK.
It is unlikely that a school’s enhanced sick pay policy or any other leave entitlements would cover this unusual situation and, at present, the requirement to quarantine following international travel is not covered in the list of Covid-19 scenarios for the purpose of statutory sick pay.
For certain employees with the ability to work from home, schools may allow them to do so on their return to the UK, provided it has been agreed with the school in advance. In these circumstances, employees should receive their normal pay.
Year-round staff who cannot work from home may wish to use their annual leave so that they are paid in full. If schools were to take this approach, they would need to check their current rules on employees booking holiday and may need to remove any limit on how much holiday can be taken at any one time (which is often limited to 10 working days).
If employees are unable to work remotely, unwilling to use their annual leave in this way or do not have sufficient leave to take (particularly term-time only staff), schools will need to consider agreeing to a period of unpaid leave.
Could schools place restrictions on staff traveling outside of “working time”?
Schools should consider advising staff not to travel to areas where the government advice is to avoid travel, and inform them of the consequences of doing so. As an employer, schools owe their employees a duty of care and they must adhere to any travel advice from the government and/or the FCO.
We do not recommend that schools impose their own restrictions on the overseas travel arrangements of their staff. Whilst we understand that schools will be keen to ensure the efficient operation of the school, which may well be impacted by employees needing to quarantine following overseas travel, it is unlikely to be a reasonable management instruction to dictate what employees can and cannot do in their leisure time.
What steps should schools take in order to prevent staff (where possible) from being absent from work following overseas travel?
As is often the case with staffing matters, communication will be key. Schools should encourage staff to discuss their overseas travel plans with them if the quarantine measures may (or will) impact on their return to work.
We recommend that schools take the following steps:
- Inform staff of the current government and FCO advice and guidance on overseas travel and the quarantine requirements (and keep staff updated as and when the advice / measures change).
- Ask staff to discuss their travel arrangements with a designated individual at the school (such as the HR Manager or the Bursar) if they anticipate that the quarantine rules will (or may) impact on their ability to return to work. The onus should be placed on the employee to inform the school of their travel plans.
As part of the discussions, schools will need to tell staff when they are expected to be back at work and, if there is a need to quarantine (which, at present, is likely), decide what will happen on the employee’s return to the UK (i.e. whether they will be permitted to work from home or be required to take a period of unpaid leave) and, if possible, agree this with the employee.
The approach the school takes may well vary depending on where the employee is travelling (and whether, in due course, this country is covered by an “air bridge” (see further below)) or whether the holiday is pre-booked.
- For term-time only staff (such as teachers), we are of the view that schools could reasonably ask staff not to travel overseas during the summer holidays if the need for them to quarantine upon their return means that they will be absent from work at the start of term. Staff should be available for work as required in accordance with their contractual terms (which is often three days prior to the return of pupils). Term-time only workers benefit from a lengthy period of leave over the summer and should have sufficient time to travel and quarantine without this impacting on the efficient operation of the school. There may, of course, be some exceptional circumstances which schools will need to assess on a case-by-case basis.
- The position is inevitably more complex for year-round staff who do not have the same flexibility with regard to annual leave. In circumstances where the employee can work from home during a period of quarantine, schools could authorise him/her to do so. Where this is not possible, schools could ask staff to take enough annual leave to cover the period of self-isolation or agree to a period of unpaid leave (see above).
Schools will, of course, need to take care to ensure that they adopt a consistent approach.
- Subject to government advice at the time, schools may wish to consider whether they will require staff to complete a declaration prior to their return to work indicating which countries they have travelled to (and when), confirming that they have followed the quarantine measures (where required) and that, to the best of their knowledge, they do not have any symptoms of Covid-19. Any such declaration should refer to the school’s privacy notice for staff. This will assist with any assessment the school needs to make in respect of the level of risk. Schools should be clear with staff in advance that this declaration will be required.
What if an employee is stranded overseas following a holiday because they are subject to restrictions in the country they have visited?
Where the employee is unable to travel home because they are subject to lockdown or precautionary isolation at their holiday destination and unable to access transport, their entitlement to pay will depend upon the precise circumstances. Schools should take legal advice on how best to proceed in these circumstances.
What if an employee falls ill during a period of quarantine?
If an employee becomes ill whilst self-isolating upon their return to the UK, whether it is with an actual or suspected case of Covid-19 or another illness, they should notify their employer in the usual way. Schools must then ensure that the employee is paid in accordance with the school’s sick pay policy. Employees with an actual or suspected case of the virus should be instructed not to attend the school site and to follow the “Stay at home: guidance for households with possible coronavirus (Covid-19) infection”.
What about “air bridges”?
The government has recently announced plans to create “air bridges” with other countries, the idea being that UK holidaymakers could travel to those countries this summer and circumvent the government’s 14-day quarantine period upon their return.
We understand that agreements would need to be reached with other countries before any policy could be introduced and it is currently unclear which countries are being considered.
Whilst this is simply a proposal at this stage, if “air bridges” are implemented, schools may be better placed to introduce a policy which provides that, if staff choose to travel to countries without an “air bridge” and are required to quarantine upon their return, any period of quarantine will be treated as unpaid leave (unless they are willing to take that period as annual leave). Schools would, of course, need to consider whether implementing such a policy would be indirectly discriminatory. For example, employees who are nationals of countries that are not covered by an “air bridge” could, potentially, claim indirect discrimination on the basis that the school’s policy disproportionately affects them.
As this is an evolving situation, we will keep schools updated as the advice and guidance changes. Due to the complexity of the area and the associated risks, we recommend that schools take legal advice based on their particular circumstances. Schools may also wish to follow the practical steps outlined above.
This advice has been prepared on the assumption that schools will fully re-open from September.