Schools could offer financial compensation to teachers if they agree to cancel holidays in Spain amid new quarantine rules that could prevent them from being present for the start of next term.
That’s one of the options being suggested by senior employment lawyers, who say they have taken numerous calls this week from schools requesting advice.
Employment law specialist Hannah Stawbridge told Tes that teachers being forced to cancel holidays could amount to a fundamental breach of contract, which could entitle an employee to resign and claim constructive dismissal (if they have more than two years’ service”.)
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She said: “If the employer offers financial compensation for missed holidays that could soften the blow but could still potentially be risky.”
Coronavirus: Fears of teachers having to go into quarantine after holidays abroad
The new quarantine rules, introduced this week, state that anyone returning from Spain must isolate for two weeks – meaning teachers who are in the country in the latter part of August could be forced to miss the start of term because they will have to stay at home.
Ms Strawbridge said another option might be for schools to allow staff to take holidays in Spain but insist the 14 days quarantine are taken as unpaid leave, or else allow them to work from home on full pay.
She added: “Employment law in England and Wales uses ‘reasonableness’ as a measure of fairness and legality, and I would suggest that where employees can work from home, ideally employers should allow their staff to holiday in Spain and to work from home on full pay during the 14-day quarantine."
Department for Education guidance on schools reopening in September has already warned that heads may need to check on teachers’ travel arrangements in case they may need to quarantine at the start of next term.
Meanwhile, the Association of School and College Leaders has urged schools to, wherever possible, allow staff who have suddenly fallen victim to quarantine rules to work from home on normal pay. However, the union says another solution might be for schools to amend policies to prevent staff going to certain countries
Sara Ford, ASCL deputy director of policy, said: “We would expect employers to be sympathetic in their handling of staff who go on holiday abroad to a country with a quarantine exemption, should that exemption be suddenly lifted, meaning they then have to self-quarantine at the start of the new term.
"This would be a situation that is not in their control, and they will have booked the holiday in good faith, with the expectation that it will not be problematic."
However, she added: “We have advised employers to consider the implications of staff booking to go to countries where there is no quarantine exemption. One possible solution would be to go through the relevant consultation processes on amending policies so that staff are not able to book any holidays to these countries where the timing would require self-quarantining outside of school closure periods."
The NAHT school leaders’ union has called for urgent advice from government.
General secretary Paul Whiteman said: “No one will want to unfairly penalise staff if they have faithfully stuck to government guidelines when booking a summer holiday.
“Schools are determined to be ready for the September return but the new quarantine rules will leave many teachers confused and potentially out of pocket if their holiday is not cancelled by the tour operator.
“Teachers cannot be expected to change holiday plans to a quarantine exempt destination unless refunds are available to them, and schools cannot bear the burden of missing staff at the start of term.”
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Staff will need to be available to work in school from the start of the autumn term, the same as any other year.
“Employers are responsible for their own leave and staffing arrangements. We expect school leaders to have discussed these details with staff ahead of the autumn term. Where staff cannot avoid having to quarantine during term time, schools should consider how they can facilitate working from home.”