What if a teacher needs to stay at home to look after their child who has been told to self-isolate after a positive Covid test at school?
It's an increasingly common scenario as winter approaches and Covid cases rise.
Can teachers expect to be paid for this time away from school?
What are their legal rights, what do unions say, and what is actually happening on the ground?
Here, Tes answers these vital questions.
Coronavirus: Teacher-parents forced to stay at home
Why is this pay issue preying on teachers' minds so much?
It's a topic that has generated a lot of discussion on social media in recent days, and the NASUWT teaching union told Tes that members have been asking what they should do and what their rights are if their child has to self-isolate.
It's no surprise that this is preying on teachers' minds right now: schools across the country are having to shut down entire bubbles or send smaller groups of pupils home, and the latest data shows that more than one in five secondary schools are now partly closed.
So teacher-parents are increasingly having to stay home with children who are self-isolating, or worrying about what will happen if they find themselves in this position.
Coronavirus: 'Self-isolating teachers asked to work'
Why are some teachers unhappy?
Several teachers have stated on social media that they have been told they will not get paid for time at home looking after self-isolating children, or that they will be paid only for some of the days.
Also heard today that some are advising if a staff member is having to stay off with their child because their bubble closed and so they need childcare then it's unpaid family leave— Michael Merrick (@michael_merrick) October 14, 2020
Please tell me this isn't a thing
One teacher said this would particularly impact on single parents.
She tweeted: “My son got sent home and told to isolate for 14 days. My head told me if I took time off I would not be paid for all of it. I was a bit shocked as I was not aware.
“My self-employed husband has had to take time off. This will impact single parents badly....”
However, others reported that their schools were paying staff in full.
What do headteachers’ unions say?
The Association of School and College Leaders is adamant: employees should continue to receive full pay. However, schools should explore whether working from home is a possibility, says the union.
Sara Ford, ASCL's deputy director of policy, told Tes: “If a teacher needs to take time off to look after a child who is required to self-isolate, we would expect their employer to arrange for them to work from home, for example by delivering remote education during that period.
“Where it is not possible to work from home, we would urge the employer to be sympathetic and to use appropriate, agreed policies, such as caring for dependents, to accommodate their absence. In all circumstances, the employee should continue to receive full pay without detriment.
“We are sure that employers fully understand the difficult circumstances in which teachers may find themselves and will be as supportive as possible."
Do teachers' unions agree that teachers should try to work from home?
NASUWT agrees that the case for home working needs to be explored in these cases.
But, if that fails, it says that other options such as requesting special, compassionate or carer’s leave, or parental leave (although the latter is unpaid), can be considered.
If a form of authorised leave is agreed upon but is not paid, then the teacher shouldn’t be expected to do any work, the union's guidance says.
Meanwhile, the NEU teaching union's guidance says that teachers and support staff who are required to isolate a child at home where no one else can provide childcare should be given full pay on compassionate grounds.
It reads: “The NEU is clear that teachers and support staff should not be disadvantaged for following government guidance on controlling the Covid-19 virus."
Could teachers raise a discrimination case if they are not paid in full?
A discrimination case could potentially be made if all other options have been explored, according to the NASUWT. Its guidance states that, in this case, "the actions of the employer will need to be assessed by the NASUWT in the context of whether there is a case to be made for discrimination".
The NEU's guidance says it will "vigorously defend" members who are refused full paid leave due to "circumstances outside of the parent's control".
It raises the possibility of a "potential sex discrimination claim, as the majority of carers are women".
What does the law say?
Jean Boyle, partner at law firm Stone King, told Tes that most schools that have contacted the firm are exploring home-working possibilities, with some teachers having to stay home being deployed to develop remote education provision in light of the new government law.
But, for staff who can’t work from home, she reported that schools are approaching the situation in different ways: while many schools are trying to pay staff in these circumstances, others are not.
She said: “Some schools are taking a more robust approach. These schools are saying, 'We can’t afford to pay staff for time they are off work and not able to work.'
"Therefore they are exploring unpaid leave as an option. This is within the law as we see it."