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Spanish holidays and quarantine – what are teachers’ rights?

We all know teachers need a break, but how should schools deal with employees who have to quarantine for 14 days?

  • Spanish holidays and quarantine – what are teachers’ rights?

Spanish holidays and quarantine – what are teachers’ rights?

One of the side effects of Covid-19 will hopefully be greater respect for teachers. Homeschooling has proven quite how exceptional a task teachers do every day.

Perhaps there will also be a wider appreciation that a six-week summer break for teachers is, if anything, not long enough.

News this week has threatened to curtail many teachers’ holidays. The Spanish quarantine issue is fast becoming a hot topic for employment law practitioners and HR professionals.

Businesspeople and public sector individuals have called me over the past few days as they have no idea how to handle the delicate situation of staff holidays in Spain, or those who are booked to go to Spain later this summer.

All of these visitors now have to quarantine for two weeks upon their return and with 18 million Brits going to Spain each year, it’s no small matter.

If you’re a teacher who has booked to go to Spain and you insist on your legal right to go on holiday, or you’re reading this from una playa already, then what rights do you have?

If you’re a headteacher, what rights does the school have to ask people to return, fully quarantined, by first day back?

The first thing to say is that the government has not thoroughly thought through the impact of its approach, not for employees and employers, teachers and heads or parents or children. Nor has it provided sufficient guidance for them to make the right choices.

Previously, those advised to isolate for medical reasons by the government could be classed as being on sick leave and would receive statutory sick pay as a result.

However, this still hasn’t been confirmed as being the case in relation to quarantine following a holiday to Spain.

So what should headteachers do? Insist their employees cancel any holidays planned to Spain? This is going to be particularly hard to justify, even in the face of concerns around a second wave, as cooped-up teachers may well feel that they need a holiday, rather than just fancy one.

Teachers have been keyworkers for months and need their break.

Legally, there’s a question as to whether forcing teachers to cancel could amount to a fundamental breach of contract which could entitle an employee to resign and claim constructive dismissal, if they have over two years’ service.

If the school offers financial compensation for missed holidays that could soften the blow, but could still potentially be risky. And where will those funds even come from?

Or should headteachers allow employees to go on holiday as planned and deal with the 14-day quarantine issue?

The first question is then, ‘How do we deal with pay?’

Should the school allow teachers to take the time off as holiday entitlement, pay them in full, or insist the 14 days are taken as unpaid leave? 

Again, schools are stuck between a rock and a hard place. Not only may they be left unable to cope with work demands with teachers at home quarantining, but there are also likely to be complaints from teaching staff who have their pay cut as a result of the quarantine.

In general, I would suggest that where employees can work from home, ideally employers should allow their staff to holiday in Spain and work from home on full pay during the 14-day quarantine.

This follows the principle of ‘reasonableness’ (read fairness and legality) under the employment laws of England and Wales.

Can this work for the education sector? Well, some schools have used video calls to deliver lessons during lockdown, but many haven’t.

Should the government be planning ahead now to facilitate and encourage video call teaching to avoid a situation where teachers may be quarantined in September?

That would, at least, give a greater sense of consistency and fairness to the government’s approach.

If we face a situation in September where there are staff issues in school caused by teachers quarantining, questions will have to be asked about the government’s foresight in proper planning and their ability to support the sector and education of our children by utilising technology and embracing modern methods of teaching.

Hannah Strawbridge is the founder of employment law and HR specialists Little Pig 3. Find Hannah on Twitter here.

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