It gives you advice on:
- how to respond if you are offered work but are concerned about going to work generally or at a particular workplace – for example, in an area of high case rates; and
- how to seek advice and support if you are threatened with any penalty as a result of expressing concerns about accepting offers of work.
If you are a supply member already working in a school or college on a long-term placement, you should read our separate advice for NEU members in relation to safe opening.
The advice is for members in England and Wales.
Safe opening of schools and colleges
The NEU is seeking to ensure that safety measures are in place in all workplaces to protect all staff, including supply staff. The union is taking a precautionary approach and advising that schools should maintain and extend measures for cleaning and ventilation etc, and consider some measures to maintain social distancing around the school even though that is not now specifically required by Government.
Responding to offers of work
For most supply staff, any offer of work after such a long period of disruption and financial loss will be welcome, but many will want to seek assurances about the likely ‘Covid-19 safety’ of education workplaces, especially in areas of high case rates.
Every employer is under a legal duty to ensure the health and safety of employees and others present in their workplaces, including temporary staff for whom it is not the legal employer. This means that workplaces must be safe in general terms and for you specifically. You should be provided with a copy of all safety procedures on arrival at the school, and preferably before.
When placing you in a workplace, your agency also has a general duty of care towards you in relation to your safety. Before it offers you work, the law says that your agency must consider whether it will be safe for you to work at the proposed workplace. It is legitimate for you to ask your agency what steps it has taken to assure itself that schools are safe and for it to obtain copies of safety procedures to provide to prospective temporary staff.
You could ask the agency the following questions.
- Is the agency satisfied that the proposed workplace is safe for staff generally?
- What steps has it taken to ensure that it is?
- Has it asked for the school’s risk assessment and safety procedures?
- Can it provide you with a copy of these documents before you go to the school?
- Will you be allowed (during paid time) to fully familiarise yourself with working arrangements before commencing work?
If you are concerned about specific issues, you could also ask about the following:
- Social distancing – will this be maintained appropriately in accordance with DfE guidance?
- Cleaning and ventilation provisions – are these adequate?
- Face coverings and medical masks – are these permitted to be worn?
- PPE provision – will this be provided as necessary?
- Is there an adequate track and trace process in place?
- Are plans in relation to either a suspected in-school case, a school outbreak or local outbreak adequate and robust?
If you are in a vulnerable or higher risk category, you could ask:
- Is the agency satisfied that the workplace is safe for you personally?
- Has it informed the employer of your personal circumstances and asked the employer to take them into account via an individual risk assessment if necessary?
Use our advice on vulnerable and higher risk staff and let your agency know about anything that may make it difficult for you to work. This includes your own health or that of family members, or other matters such as childcare difficulties or issues with travelling to any particular workplace, and if you require protective or supportive measures.
If you work via an umbrella company arrangement, that umbrella company is your employer and you are legally its employee. The fact that it may not involved in the process of securing placements for you does not exempt it from its responsibility in relation to your health and safety as its employee.
If you have any concerns after going into any workplace, find out the name of the NEU rep and speak to them in the first instance. If there is no NEU rep, contact your NEU local officers.
Seeking support if you are threatened with being penalised
Employers should engage with any legitimate concerns from supply staff anxious about accepting offers of work. This applies just as much in moral terms to agencies, and certainly applies in legal terms to umbrella companies as legal employers.
You should seek support from the NEU locally if you are threatened with any penalty for saying that you are not available to work on health or other reasonable grounds, or refusing to work in any workplace which you reasonably believe to be unsafe for you.