HR Spotlight on Stressed Employees with Jenny Salero

HR Spotlight on Stressed Employees with Jenny Salero

Posted  13th November 2020

With the second lockdown in full effect, many schools are facing increasing challenges. This second half of term is proving even more challenging, with schools coming under increased pressure from the government, parents and unions. Judicium is on hand to support you and to give practical advice during this uncertain period. The sofa sessions are designed to foster collaboration and networking. An informal setting where senior leaders from various education settings can connect, share practical strategies - and their questions can be answered. 

This blog is based on Judicium's HR: Employment Law 'Sofa Session' from the 11th of November 2020, with our Resident expert Jenny Salero LLB (Hons), LPC. 

Throughout the course of this pandemic we have seen an increase in staff absences of which most are related to stress and anxiety. Some of the most common reasons are:

  • Covid-19
  • Returning to work and
  • Work-related stress which has been exacerbated by the pandemic. 

It is important to try and look at what can be done to support staff and prevent them going off sick in the first place. Here are some of the things we recommend: 

  • Making sure that your staff are happy and familiar with risk assessments in place. Some schools went through the risk assessments with staff individually or allowed staff on site to see what measures were put in place to keep staff safe.
  • If you can do you may want to adjust working times of members of staff so that they are not travelling on public transport during peak times.
  • It is important for them to know that you are there to support them.
  • We appreciate that it is difficult , but it is important to have regular welfare meetings and have line managers checking in with members of staff. 
  • Keep in mind to check up on your personal welfare and that of your headteacher as well. It is important to not overlook this and to speak to your Chair of Governors or other headteachers for support. 

Ways to support your staff

There are several ways to support your staff and it is important that everyone is aware of those support systems. During the Sofa Sessions we polled 120 schools, and found that the most common form of support is making use of occupational health referrals. These help to see if there is anything further that can be done and to see whether staff are fit for work.

It is important to try and arrange a welfare call or meeting early on with a staff member that calls in sick. This provides an opportunity to find out what triggers the stress and if there is anything that your school can do to prevent it. Even if a staff member has turned in a sicknote for a month, try to have regular check ins and welfare calls.
There are people that are genuinly unfit for work and cannot come in. At Judicium, however, the vast majority of absences that we deal with come from staff members that are avoiding other processes such as a disciplinary or are capability related. It is important to bear in mind that as employment law advisors, we are contacted when advice is needed by our clients and therefore, we tend to see the more complex cases. 

We have found that staff members are less inclined to take the day off work, if they know that they are required to have a return to work meeting and discuss the reasons for their absence. The benefit of return to work meetings, although they can be time consuming, is potentially twofold in trying to address people that are not necessarily unwell, but also providing support for individuals that have genuinely been poorly.

Sick pay

If the person is absent due to Covid-19 and they have symptoms, they should be paid and treated as any other sickness absence, whether that is stress or an illness. If somebody is off because they are awaiting a test or self-isolating, but don’t have any symptoms and they can work from home, they should be paid normally. If someone is unable to come to work (for example because of childcare) and they cannot work from home, it shouldfollow any normal policies that your school has for childcare issues.

When staff are unable to work from home and are absent due to Covid-19 symptoms or are vulnerable, they should be paid in full. This is linked to the recent changes in regards to the second lockdown. The government has said, for all employers, if you have extremely vulnerable staff who has been advised to shield, those members of staff should receive SSP (Statutory sick pay).
For support staff it is slightly more questionable, currently for extremely vulnerable staff, we advise them to be paid full sick pay which isn’t deducted from their sickness entitlement of days or months.

Here at Judicium, we are seeing a rise in stress related staff absences, especially now that the second lockdown is in full effect. It is important to review policies, provide refresher training for your staff, look at what support is available and what can be done to prevent staff from staying home.

If you require any support in any of these steps, or would like to talk to someone surrounding some support for your school please do not hesitate to call us on 0845 459 2130 or email