Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

Advice from the hotline...

The ASCL hotline is a completely confidential service available to answer members' questions on issues that arise in school/ college. The questions and answers below are based on real calls to the hotline. To protect confidentiality, all scenarios have been anonymised. If you need advice on a personal or professional issue, call 0116 299 1122 and ask for the hotline officer.

Tread carefully with loans

Q Ours is a rural community school and we have always tried to be supportive to everyone connected with the school. One of the teaching staff has come to me to say that his family is suffering because his partner has been made redundant. From what he says, matters should resolve themselves within about six months but he is in real need of about 3,000 to tide him over. He believes that he will be able to repay it within a year. Can I make him a loan from the school funds? It seems a shame the school should do nothing to help.

A First and foremost this is public money and is clearly not intended for this use. For this reason, were you to take it upon yourself to accede to this request, you could potentially face charges of gross misconduct leading to dismissal and referral to the GTCE. Yes, it really is that serious.

That said, however, if you really feel that this member of staff is deserving of support you could seek authority from the governors and local authority to make this loan. You would, of course, only do this with the express permission of the member of staff. Governors can apply the finances delegated to them for any purpose of the school so they can, for example, pay relocation expenses if needed to fill a specific post.

The governors would no doubt want to be assured that the employee is a good credit risk, may require him to pay interest and will require his consent to deduct repayments from his salary.

Whatever you decide, do not do anything without the full support of the governors and the local authority.

As another option, you might suggest that the member of staff contact the Teacher Support Network at www.teachersupport.info for advice on sources of financial support.

A risky business, working from home...

Q Our college has agreed to allow some of the support and administrative staff to work from home on an occasional, on-request basis. They must supply their own IT equipment and not exceed 20 days annually working in this way.

However, I am concerned about the college's responsibility for them, for example, their health and safety, checking of electrical equipment, and so on.

What would the position be if one of them had an accident while engaged in college work, say a fall when reaching for an item on a bookshelf? What would our legal position be?

A You are right to be concerned. If the employee is working at home and is injured, it will be in the course of his/her employment which potentially could render the employer liable.

You say that the college 'has agreed to allow' their working at home rather than insisting on it and therefore the employees are making up their own minds as to where they work to fulfil their contract. As such, there is an argument that the conditions that exist when they choose to work from home are not under your control and they could choose to work at the college instead.

However, this argument may or may not hold up and, to be on the safe side, you may want to instigate a risk assessment of the premises where an employee intends to work including testing and certifying any electrical equipment used by the employee.

You will also need to check that your employer's liability insurers are notified and happy with the proposed home-working. They will probably insist on a risk assessment being carried out. With these measures, if the employee injures themselves in the way you describe, it is unlikely that the college will have any legal liability since the employee will not be able to establish negligence on the part of the college.

Absent without leave?

Q A member of our support staff who was appointed at the beginning of this year has had 28 days absence out of a possible 110 days attendance, that is she has been in about 75 per cent of the time. There has been a variety of reasons, including minor colds and a chill, her partner's unexpected illness, and an emergency at her child's school. Last week, she told the cover manager that she had suddenly to take the cat to the vet where there was a long queue. We are getting very frustrated but concerned not to do the wrong thing - what can we do?

A In this situation you can probably safely terminate her contract of employment. She has less than 12 months' service and therefore cannot bring a claim to an employment tribunal unless she alleges some form of discrimination and there appears to be no evidence of this.

Although this may appear rather harsh, experience and common sense dictate that the position is unlikely to improve once the employee has completed 12 months' service and becomes fully protected by employment law. It is important, however, to think very carefully about any potential discrimination claims - sex, race or disability for example - either to her or by association to her partner or child.

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