Coronavirus: can teachers refuse to attend school?

The majority of Covid restrictions have been removed in English schools. Rules have also been eased elsewhere in the UK, but some measures are being retained for the moment.

Staff and students without symptoms in England are no longer asked to test for Covid twice-weekly. Secondary school pupils also don’t need to wear masks. The legal requirement to self-isolate after a positive test is also being removed, although it is still recommended.

The information in the support article below was current at the time it was published. You may still find it useful for reference purposes.


Some teachers might feel they do not want to attend school because of the risk of Coronavirus and potentially infecting family and friends. ACAS explains that employers should listen to any concerns staff may have. The organisation also explains that if an employee refuses to attend work, it could result in disciplinary action. 

Disciplinary action for unauthorised absence could be delayed until your return to school or take place without you being present. We have published another article which looks at what to expect when being invited to a disciplinary hearing.

In this article, we outline existing advice and recommend you keep up-to-date with developments from the Department for Education and Public Health England. Taking unauthorised absence comes with the significant risk of disciplinary action and it is your personal decision to make. 

What should I do if I’m thinking about not going into school?

You will want to address your concerns informally with your line manager or headteacher, especially if you are a carer for a vulnerable adult or child with underlying health difficulties. You will want to read through your school’s sickness absence policy or exceptional leave policy if it has one.

We have published other articles on sick leave and how to request leave for exceptional circumstances.

Coronavirus: looking after dependants

As part of the Employment Rights Act 1996, you are entitled to take a ‘reasonable’ amount of time off work to look after dependants. The term ‘dependant’ is defined in the Act as an employee’s spouse or civil partner, child, parent, or person living in the same household (other than a tenant or lodger).

Under the Employment Rights Act 1996 you are able to take time off school:

  • To provide assistance on an occasion when a dependant falls ill
  • To make arrangements for the provision of care for a dependant who is ill or injured
  • Because of the unexpected disruption or termination of arrangements for the care of a dependant
  • To deal with an incident which involves your child which occur unexpectedly in a period while they are at an educational establishment

We are currently creating a range of articles looking at employment-related issues with Coronavirus and the impact it will have on school staff.

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The information contained within this article is not a complete or final statement of the law.
While Edapt has sought to ensure that the information is accurate and up-to-date, it is not responsible and will not be held liable for any inaccuracies and their consequences, including any loss arising from relying on this information. This article may contain information sourced from public sector bodies and licensed under the Open Government Licence. If you are an Edapt subscriber with an employment-related issue, please contact us and we will be able to refer you to one of our caseworkers.