Sickness absence can be very costly and disruptive in a school environment. We know that employers have a duty of care to employees during times of absence but there are common misconceptions regarding contact during an employee’s absence and when to intervene in cases of long term absence.

It is important that education establishments have a clear absence reporting policy to ensure that all employees know when they are expected to report their absence (including the reason for their absence) and to whom. This policy should also outline the possible sanctions should employees fail to adhere to this (without good reason), such as the potential for formal disciplinary action or loss of payment.

It is perfectly acceptable to contact an employee during their absence whether it is short or long term. However, contact should not be excessive and should be made during normal working hours.

Frequent short term absences that are not related to pregnancy or disability can be managed via the disciplinary route, or in accordance with your capability procedures. It is important to monitor and record absences and the reasons. This will signify any patterns in short term absences such as absences on Mondays and Fridays, immediately prior to the end of term or the start of term etc.

Absences that are long term are likely to be linked to an on-going or recently diagnosed medical condition which may fall under the definition of a disability in accordance with the Equality Act 2010.

We are commonly asked at what point sickness absence becomes ‘long term’. The short answer to this is that there is no set time frame set out in law; it will depend on the reason for the absence and whether the employee has been given an early indication as to their prognosis.

Regular contact and welfare meetings, with the employee should be arranged. In some circumstances, medical advice in the form of a GP report or Occupational Health referral may be necessary. 

Key Points:

  • Do maintain contact and arrange meetings with absent employees;
  • Don’t assume that a medical certificate means you are not able to contact that employee- reasonable contact is not harassment;
  • Do make file notes of any discussions or contact you have with the employee;
  • Have clear absence reporting and medical capability policies;
  • Ensure absent employees are kept up-to-date with developments in school/college;
  • Don’t leave employees languishing on sick leave for long periods- this does not demonstrate your duty of care and makes their return to work harder to facilitate

For further clarification of this or any other matter relating to employment law in schools or other education establishments, clients should call the specialist Education Team on 0844 892 2810.