How to manage short-term sickness absence in your school

There is no legal definition as to what constitutes as ‘short-term’ sickness absence, but it is typically considered as a period less than four weeks. They can be incredibly costly for your school, both financially and in terms of the disruption they cause to teaching and learning.

The good news is that there is a lot you can do to proactively manage short-term sickness absences in your school, and our five suggestions below can get you started.

1. Have a sickness absence policy

Every school should have a sickness absence policy, which clearly outlines the procedures that both management and employees should follow.

It should set out the time period within which your employees should inform the school if they are unable to work and define who they should contact and how this should be reported.

It is recommended that you state that employees should call in sick over the phone and, in the event they are unable to do this, request them to get someone to call in on their behalf.

A sickness absence policy will be bespoke to your school, but common features include:

  • Terms of reference in the policy and any relevant definitions
  • An introduction stating the aims and objectives of the policy
  • A clear explanation of employees’ responsibilities and procedures to follow
  • Details on illness or injury arising from work including reporting requirements
  • Return to work arrangements
  • The formal process that will be followed in the event that attendance is not at an acceptable level

Your policy should be clearly communicated to all employees and easily accessible to them.

2. Fit notes

All employees must complete a self-certification form detailing the reason for absences for any period of sickness absence up to seven days.

A medical certification must be provided from the eight day of absence, including Saturdays and Sundays. This should be provided to the line manager, or other appropriate person, as soon as possible. If absence continues further, fit notes should be provided to cover the whole period of absence. Failure to do so may result in non-payment of sick pay (where applicable) and/or disciplinary action if appropriate.

Other important points to be aware of:

  • Employees must continue to submit fit notes during school closure periods
  • You may take a copy of a fit note for your records and return the original copy to the employee
  • If required at any time and nominated by yourself, employees shall attend an Occupational Health or other medical appointment/examination by a registered medical practitioner
  • If you require a fit note from the employee and they incur a charge for acquiring this, you should reimburse them if they provide a receipt.

Return to work interviews

When an employee returns to work, conduct a return to work interview (ideally on the first day of their return, but if not as soon as possible thereafter).

If employees know that they will have to discuss the cause of their absence, they are more likely to think carefully about whether the absence is justified or not.

A return to work interview will usually be carried out by the employee’s line manager. The purpose of the discussion is to:

  • Determine the reason for absence
  • Offer assistance and support, where appropriate
  • Identify any difficulties that the employee is experiencing in carrying out the duties of their post

Use the interview as an opportunity to raise any concerns you might have (e.g. any emerging absence patterns) and document in writing everything that is discussed at the meeting.

Record and monitor sickness absences

Recording and monitoring sickness absences will allow you to identify recurring absences.

In particular, it will allow you to identify any patterns of absence, e.g. employees being sick every Friday.

Use return to work interviews as an opportunity to informally raise any concerns that you have, and if you see no signs of improvement, you might want to consider taking formal action under your sickness absence procedure (though it is important to ensure that correct procedures are always followed).

EPM can help

When implementing your sickness absence management policy and procedures, our HR experts can guide you smoothly through the process, ensuring that you fully understand your legal obligations.

Not only can we give you access to a wealth of model documentation, EPM customers also get unlimited support from their dedicated HR team, who can answer any questions that they have, however big or small.

Read more about how we can help you manage sickness absences in your school.

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