Managing absence - HR and employment law in education conference 2015, Tom Wallace
1. Whole school (or MAT) review of sickness
Implications and solutions
Tom Wallace – HR Consultant
Judy Topping – Senior Occupational Health Advisor, APL Health
HR and employment conference for
school leaders 2015
3. So why is managing absence so important?
Here are a few key reasons:
• impact on teaching and learning
• financial costs
• impact on school – colleagues and students
• duty of care to employees.
Remember the employment contract is two way –
employees are contractually obliged to attend work
regularly and perform.
4. How to manage absence?
Make sure you:
• follow your policy and regularly review it – is it Fit for
• monitor absence rates
• carry out return to work interviews
• use your triggers points to take action – automatic reminders
• make effective use of occupational health
• keep in contact with employees during absences
• keep a paper trail
• impact of authorised absences.
5. Absence management policy
Does it clearly detail how and when staff will be
managed? – clearly defined trigger points and reporting
Clear stages for management:
• Stage 1 – first review meeting (possible warning)
• Stage 2 – second review meeting (final written warning)
• Stage 3 – final review (possible dismissal).
6. How to measure absence?
• what are the triggers?
• how will you know that they’ve been met?
• who will take action if they are?
• be consistent and fair.
• areas for concern
• areas of good practice
• what information goes to governors?
Use working days lost per
employee as your
measure – it shows
= no. days sick ÷ average
number of employees
7. Short term sickness absence
• identify if there is a pattern which needs to be dealt
with - have they hit triggers?
• identify whether there is an underlying health condition
(is it a disability?)
• hold series of meetings (with warnings) and timescale
• remind the employee of their contractual obligations
and consequences of continuing poor attendance
• don’t leave it too long before starting the process – as
soon as trigger level hit.
8. Long term sickness absence
• do not allow the situation to drift
• hold review meetings – keep in contact
• determine action based on reason for absence
• consultation in light of medical evidence is important.
• think about:
‐ is the employee capable of performing their full
duties safely (that is your decision based on
‐ reasonable adjustments /alternative employment.
9. How to hold return to work interviews?
• most common absence management tool – they do
make a difference to reducing levels of absence
and reinforcing your Duty of Care
• need not be time consuming
• ensures you are consistent
• creating a culture whereby absences will be
10. Return to work interviews
Do you believe these are done well in your school?
11. Case study – return to work meetings
• large secondary academy – extremely high absence
(costing circa £500,000 per year)
• return to work interviews not being done – poor
absence management process
• principal began doing all return to work meetings for
three months then passed to VP – absence levels
dropped across the academy – after year one absence
cost reduced to £300,000 – still high.
12. Occupational health
• what is the purpose of occupational health and how can they help?
• a good OH report begins with a good referral
• what can you expect?
• provide independent, impartial advice.
13. Occupational health
• what if the employee:
‐ refuses to attend occupational health?
‐ does not consent for the release of the OH report.
• management decision to dismiss, not OH.
14. Referrer good practice
The principle requirement is one of ‘no surprises’
• discuss the intension of requesting an OH report with
• provide the employee with information as what to
expect from an OH consultation
• obtain informed consent (may be verbal or written)
• consent can be withdrawn anytime.
15. What to include in the referral
• job requirements – health, safety or welfare risks
• main concerns & reason for referral
‘paint a picture of the individual at work’
• workplace support - helps demonstrate you have acted
reasonably & follow-up on recommendations (can you
• willingness to provide reasonable adjustments.
16. Questions to be answered by OH
• fit for work at present and why
• estimate a likely return to work
• impact on performance/attendance
• employer actions to facilitate early RTW & prevent
• opinion regarding the relevance of Equality Act 2010
• attend meetings
• receiving appropriate care and treatment.
17. Duty of reasonable adjustment
Todd v HM Prison Service
• physical education officer
• employed at prison in
Cambridgeshire & commuted to
work from home in West Yorkshire
• the employee had disabling
depression and asked the employer
to move him to a prison nearer to
home, but no post was available
• he was dismissed on grounds of
Beart v HM Prison Service
• administrative officer
• Beart fell out with her line
manager and went off sick with
• OH professional recommended
redeployment to another prison,
but this was not acted on and Beart
was eventually dismissed.
18. Case study
Jane is a cleaner, between Sep 2014 - March 2015 has been absent on
a number of occasions due to Diabetes and related conditions (bad
joints, heart problems). Phased return has previously been offered
Jane has now been on long term sick since April 2015. Her latest OH
Report states she could return in November if the school can make
• phased return – reduced hours
• regular breaks
• workplace adaptations as she can’t bend or do any activities that
involve a ‘sweeping’ motion.
20. Dismissal – when is it appropriate?
Where the employee is on long term sick, consider if:
• it looks like the employee will not be able to return to work,
• the prognosis is such that it cannot be said when (if at all) the
employee might be fit to return, or
• redeployment/ retirement are not available
May also be appropriate for short term sickness, after a series of
graduated warnings for poor attendance, with no improvement.
• some other substantial reason (SOSR) or capability?
A tribunal will consider whether:
• the employee knew what was required of them?
• the employer took steps to improve the attendance?
• the employee warned of the consequences of the failure to
• the employee was given an opportunity to improve with a
was it reasonable to dismiss - band of reasonable responses?
22. Ill health retirement
• may be an option if they are in the pension scheme.
• you should consider whether they meet the criteria as
part of any decision to dismiss
• you still need to consult with them if ill health is
• LGPS – pension strain may apply.
23. Case study 2 – dealing with stress
Elliot is an experienced teacher at a school which is currently under an
OFSTED notice of improvement.
One of Elliot’s colleagues reports to the head teacher that he has seen
him crying on several occasions at work.
The head teacher arranges an informal meeting with Elliot to assess
At the meeting Elliot appears restless and anxious. He says that he is
unable to sleep and feels very tired all the time. He also said that he
feels feeble and is not able to cope like his colleagues.
What to do next?
24. Some myths
• you can’t take action if they are signed off
• you have to wait until an employee has exhausted sick pay before
• you can’t use triggers if the employee is off with a disability
• you can’t dismiss someone if they have a disability
• you can’t dismiss someone if they are suffering from work related
• you must abide by the phased return recommended by OH or GP
• you can’t hold sickness review meetings until they have returned to
• you can’t continue to manage the absence if the employee raises a
• attendance is not part of the Teachers’ Standards.