Sickness absence is a critical issue for schools, even before the onslaught of COVID.
Pre-COVID, the figures remained relatively static, with 54% of teachers taking sickness absence[i] In the year 2018/19. This figure averages out all teachers in service to 4.1 sick days, whether they took absences or not, and an average of 7.5 days per teacher who took time off for sickness, totalling over 2 million lost days in a year!
Managing sickness absences is a complex area that involves many aspects of HR policy, monitoring and culture. Through supporting schools and MATs with their HR provision, we see common problems and themes around sickness absence. However, the good news is that these are often areas that can be improved with simple steps or actions.
Here are some of our top tips for absence management in schools;
Don’t ignore absence!
The number one rule is to tackle absence promptly.
If you don't tackle it, you run the risk of a disability going unnoticed, employees feeling unsupported, absence going on longer than necessary, or failure as an employer to follow your policies and procedures.
Hold Back to Work meetings after each period of absence
A Back to Work meeting is an opportunity to be supportive and welcome the employee back to the workplace. In the meeting, you can discuss the reason for the absence and identify anything that can be done to support the employee now they are back at work. It is also your opportunity as an employer to confirm that your employee is fit to be back at work.
Ensure company policies are clear and accessible to employees
It is essential that your employees understand the sickness absence policies and how they can access them. The policy should be included as part of the organisation's induction, but this alone is not enough. Employees are often overwhelmed with information at induction, so make sure you build in regular reminders throughout their employment and that they know how to access the latest policy documents.
Ensure all managers apply the absence management policy consistently and fairly
Your managers also need to understand your policies and apply them policies consistently. Policies that are applied inconsistently lead to employee concern and potential discrimination claims.
Keeping contact with absent employees
This can be tricky, so it is best to agree with the employee on how they would like to be contacted (email, phone or another method) and when (including the time and day of the week). There is a balance between being supportive and being seen as being intrusive. Different people and situations will require different approaches, so it is best to ascertain with the employees at the outset of the absence.
Remember that every employee's circumstances are different
Although you need the policies to be fairly and evenly applied, everyone is different, and the same illness can affect other people in different ways. Look at the individual circumstances of every person’s absence.
Keep records of all absence management meetings/discussions
Remember, under the Health & Safety at Work Act, employers have a responsibility to protect the health and safety of their employees. Record keeping can spot absence trends early on and allow you to put practices in place to address these trends.
Outcome letters following meetings and discussions ensure the employee and employer both know what was discussed and agreed.
Remember the protected characteristics and be sure there has been no discrimination in your treatment of the employee and their absence concerning;
- Sexual Orientation
- Marriage/civil partnership
- Gender reassignment
Take advice from medical professionals
As an employer, you are not a medical professional, so do not seek to provide medical advice or diagnosis. Instead, seek advice from an Occupational Health service or the employee’s doctor. These medical professionals can help inform you what the issue is, when the employee is likely to be fit to attend work and any reasonable adjustments that could be made to support the employee.
Look at ways to improve your employees' wellbeing
If you have an Employee Assistance Package (EAP), ensure it is regularly communicated to staff so they know what support they can get and how to access it.
Holding workshops on subjects such as stress management and a healthy lifestyle can also help promote wellbeing and reduce sickness absence. If this is not something you can put on yourself, many Occupational Health providers offer this service.
To find out more about absence management and speak to one of our Education HR Experts, please contact us.