Written by Nikki Whitaker on June 8, 2022
The good and the bad of absence management

At Dataplan, we work with many schools supporting them in devising their sickness absence policies and advising on specific cases. From our experience working with small Schools through to large Multi-Academy Trusts, we have seen almost everything that there is to see when it comes to absence management.

Fortunately, in most cases, the school is keen to follow best practices for absence management, but we have witnessed our fair share of absence management gone wrong too! Here are a couple of anonymised scenarios, one which ended well and the other which had a less favourable outcome for the employee.

Scenario 1

The scene

A Teacher had suffered an ankle injury during a road traffic collision. Although the ankle wasn’t broken, it was very badly bruised, which resulted in the need to take painkillers. Unfortunately, they were in too much pain to attend the workplace.

The Teacher wanted to return to work but was worried about herself and the effect her injury and painkillers may have on her teaching ability.

Advice given by Dataplan

We advised the school to refer the employee to Occupational Health for advice on the injury, how long it was projected until they would be fit for work, and any adjustments or advice they could give to support the employee back to the workplace.

Once the report was received, we advised the school on the recommended adjustments to the workplace, which included;

  • The employee being able to sit in the classroom with her leg raised
  • A Teaching Assistant assigned to the classroom to support the Teacher
  • Regular breaks
  • A taxi to and from work as the Teacher could not drive and found it difficult to access public transport.

We advised the school to bring the Teacher back to work on a 4-week phased return, gradually building their duties/responsibilities until they carried out their full role. Regular review meetings with the Teacher were held so that they felt fully supported and could advise the school on how the phased return was progressing.

Conclusion

The employee had their phased return extended to 6 weeks and was able, with adjustments in place, to sustain a successful return to the workplace.

Scenario 2

Sometimes no matter how much support is put in place and a correct procedure is followed, you can't account for human nature!

The scene

The employee worked as a midday supervisor and had been absent due to ill health for over a year. They were receiving nil pay. The school had not implemented absence management until reasonably late in the absence. The issue was back pain, and the employee could not sit, stand or walk far before needing to move position or rest.

Advice given by Dataplan

We advised the school to follow their absence management policy and procedure and hold absence management meetings with the employee.

We also recommended getting an Occupational Health report to see what the school could do to support the employee in returning to the workplace and looking at any roles the employee could be redeployed to.

Above all, they needed to keep in regular contact with the employee.

Conclusion

The school followed all the HR advice given and got to the third stage of their absence management process, which can lead to dismissal.

Following further advice, the school met with the employee and a discussion around potential medical retirement was held. However, the Occupational Health report showed no timescale for the employee to resume her role or any other role within the school should one be found.

The employee was keen to go down the medical retirement route; however, the doctors did not authorise this.

Before the school could hold a third and potentially final absence management hearing, the employee went to social media stating how unsupportive the school had been and that it was a bad place to work.

An investigation was started under the school's disciplinary process, and the employee went through to a full hearing where they were dismissed.

If the employee had not reacted on social media and gone to the third meeting, they would have found out that the school were looking at a potential redeployment. The school had been very supportive considering the absence length and that the employee was not improving health-wise.

Support with your School’s HR needs

For more information on how we can help with your School’s HR needs, and the specialist education HR services that we offer, contact us.

With a background in school HR, our Commercial HR Business Partner Nikki has over 10 years of experience in the area of HR. Her in-school experience allows her to understand our client’s unique issues having seen them from the other side herself, and provides her with a particular understanding of the education sector which our clients appreciate.

With a passion for HR, Nikki is constantly monitoring legislative changes and regularly attends ongoing training to be able to provide the best and most practical advice for our clients.