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School sickness absence - Three top tips

According to Employer Link's recent analysis of academy trust workforce costs document, levels of sickness absence in academies almost doubled between 2016 and 2022 from 5.5 days per employee to 10.95 days per employee. This soon adds up when considering that the document notes the total academy workforce in 2021/2022 as 555,270.

Staff sickness absence can be disruptive and costly at the best of times but in the education sector, the pressures can seem daunting with welfare measures to take, cover arrangements to make, staff and pupil schedules to manage, return to work mechanisms to implement, school holidays and closure periods delaying processes. All this is only if the absence is genuine and minimal. Where there are more complex issues or longer absences, managing sickness absence can be tricky to navigate confidently.

To help, we have pulled together three top tips for schools managing sickness absences:

1. Communication, early intervention and support

Work with staff, not against them. Creating a supportive and healthy work environment can help to reduce sickness absence and improve staff morale and productivity. Talk to staff early and often about their health issues and see if you can agree on a way which supports the employee and ensures that they do their role effectively. Implement initiatives to promote staff wellbeing, such as stress management workshops or mental health awareness training.  Provide access to employee assistance programmes or engage occupational health services where needed. All of these can often help to prevent prolonged absences. You can find the links to our podcast on getting the most out of occupational health providers and our free PDF guide to referral questions in our previous blog post

2. Burgundy book, green book and other agreements

Don’t forget that certain conditions relating to teachers and support staff may apply to sickness absence. For example, did you know that where the burgundy book applies, the sickness entitlements are based on working days? That means only working days for which the teacher is absent that count against their entitlements; holidays, school closures and weekends do not count.

3. Trade unions 

Education is a heavily unionised sector and union involvement in the creation or updating of policies and procedures or support that they give employees whilst processes and disputes are ongoing can fall on a sliding scale from extremely useful to detrimental. Good relationships with unions and clear recognition agreements can make all the difference in supporting an employee through sickness absence processes. Co-operation should ensure that the process is as smooth and fair as possible, after all the point of the process is to support and keep people at work, it's not meant to be adversarial.

Please contact me if you would like any further information or specific advice.

Tags

education, academies, sickness absence, workforce costs, trade unions, schools, employment contracts, employment issues, employment law, employment policies, solicitor