Updated guidance on managing sick leave in school

Schools should be aware of the recent guidance issued to help employers in managing sick leave in school, particularly as we are now in the season of colds and flu, and with a resurgence in the prevalence of Covid.

Government guidance on fit notes

Fit notes (sometimes called “sick notes”) are used to record an employee’s health conditions, in order to allow an employer and employee to discuss the employee’s health condition and consider ways to help them stay in, or return to, work.

The government has recently issued a substantial update to its guidance for employers on fit notes, which is intended to help employers get the most out of fit notes.  It comes as part of the government’s push towards getting people who are out of work back into work.  

The guidance now includes a checklist of the key points to support discussions between an employer and employee following an employee being issued with a fit note. This covers discussions on workplace modifications or reasonable adjustments, the need to maintain regular contact with the employee and advice on sick pay.

There are also a number of useful case studies in the guidance, that give examples of the sort of ways in which fit notes can be used by employers to support employees with health conditions.

Schools should take the time to familiarise themselves with this guidance, which can be accessed here.

Acas guidance on sickness absence

The updated guidance on fit notes comes in the wake of the new and updated guidance on sickness absence from Acas.  The guidance can be accessed here here.  

The Acas guidance is designed to help employers to manage the sickness absence process and to support employees with their return to work.

What the new guidance covers

  • checking holiday entitlement and sick pay;
  • fit notes and proof of sickness;
  • time of for dependants/parents;
  • returning to work after absence;
  • creating absence policies;
  • recording and reducing sickness absence; and
  • absence trigger points.

What extra recommendations are included

It is a useful read which is particularly helpful for employers that are dealing with persistent absences. It includes recommendations for how to effectively monitor sickness absences in order to help to identify patterns and common reasons for absence, which can be coupled with the careful use of trigger points to enable an employer to review an employee’s sickness record. There’s also helpful advice for employers on keeping in touch with an employee on sick leave in order to support them, whilst simultaneously ensuring that the level of contact does not become overwhelming, which can be a tricky balance to achieve.

The guidance on returning to work is also particularly helpful for employers conducting return to work meetings. Such meetings should always be held with an employee following a sickness absence, so that employers can implement any changes or adjustments the employee might need and to help the employer understand what support might help the employee in the future.

Effective management of sickness absence

The key to successfully managing sickness and absences amongst employees is the use of fair but robust policies.  Clear policies, that are properly and consistently followed, allow employers to identify patterns and problems early, and help to ensure employees get the support they need by way of reasonable adjustments or to return to work.  We are on hand to support schools with their policies, and to assist any schools that are experiencing problems with persistent absences or that may need guidance on supporting staff back to work.