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Notifying your college or your employer
If you are ill during your teaching course, talk to your tutor so that he/she is aware of the situation and can help you to avoid slipping behind. If you are on a school placement, you will obviously also need to notify the school that you are ill.
If you are working in a school as a NQT, ensure you know your school’s sickness absence policy, which should set out the procedures you need to follow when notifiying the school that you will be taking sick leave.
If you feel able to suggest work for your class(es) this will be appreciated but you are not under any obligation to do this. Many schools have contingency plans in place in the event of staff sickness.
The effect on your induction
If you are absent from work for more than 30 days in the induction period, your induction period is extended by the aggregate total of absences.
Your entitlement to sick leave
As a newly-qualified teacher, you are entitled to full pay for 25 working days of sick leave and, after you have completed four calendar months’ service, half pay for 50 working days.
These sick leave entitlements increase with years in service - in your second year of service, you'll be entitled to full pay for 50 working days and half-pay for 50 working days. (These are the minimum entitlements - certain local authorities (LAs) may have agreed local improvements.)
The sick pay year runs from 1 April to 31 March and the new entitlement starts on 1 April each year.
Obtaining a sickness absence certificate
For seven calendar days of absence due to ill health, you are entitled to self-certificate. This means that you don’t need to obtain a sickness absence certificate (although you would be wise to seek medical advice if your illness continues beyond three or four days).
If you are ill for more than seven days, you will need to give your headteacher a sickness absence certificate (normally obtained from your GP) stating the reason for your absence and the projected duration of sick leave.
The reason for your absence should be treated as confidential by your headteacher.
Dismissal while you are on sick leave
The answer is 'yes' in principle - but the employer must go through a series of essential stages before it can dismiss you if it is to act fairly.
A common misconception is that as long as an employee sends in appropriate sick notes from a GP, he or she cannot be dismissed for absence due to illness or injury. This is not so. 'Capability' (which includes health) is a potential issue for fair dismissal. Factors which would be taken into account by an Employment Tribunal would be:
The employer is expected to weigh the need to have the job done against the employee's need to have time to recover his or her health.
In cases of persistent short term absences, an employer may be entitled to say 'enough is enough'. Before doing so, however, the employer would be expected to conduct a fair review of the employee's absence record, including reasons, provide an opportunity to the employee to make representations and give appropriate warnings of dismissal if there was no improvement.
Sickness absences should be supported by medical certificates, especially where the sickness absence extends beyond seven calendar days.
If your absence is caused by a long-term illness or condition, you may be covered by the Disability Discrimination Act.
If the absence is caused by a long-term illness or condition, you may be covered by the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. It may be unlawful to dismiss you for absence arising from a disability about which your employer has been informed. You should contact your ATL rep or branch secretary, or ATL's London, Cardiff or Belfast office for individual advice as soon as possible as there is a three month time limit for bringing a claim to the Employment Tribunal.
Being asked to see a health expert
If you are off sick it is always advisable to co-operate as far as possible with any request from your employer for information regarding your absence and when you expect to return to work.
You may be asked to attend a consultation with the occupational health physician or the school's nominated consultant and you should comply with such a request. You should not, however, be required to attend capability or disciplinary hearings while on sick leave and you are advised to contact ATL for advice should demands of this kind be made.
If the employer does not act reasonably and fairly prior to dismissing, the teacher will be able to bring a claim for unfair dismissal - provided that they have been continuously employed for one year.
Your options if you feel your employer has acted unfairly
If employers act unfairly, following a recent change in the law, they may be liable to pay compensation of up to £50,000. Your employer would therefore be ill advised to dismiss without going through the key steps. These are set out in statutory regulations applicable to teachers in the maintained sector.
Where it appears that you do not have the 'health or physical capacity' to do your job, your governing body should give you an opportunity to submit medical evidence and make representations.
The governing body must consider the evidence and representations and any other medical evidence provided. The governors may require you to attend an examination with 'their doctor'– but you are entitled to take your doctor to this examination. Failure to attend for this examination allows the governors to reach a conclusion on your health on the evidence available to them. (You have the right to see medical reports supplied by your own or your employer’s doctor.)
The governing body should also give you an opportunity to put forward representations at a hearing and an appeal prior to dismissal. In maintained schools this is a statutory and therefore mandatory requirement. Failure to follow this process leaves the employer open to challenge for unfair dismissal.
Disciplinary hearings during your sick leave
Another issue that comes up frequently is whether a disciplinary hearing or a hearing related to a teacher’s performance could be conducted whilst the teacher is off sick. The technical answer is 'yes' unless there is something in the procedure that prohibits this. ATL would resist pressure from your employer to hold the hearing but if the governing body insists then your ATL caseworker can go to the hearing on your behalf.
Your employer is however restricted as to its power to dismiss you during the period when you are off sick – a decision to end your contract with the intention of avoiding payment of your sick pay could be subject to vigorous legal challenge.
Help and support
For further advice on this issue, ATL members can speak to their school rep, their branch secretary or their regional official. They can also call the London (020 7930 6441), Cardiff (029 2046 5000), Belfast (028 9078 2020) or Edinburgh (0131 272 2748) offices or email email@example.com
For out of hours enquiries, call the out of office hours helpline on 020 7782 1612 (Monday-Friday, 5-8pm during term time).
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