Sickness Absence and Sick Pay

None of us knows when we might fall ill and need the support of a good sick pay scheme and a transparent and equitable absence management policy.

As a recognised trade union, the NASUWT works to ensure that members are protected when they are unable to work due to health-related reasons.

The Union recognises that some health problems and disabilities result in relatively short periods of time away from work, whereas others lead to longer absences. Absence management policies need to take account of this distinction.

Absence management policies should also distinguish between physical and mental health problems and disabilities and recognise the importance and significance of both.

The NASUWT believes that effective absence management policies and procedures focus on supporting and helping those on either short or long-term sickness recover when they are ill, recognising that early interventions can make a return to work more likely.

As the employer, schools and colleges have a legal responsibility to protect the health, safety and welfare of their employees and people who might be affected by their business and they must do whatever is reasonably practicable to achieve this.

That means making sure that those working in schools and colleges, including supply teachers as agency workers, are protected from anything that may cause harm and effectively risk-assessing and controlling any risks to injury or health that could arise in the workplace. Employers also have a duty to consult employees on health and safety issues.

The NASUWT believes that absence management policies should focus on investigating and helping to resolve sickness and disability rather than penalising and disciplining workers because they are ill.

Covid-19 and sickness absence

The Union is aware that issues relating to sickness absence have been given greater significance throughout the coronavirus pandemic.

The NASUWT has produced comprehensive advice and guidance to assist and support members, including that which can be accessed on the Covid-19 Advice Hub.

Notifying and certifying sickness absence

Anyone who is absent from work due to sickness is expected to notify their school/college. This should be done as soon as reasonably practicable.

Employees are expected to ‘self-certify’ that they are ill for the first seven calendar days of sickness absence. For the purposes of Statutory Sick Pay (SSP), schools/colleges cannot insist that this is:

  • done in person;
  • earlier than the first qualifying day (QD) of the period on incapacity for work (PIW) or by a specified time on the first QD;
  • on a document supplied by the employer;
  • on a medical certificate; or
  • on a printed form.

If there are no rules regarding when notification of sickness absence should be given then  you must tell your employer of any day you are unfit to work within seven days. If notification is delayed then the employer can withhold payment of SSP if the notification is outside the time limits if they believe there was no good reason provided for the delay.

Most schools/colleges will have specific requirements for reporting absence, but this should be reasonable and not put undue pressure on someone who is ill to report by a specified time, especially if this is outside normal working hours.

Absence management policies which restrict how sickness absence is reported (e.g. not by text or email) can often be counterproductive as it delays the message getting through. Absence management policies should also set out who can report an absence if the absent person is unable to do this themselves.

Employers may also require a reason for the absence at the notification stage as well as an estimate of how long you expect to be absent. If an absence lasts more than a day or two, then you may be required to repeat notification.

Fit note

The fit note allows the General Practitioner (GP), in conjunction with the patient, to suggest a return to work based on one of four possible outcomes:

  • a phased return to work;
  • altered hours;
  • amended duties; or
  • workplace adaptations

A fit note is only issued if your health affects your fitness to work. If you are fit for work or your fitness for work is not impaired by your health condition, then you do not need a fit note. You also do not need one if you are off sick for seven calendar days or less, because you can self-certify your leave for this time.

A fit note is your property and should only be issued following a discussion where the GP has made you fully aware of what is being suggested. Your employer may request a copy of this for their records. 

Your employer is not obliged to accept the advice on a fit note, but if the employer does not implement the advice, then you are still considered not fit to return to work and should be paid according to your sick pay entitlement.

If your employer fails to take the appropriate steps, or fails to carry them through adequately, including any associated risk assessments, then you should contact the NASUWT for further advice and guidance.

GPs are now obliged to look at what you can do rather than what you cannot. As such, it may be the case that options for a return to work could include different ways of working, for example, working from home. In the case of teaching, this would require careful consideration as to what could be expected and further advice and guidance should be sought from the NASUWT.