We are now approaching a year since the start of Covid-19 and our Schools HR helpdesk is getting busier with enquiries related to managing staff absence. Specifically, we are seeing the following frequent issues that are coming to a head and which we consider schools need to start thinking about addressing at the start of term:
- Staff who contracted Covid-19 up to a year ago but remain absent on sick leave and on full pay (the “long Covid” cases);
- Staff who are absent from work due to stress/anxiety (the “stress” cases);
- Staff who go off sick when asked to attend the workplace on rota and/or when faced with a formal process such as a disciplinary or sickness management process (the “avoidance” cases);
- Staff who otherwise do not want to be delivering lessons, whether in person or remotely (the “objection” cases).
All of the above have their own nuances and associated risks, however this is not a reason why schools should avoid tackling them head on. The reality remains that most schools are operating with at least an in year deficit this year or will have budgetary constraints. In many of the above cases, schools are having to employ supply staff to cover absences, whilst simultaneously keeping the absent employees on full pay, meaning a double cost to the school. This is not sustainable in the medium to long term and should be addressed sooner rather than later. The longer the issue is left unaddressed, the more difficult it will become to deal with it further down the line.
You must also have regard to notice entitlements under Burgundy Book if you are considering dismissal, so as to ensure that you have sufficient time to follow internal procedures before dismissing. Any decision to dismiss needs to be made and notice served by 31 May 2021 if the employee is to leave employment by 31 August 2021.
Our Schools HR team can provide strategic advice to schools and school leaders on how to tackle these issues confidently, whilst acting within the legal framework to reduce the risk of a claim. If a claim is brought, we can provide advice and representations as required.
For further information or guidance on managing staff absence or any other HR related matter please contact our Schools HR helpdesk on 0345 026 8690 or by email to SchoolsHR@wslaw.co.uk.