What do I need to know about sick leave?


Every teacher will take sick leave during some time in their careers. It’s important to know what your employment rights are and the correct procedures to follow to ensure you can return to work in a healthy condition.

You will want to read and clarify your school’s policy relating to sick leave so you know the right procedures to follow. In this article, we outline the different steps you should take, what to expect at sickness absence meetings and outline how you can manage a long-term absence.  

Sick leave: what should I do on the first day of absence?

If you know you are too unwell to attend school you should telephone in as early as possible on the first day of absence so that arrangements can be made. You should explain the nature of your illness and the estimated period of absence if known.

If you cannot contact the school yourself because you are too ill, you can ask someone else to phone on your behalf. If you do not make contact, it may be noted as an unauthorised absence, which could lead to disciplinary action. Edapt has published another article which outlines the disciplinary process in schools.

What should I do between day one to four?

You should continue phoning your point of contact in school each morning to inform them you will not be able to return to work. If you are feeling better, you will want to let your school know when you are likely to return.

In the majority of cases, you will be required to attend a return to work meeting on your first day back to check you are well enough to work. Again, you will want to check the details outlined in your school’s sickness absence policy.

What should I do from day four to day seven?

Typically, if you return to school between days four to seven, you will be required to complete your school’s self-certification return to work form and have a return to work meeting with your line manager. Your school does not need to ask for medical evidence that you’ve been ill.

The Burgundy Book requires teachers to fill in a self-certificate form to cover any period of sickness absence lasting between four and seven calendar days. Doctors’ notes may also may be required at an earlier stage, or more frequently in the case of prolonged or frequent absences, when teachers may be required to be seen by a medical practitioner nominated by the employer.

What should I do from day seven onwards?

If you are absent for seven days your school will ask you for a fit note from a doctor (more details below). Normally, you will be classed as going on ‘long-term sickness absence’ if you are absent for two weeks or longer. Your school’s staff absence policy will outline the exact amount of time. If you are on long-term sick leave you will be entitled to sick pay for set periods of time.

Edapt has published another article which outlines entitlements for sick pay.

Sick leave: when do I need to get a fit note from a doctor?

The NHS explains that if you are off work for more than seven days your employer can ask for a fit note (or statement of fitness for work) from your GP. Fit notes are sometimes referred to as medical statements or a doctor’s note.

If you need a fit note, contact your GP surgery. Your doctor will assess you, and if they decide your health affects your fitness for work, they can issue a fit and advise either that:

  • You are “not fit for work”
  • You “may be fit for work taking into account the following advice”

Your doctor will choose the “may be fit for work” option if they think that you are able to do some work with support from your employer. You can discuss this advice with your school to see if you can return to work. For example, your doctor may suggest possible changes, such as:

  • Returning to work gradually, for example, by starting part-time
  • Temporarily working different hours
  • Performing different duties or tasks
  • Having other support to do your job, for example, if you have back pain, avoiding heavy lifting

What happens if I am invited to a sickness absence review meeting?

If you have had a number of short term absences throughout the year or are on long-term sick leave with no estimated return date you might be invited to a sickness absence review meeting. These differ to return to work meetings as they will be much more in-depth and the beginning of a formal process which could lead to your dismissal. You will be offered to bring accompaniment with you to all to absence review meetings.

Typically in schools, there are three stages of absence review meetings:

Stage 1 absence review meeting: will be triggered when you have reached a certain amount of absences throughout the year or there has been a pattern of absences which is a cause of concern for the school. The aim of the meeting is to explain why absence levels are giving cause for concern, to identify any underlying reasons for the absence which were not identified during the return to work interviews and for your school to present evidence on why the absence level is above that which is acceptable to the school.

At the end of the review meeting you line manager can either be satisfied with the response that the level of absence will not continue and no further action is necessary. You may be set a review date to ensure the level of improved attendance has been achieved.

Or, you will be told that your level of absence is unacceptable and unless improvements are achieved within an agreed timeframe, the next stage of the procedure will be initiated (stage 2). Depending on the type of illnesses causing you to be absent, you may be referred to the occupational health service.

Stage 2 absence review meeting: will be held when the actions at the previous meeting have not led to a sustained improvement in your attendance or health. Discussion points will include considering the medical advice which has been given and whether further advice is required. Where you are on long-term sickness absence and discussing how long your absence is likely to last. Considering your fitness to return to work/remain in your role and any adjustments that can reasonably be made to your job.

You might be given new targets to meet and failure to meet these targets will result in you being invited to a stage 3 absence review meeting

Stage 3 absence review meeting: where you have been warned that your are at risk of dismissal, your school will invite you to a meeting under the third stage of its sickness absence procedure. There might be school governors in attendance who will decide, along with the school, whether there is a satisfactory reason why your attendance has not improved.

The purpose of this meeting is where you remain on long-term sickness absence, to consider whether there have been any changes since the last meeting under stage two of the procedure, as regards to your possible return to work. The meeting will also consider whether there is a reasonable likelihood of you returning to work or achieving the desired level of attendance in a reasonable time. It will also consider the possible termination of your employment.

After the meeting you will be informed of the decision in writing normally within ten working days. It might be decided that no further formal action is necessary and you will be able to return to work within a set time frame. However, it could be decided that you will be dismissed. If this is the case, the correspondence will include the reasons for dismissal and the date your employment will terminate, together with details of any notice arrangements and right of appeal.

Additional support for sick leave

If you are on sick leave and require employment support please contact us for further advice and support.

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The information contained within this article is not a complete or final statement of the law.
While Edapt has sought to ensure that the information is accurate and up-to-date, it is not responsible and will not be held liable for any inaccuracies and their consequences, including any loss arising from relying on this information. This article may contain information sourced from public sector bodies and licensed under the Open Government Licence. If you are an Edapt subscriber with an employment-related issue, please contact us and we will be able to refer you to one of our caseworkers.