Absence management: reasons and entitlements

Absence costs; poor absence management costs even more. The backbone of successful management is your school’s absence policy, a consistent and fair approach and a mindfulness of your staff – all reinforced by a thorough knowledge of the rules of absence. For an article in an upcoming issue of EdExec, Alex Mehta, director at Judicium, shared his knowledge of this area – and here looks at the reasons behind staff absence and the entitlements each entails

Does all leave have to be paid?

No. Authorised leave, such as sickness, may attract a payment of statutory sick pay and most schools pay additional monies to the employee under an occupational health scheme. Family-friendly leave – such as maternity, paternity and shared parental leave – also have provisions for a statutory payment – if the employee qualifies – which may also be enhanced under occupational schemes. Annual leave will usually be with pay, although it’s common in education that such payment is ‘rolled up’ within an employee’s overall salary. Time off for dependents can be unpaid unless there is a contractual provision that says otherwise.

Schools should have a clear policy in place that determines what the pay provisions may be for each type of leave and the qualification requirements. Where an employee is in receipt of pay during a period of absence, and where that pay may be due to cease – usually due to them exhausting their entitlements – it is good practice for the school to notify the employee as far in advance as possible as to when this will occur.

Is it necessary for schools to grant time off to staff for religious observation?

Employees do not have a specific statutory right to take time off for religious observation that is over and above their annual leave entitlement. However, some schools have a policy in place that will allow an employee to book additional time off in advance for such reasons.

In some cases, the exact date of the religious observance is not known until a day or so before, which may cause the school operational difficulties if the employee wishes to vary their pre-booked day off at the last minute. In this case, schools are advised to be as flexible as possible but they may wish to make it clear in their leave policy that if a specific day is booked off by an employee as leave (for any reason, not just religious observation) then the employee should still take that day off unless the employee cancels that leave in good time beforehand and is able to resubmit a request for further leave in advance.

This is because, as schools are likely to have already made provisions to provide cover for the absent employee on the basis of their original request for leave, it may not be feasible for that cover to be cancelled without there being a negative financial and operational impact on the school. Therefore, by making it clear in the policy that leave must be cancelled and rebooked in advance, this approach should help avoid a situation where the employee and the cover staff (engaged to cover the absent employee) both report for duty on the same day.

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Is it a fair reason for an employee to take a day off work due to the death of a pet?

There is no statutory right to take time off work without notice for any reason other to deal with unforeseen matters and emergencies regarding the employee’s dependents. The definition of a dependent is anyone who is reliant on the employee for their care, such as a spouse, partner, child, parent, or, according to the ACAS guidance, an elderly neighbour. Therefore, there is no legal right to take a day off work without notice due to the death of a pet.

Sometimes an animal is as much a member of a family as a human may be, and the passing of a pet can have a devastating effect on an employee to the extent that they may be too distraught to attend work. In that case, the employee may report in absent on this day due to ill health associated with the death of the animal rather than under the label of compassionate or bereavement leave.

Some schools may have additional entitlements for staff to take a period of time off as compassionate or bereavement leave, either with or without notice, and it is important that there is a clear policy in place that outlines the situations in which such leave can be taken. In some cases, this may include taking a day off due to the death of a pet, either with or without pay.

What if staff are absent without good reason or authorisation?

In instances where an employee has taken time off without seeking prior authorisation, or where the reason they have given for their absence may not be regarded as acceptable by the school, this could be treated a conduct issue under the school’s disciplinary policy.

Such absences can often occur immediately prior to, or following, a school closure. An essential first step is to investigate the matter to find out what led them to be absent – and why they may not have complied with any absence reporting procedures – before making any firm decisions about how to tackle the matter. Following investigation, if it is found that the employee did take leave without good reason or authorisation, it is likely to be unpaid and their conduct may be defined as misconduct. I recommend that the school take HR advice before deducting pay for absences and/or taking an employee through a formal disciplinary process.

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