Case Study - Teacher Absence Triggered by Performance Concerns

Tags:

absence management

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staff absence management

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staff absence management for schools

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welfare meetings

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short-term absence

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performance-related absence

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occupational health for schools

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SAM is all about managing absence effectively and improving absence management in schools. We’ve included below an example of how managing absence, related to performance issues, can be approached. Our sister company FusionHR who are education HR specialists have provided their top tips and approach to this case.  We hope you find it useful.

Case History

Christine was employed as a teacher and had worked at a local Primary Academy for over two years.  A new Headteacher joined the school in September 2016 and it became apparent that Christine was struggling with aspects of her behaviour management and was failing to adequately engage the pupils in her class, most likely the behavioural issues were as a result of the lack of pupil engagement.  Lesson observations were judged as requiring improvement and her book scrutiny was also judged at the same level.  Support was provided by the Assistant Headteacher, documented weekly and progress logged.   

At her recent performance review, it was flagged with Christine that she was at risk of failing her performance management cycle for the year if significant improvements weren’t made rapidly.   Following the meeting Christine was absent from work, initially calling in sick due to back pain, which after a week and a visit to the GP turned into work-related stress.  The GP Fit note was issued for one month.  

Here's the actions our sister company FusionHR would recommend:

  1. Invite the employee to an employee welfare meeting in line with the school’s attendance policy, if necessary ensure the venue is neutral and that the employee is aware they may be accompanied by a trade union representative or a work colleague;      
  2. Prepare for the meeting by ensuring that all employee information, including previous absence data (which includes the reason for absence) and stress risk assessment templates are available;  
  3. Discuss the case or if possible meet with the school’s nominated HR Consultant beforehand to prepare the format for the meeting and agree who will lead the discussion, list the key areas you’d like to discuss and ensure notes are taken.
  4. Remember to remain professional throughout the meeting and begin by making sure everyone feels comfortable and asking about the employee’s wellbeing.     
  5. End the meeting by summarising the discussion and the agreed next steps for the employee and the school.

What are the possible outcomes of the meeting?

  1. Christine remains absent from work, you invite her to a second welfare meeting to ensure the channels of communication remains open.
  2. Christine returns to work on a phased return having completed a stress risk assessment – the return is successful / unsuccessful.
  3. Christine remains absent and submits a grievance.
  4. Christine remains absent and feels unable to return – resignation or medical dismissal?         

The right outcome:

During the meeting, it was agreed that Christine would be referred to an Occupational Health Physician and an appointment was scheduled within days of the meeting at one of our weekly clinics.  On the basis of the outcome of the OH report a further welfare meeting was scheduled with Christine and her union representative.   The report confirmed that the employee’s medical issues were solely as a result of the performance concerns being raised and allowed for an honest dialogue to take place as to what support measures could be put in place.  A stress risk assessment was completed and a phased return to work was agreed to commence the following week.  Christine returned to work as agreed and the school monitored her performance in line with the appraisal procedure.        

Don’t forget!

  • Use your absence monitoring system (SAM) to check for absence patterns – has the employee been absent previously when performance has been challenged or when Ofsted visited the school?  
  • Check an employee’s entitlement to sick pay as sick pay accrues with length of service and for teachers the entitlement to sick pay is retriggered from 01 April each year upon return to ‘teaching’ duties
  • Ensure you have access to a qualified occupational health physician or nurse who is readily accessible (as in the case above the OH appointment was held just days after the welfare meeting which saved the school time and money). 
  • Check your staff absence insurance policy as some policies offer access to OH advice and or counselling
  • Do remember that the absence meeting isn’t your opportunity to discuss the validity of management’s performance concerns or the appraisal/capability process as these need to be raised at an appropriate time under the right guise.   If the employee wishes they may raise these issues but it’s important you agree the agenda for the welfare meeting at the outset.
  • Follow up the meeting with an outcome letter confirming the discussion and agreed actions. 

If you need any help with Occupational Health, managing leave of absence, addressing performance issues or holding welfare meetings please get in touch with one of the team. FusionHR are education HR specialists and currently deliver HR for over 100 schools across the UK, click here to find out more or call 01924 827869.


 
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