WWYD? Frequent absence

(26 Posts)
notnowImreading Wed 06-Mar-13 21:42:18

Line managers, help!

I'm in a quandary. My new-this-year second in department is frequently off sick. She has had a period of absence every month since starting at the school, mostly for things like coughs/colds, although one bit was when her little girl was taken into hospital.

Each time she is off I think, well, fair enough, she's ill, nothing makes you feel as rough as a bad cold etc. However, it's really starting to have an impact on the classes she teaches and it's bad luck that one of the reasons she got the job is that she is strong with the stroppy lower ability boys, so you can imagine how well they respond to a string of cover supervisors and cover lesson tasks.

I don't know what to do/whether to do anything at all. I have no reason to suspect that she's malingering, although I do have the feeling (no more than that) that she should woman up a bit with the colds. I know that you can't help being ill sometimes but EVERYONE at work has started to comment and the cover manager just sighs at me when she has one of her days off.

I genuinely can't tell whether this is bad luck, laziness or just me being a cow because I'm so sick of sorting out cover. WWYD?

Corygal Wed 06-Mar-13 21:46:08

Talk to her. Go in with a list of absence days. Sickness every month is taking the piss, partic if its not serious.

She may have a medical reason eg low immune system, if not it's a question of toughening up a bit, irritating as that sounds for you to say and for her to do.

On the upside, the weather is cheering up and you can legitimately say you live in hope of less colds etc in the coming months.

Agree. Talk to her. Also talk to whoever's responsible for hr & find out what the 'official' sickness policy is. With that many absences she should probably have occupational health input.

Is there any chance the absences are because of the challenging groups? I don't mean that she's avoiding them necessarily, but that if she wakes up with a cold & knows she has them, she knows it's worse than teaching a nice, amenable middle ability group?

theoriginalandbestrookie Sat 09-Mar-13 08:52:30

Do you have an absence management procedure?

Sorry I don't work in teaching, but was just caught with the title. I work in a financial institution and from the details you have given, the person would be on stage 2-3 of our 4 stage absence procedure with the usual outcome for stage 4 being dismissal.

Phone up HR and talk to them, your gut instinct is right and this is not acceptable. If you don't handle it then as the other staff have already noticed it undermines your credibility right across your whole job or worst case scenario as there are no repercussions they will start taking days off as well when they have a cold or feel a bit under the weather.

notnowImreading Sat 09-Mar-13 09:44:37

Thanks for your suggestions. I have booked a meeting with her early next week and will discuss it with her then to check that there are no underlying issues at work - it's a good point about the challenging classes (although she's only teaching two of these because we took her at her word - she listed this as a strength at interview). I can well imagine not being able to face bottom set year 10 when feeling under the weather.

The original, we don't have a HR department; personnel issues are dealt with directly by the headteacher at our school. He has started to ask questions about her so i definitely need to make sure I speak to her before he calls her in. Your post confirmed for me what a fluffy little world my school really is compared to other work places! Pretty much everyone in the institution bends over backwards to make working life as pleasant as possible for each other and the culture is very supportive. I suppose that makes it pretty easy for people to take the piss if they're so inclined.

I'm really glad to see from your responses that it's not just me being a bitch about this - I was doubting my instincts and thought I would get lots of replies saying that the poor woman is ill and I should back off.

theoriginalandbestrookie Sat 09-Mar-13 09:59:46

Why don't you speak to the head about it before you speak to her?

I'm sure he will have come across this situation before and will have some helpful advice on how to handle it and really the two of you should be working in tandem on it, rather than you almost feeling you have to protect her from senior management iyswim.

You are very far from being a bitch about this to the point where I think you have too much empathy for this woman. At the minute it's not fair on the other members of staff. There is someone in our place who has been off on long term sick because of something - fair enough but they were off last year long term sick for something else and I don't think it's being handled properly and I'm getting aggrieved because it feels like someone else is getting money for nothing.

It could be that having a word with her is all you need to do. I used to have someone on my old team who was a bit like that and just doing return to work discussions after every absence improved the situation quite a lot, also making sure that she had realistic expectations about what level of attendance was expected.

good luck.

I also agree that you're not being a bitch and, even if it is your head who is responsible for HR (that's relatively normal in schools), there should still be a policy somewhere that you can refer to. If your head is generally helpful it might be worth speaking to them before you see your colleague so that you can agree a suitable approach.

It's possible that your colleague will feel relieved if you mention it. I speak as someone who had to have a fair bit of time off at my previous school and I liked the fact that our head insisted on return to work meetings and referred to the absence policy (as well as being very supportive) because I had a chance to 'defend' my absence (all for very good reason) and knew exactly where I stood iyswim. On the other hand, I know people who have reacted badly to return to week meetings or the mention of occupational health and that would raise warning flags for me about their commitment.

Good luck smile

TheFallenMadonna Sat 09-Mar-13 14:44:00

I have a member of staff who started as about once every four weeks, gradually upped it and now has worked less than 30% of this term. I have another who hasn't worked since Christmas, and was understaffed by two before all this anyway. It is making me ill dealing with it.

You need to talk to your Head about managing absence. It doesn't have to be mean and horrible, but it does have to be addressed if it is becoming a problem.

Knowsabitabouteducation Sat 09-Mar-13 20:21:12

Have a look at the union websites to see what they say about frequent absences.

I was looking at ATL's the other day, and it said you can really formalise the return to work procedures, such as always having a meeting with the staff member and asking for a sick note, even if the absence is just one day.

The bottom line is that it's a job you have to be physically present for, at fixed times. Any goodwill and sympathy from colleagues will soon wear off when they are doing far more cover that they would expect. Students and parents will complain. Department colleagues will feel the pressure from setting cover work, or patching up insufficient cover work.

sashh Sun 10-Mar-13 05:16:15

Does she just teach the stroppy low ability kids? I think I would have more sickness if I was teaching them all the time.

Delayingtactic Sun 10-Mar-13 06:28:17

Um knows does your school pay for the sick note? Because everyone should self certify for the first week of absences and if a sick note is required before that almost all GPs charge as it is an absolute waste of NHS money.

OP I think you're being incredibly lenient. Talk to her but read up on sickness/absence protocol. That way everyone knows where they stand and other teachers don't lose faith in management supporting them in covering her workload.

nextphase Sun 10-Mar-13 07:01:25

Just a thought. Is it every 4 weeks she is off? ie AF issues rather than anything else?

The absences are too high tho. A word is needed.
If it were one of my (private company) staff, I'd get a list of dates, and ask if there were any problems causing a very high absence rate. I'd offer a visit to Occ health (is this a possibility?) and really up the return to work interviews.

Yes, it has been known for sick notes for regular absentees to be requested for every illness. But its the exception for people getting close to being warned or disciplined for absence.

Knowsabitabouteducation Sun 10-Mar-13 07:40:04

I wasn't talking about my school, but about what it said on the TES website. It recommended the employee self-certifying even after just one day instead of the usual several days. That is just for employees with problematic attendance.

BranchingOut Sun 10-Mar-13 08:02:35

Maybe have a chat to her and see if anything else is underlying this?

But if you begin talking formally about absence then really I think you have to have LA HR input and give her the chance to have a representative in the meeting.

BranchingOut Sun 10-Mar-13 08:08:01

In my experince, the couple of teachers I have known with lots of regular short term absences have been those who are finding teaching per se difficult - one eventually left teaching, one was eventually managed-out.

Then again, this was in a challenging school where rates of absence, including my own, were higher than I encountered in other schools.

notnowImreading Sun 10-Mar-13 08:52:47

Yes, I can see how that would be. It's absolutely not a challenging school, although it's no utopia either. She only teaches one really challenging group and it's a smallish class. She also has two top sets and a range of mixed ability KS3. It's not regular enough to be AF related and she often does go to the doctor when off, eg for chest infection, migraine, norovirus etc. Each illness has been different and individually you would say they are quite legitimate reasons for being off. Her little girl is in year R - perhaps she is carrier-monkeying lots of germs home. Still, the conversation happens tomorrow.

zingally Sun 10-Mar-13 17:36:38

Good luck Notnow.

A couple of years back, a teacher in my KS1 team was regularly taking time off for various illnesses. The rest of us were sympathetic to start, but it began to feel like she was taking the piss.
Things came to a head when she took 2 days off after "banging her head on a cupboard at home". I believe she was spoken to, and had a bit of a falling out with the SMT about it.
Very soon after that, she became pregnant, left on maternity leave and didn't come back.
Although she was a good teacher and a lovely person at heart, we didn't miss all the extra work of scrabbling around to find work for her class.

MaureenMLove Sun 10-Mar-13 17:47:27

Have a look at the list of dates she's been off and look for a pattern too. I do exactly this job every day at a school, so I am well versed in knowing which teachers are taking the piss! grin

It's a rotten job and I don't like to question people that are sick, but sometimes staff have glaringly obviously patterns to their days off!

neolara Sun 10-Mar-13 17:56:44

Your schools should have a policy which lists what should happen for repeated absences. Take a look at it before you talk to your colleague.

Most schools will also have some kind of personnel support who manage the payroll and provide advice on HR matters. (For example EPM. I suggest you give them a call before you speak to your colleague.

MaureenMLove Sun 10-Mar-13 18:09:31

Funny thing is, had she been a student at the school, she'd probably had had a letter from EWO by now! Not a very good role model.

We usually have a run down of the attendance figures of each year group at the end of the week and everyone congratulates that particular year groups tutors, for their effort in promoting good attendance.

I have often wondered if I could add the attendance of each department to it. It would make very interesting reading!

notnowImreading Mon 11-Mar-13 18:02:13

Well, conversation had and all went well. She was quite shocked when we went through the figures and compared her absences with staff averages (10 x higher) and we had a good meeting about tasks that she needs to catch up on. Thanks everyone for helping me buckle up and get on with it.

Good. Glad it went well.

BrianButterfield Mon 11-Mar-13 21:59:51

Just wanted to add - how old is her little girl? I had an excellent sickness record for 8 years, worked till 38 weeks pregnant with no time off and then when I went back after ML, ended up with a DS who got every germ going at nursery and gave them all to me, now run-down and tired. Even splitting ds's absences with dh has left me with 10 days off since September. I am beside myself with guilt every time I ring in and am sure I'm on every shit list going but I'm not flaky or malingering, it's just bad luck. I would hardly have had ten days off in the last 8 years before that.

nextphase Tue 12-Mar-13 18:53:28

brian but you wouldn't be taking a sick day because your child was ill, you'd be requesting holiday at no notice or unpaid leave? Or have I missed a trick??

If the kids are ill, I can phone in sick????!!!!

No such thing as 'holiday at no notice' in teaching nextphase - we don't get annual leave in that way. We are entitled to some paid time off (dependents leave? personal circumstances? something like that) for unforeseen problems, but probably not ten days in a year. I read Brian's comment to suggest she herself has been ill (picking things up from DS) as well as taking time off to look after him.

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