Sick Leave Podcast
The following podcast has been prepared by INTO in relation to sick leave arrangements laid out in Circular 0059/2014.
Department of Education & Skills Documentation
Sick Leave Arrangements Explained
The Department of Education’s Occupational Health Strategy incorporates the Sick leave Scheme for Registered Teachers, the Occupational Health Services and the Employee Assistance.
The stated aim of the strategy is to promote the health of teachers in their workplace and to promote preventative measures rather than concentrating solely on curing an illness. The Sick Leave Scheme provides for the continued payment of incremental salary, while the teacher is absent on an approved sick leave, to ensure the wellbeing of the teacher and their families during this period.
The revised DES Circular on Sick Leave is 59/2014. The Occupational Health Services and the Employee Assistance are provided by Medmark and Carecall Ireland respectively:
NB: For teachers who are on sick leave from a date prior to September 1st 2014, the previous DES circular, 60/2010 applies.
IMPORTANT: For full details of the Sick leave Schemes, the relevant circulars attached should be consulted, however, set out below are details relating to some of the more regularly queried issues.
The terms of the Sick Leave scheme applies to teachers who are in receipt of incremental salary under a permanent contract, a contract of indefinite duration (CID), or a fixed-term contract (e.g. temporary whole-time (TWT) or regular part-time (RPT)), as defined in the Protection of Employees (Fixed-Term Work) Act 2003.
It is important to note, however, that in the case of a teacher on a Fixed-Term Contract, whose contract is not rolled over into a new school year, paid sick leave will cease from the date the contract is terminated.
A substitute teacher who is employed on a casual basis is not covered by the Sick Leave Scheme and, therefore, an absence due to illness will automatically result in a loss of pay for that teacher for the duration of the illness.
A non-casual substitute is viewed as a fixed term worker for the purposes of the Protection of Employees (Fixed Term Work) Act 2003. Under the Act, a fixed term worker is entitled to the same terms and conditions as a comparable permanent employee, including paid leaves of absence.
As two substitutes cannot be paid for the same role through the OLCS, the non-casual substitute teacher must claim their salary for approved substitutable absences (including certified sick leave and maternity leave) using the Payment in respect of Non-Casual Fixed Term Substitute Absence form above.
Application of the Sick Leave Scheme
A period of sick leave is understood to be any period in which a teacher is medically unfit to carry out his/her normal teaching duties because of illness or injury, irrespective of whether the school is open for normal business or not. Therefore, weekends and all school closures will be counted as sick leave while the teacher is absent for an extended period.
Sick leave may also be granted to a teacher when absent for the purpose of obtaining health-related services, eg doctor/dentist, provided such appointments could not have been arranged outside of regular working hours or working days. (There is a specific heading on the OLCS for this category of absence.)
The granting of sick leave to a teacher is intended to provide an adequate opportunity for that teacher to recover from the illness/injury and its effects, so that s/he may make an early return to work without a likelihood of a relapse into illness.
Teachers should note, however, that it would be viewed as contrary to the express purpose of the scheme, for a teacher while on sick leave to engage in any activity (including travel abroad) which, in the opinion of the Occupational Health Service, could reasonably be regarded as impeding that teacher’s progress to recovery.
A new circular on absences while pregnant is pending
Health & Safety of Pregnant, Post Natal and Breastfeeding Teachers
A related section within Circular 09/2013 is Section 11 dealing with Health and Safety Leave. This leave is for teachers in the categories noted above but, while not ill themselves, could be at risk because of a recognised and agreed exposure at school to physical injury or coming into contact with a contagious disease, recognised by the medical profession as dangerous to them or their developing child. The respective leave periods for Health & Safety Leave and Pregnancy Related Sick Leave should be studied carefully and it is recommended teachers discuss these with their own medical team initially, before deciding which leave is relevant to their circumstance. Dialogue with the teacher’s Principal regarding the appropriate approach to these two leave categories, should also be maintained. Members can contact INTO Head Office for clarification on the operation of the relevant sections of the circular.
Special consideration may apply in the cases where a teacher was absent on sick leave, as a result of an injury received in school, due to the actions of a pupil in that school. Such leave is referenced in Circulars 40/97 & 32/07 respectively.
In instances, where a teacher’s paid sick leave is coming to an end and that teacher is not able to return to school due to a continued illness, if the teacher’s rolling 4 year sick leave record includes a period of absence due to an assault, such a case should be submitted to DES for consideration and/or INTO Head Office initially, for additional guidance if required.
Sick Leave Certs
Under Section 4 of Circular 60/10, sick leave certificates are required after 3 days of absence due to illness or injury. These certs must be submitted to the school, other than in exceptional circumstances, where a teacher does not wish to disclose the nature of his/her illness to the employer. In such instances the employer should seek the advice of the Occupational Health Service (OHS) in this regard.
It is understood the OHS (Medmark) will accept the cert on behalf of the employer and confirm to the employer their satisfaction with the cert. It is expected such an event will occur only in the rarest of circumstances.
To be acceptable, a medical certificate must:
- state the nature of the illness
- be signed by a duly qualified medical practitioner registered with the Irish Medical Council
- cover a period of no more than one month
Click here for a summary of important changes to illness/injury benefit for teachers paying full rate PRSI (Class A). Please check your pay slip to verify your PRSI Class.
PLEASE NOTE: The requirement to submit a sick leave certificate to your school after an absence of 3 days, covered by Circular 60/10, has not been affected by this PRSI alteration.
Class A PRSI Contributors should note, that in addition to the doctor's cert above, a further Social Welfare cert MC1/2 is also required. These certs are usually available at your doctor's surgery.
The MC1 Social Welfare Certificate must be submitted by the school/teacher to the Department of Education after a period of *6 days of sick leave for referral to the Department of Social Protection. This is required for compliance with PRSI regulations. The MC2 form is completed for all absences after the initial notification.
*Budget 2014 From 6 January 2014 no Illness Benefit payment will be made for the first 6 days of illness (up from 3 days). This means that a person will not be entitled to Illness Benefit for the first 6 days of their claim (unless the person was receiving Illness Benefit, Injury Benefit or a jobseekers' payment immediately before their claim). Claims with a commencement date before 6 January 2014 and those coming from Maternity Benefit will not be paid for the first 3 days of illness. Click here for further information.
Substitute Cover for Schools
Circular 48/2010 was issued directly after the Budget provisions of 2009. This circular deals with the provision of substitute cover for uncertified sick leave. Circular 48/2010 states that, in the main, substitute cover for a teacher absent on uncertified sick leave will not be provided by the DES for the first day of the absence. However, from the beginning of the 2013/14 school year, substitute cover for all uncertified sick leave will no longer apply. This change has come about following the extension of the Supervision Scheme in Primary Schools to include “all uncertified sick leave absences” as per Circular 33/2013. The two alleviations noted in 48/2010 remain in force for the following specific situations:
(a) where the uncertified absence is in a school with 2 or less classroom teachers, and
(b) in the event that 2 or more teachers in a school are absent on the same day. In this instance a substitute will be provided for the second and subsequent teacher's absence but not the first.
In circumstances where teachers provide a sick cert for the first day's sick leave absence, the school can avail of a paid substitute teacher, however, it is clearly understood that a teacher cannot be required or obligated to facilitate such a situation by school management.
Returning to Work
The successful return to work, for the majority of teachers, requires little more than he or she reporting for duty on the expiry of their medical cert. However, should the absence reach or exceed a certain period of time, a referral to the Occupational Health Service (Medmark) will be required.
With effect from 1 January 2014, when a sick leave absence has reached or exceeded either four weeks cumulatively or continuously in a rolling 12 month period, a teacher will be referred to the Occupational Health Service (Medmark) for a medical assessment to determine their fitness to return to work.
In all cases this referral is made by the school management. On receipt of such a referral, Medmark will triage or review the case initially. The teacher will be contacted by phone to discuss their medical complaint and will be asked to assist in the completion of an Occupational Health Assessment Form. On completion of this form the teacher may be asked to attend an appointment to see a Medmark Occupational Health Physician (OHP) or an Occupational Health Advisor (OHA).
For full information, please refer to Circular 04/13 Occupational Health Strategy For Registered Teachers and Special Needs Assistants and the “Sickness Absence and Medical Fitness to Return to Work” section of the OHS Standard Operational Procedures Manual.
INTO has been advised, that such a referral will be flagged by the OLCS when the relevant trigger period has been reached, or later by the DES, if a referral has not been actioned. INTO advice is to have the assessment completed before the teacher returns to work to avoid a situation where the DES or Medmark require a return to sick leave either because the assessment had not been carried out, as per standard procedures, or in the rare case where Medmark do not sanction the teacher as fit for a return to work.
Returning to School from Long Term Sick Leave and School Closures
If you return to school with a certificate of fitness from your doctor and before referral period has elapsed, there is usually no requirement to be referred to the Occupational Health Service (Medmark).
However, once the school has made a referral to Medmark, before the school closure, if Medmark certifies the teacher as fit for work, either immediately before the school closure or even on a date during the closure, once the teacher resumes employment when the school re-opens for a “reasonable” period, the OLCS record can be amended by the school advising the change to the DES, who will take the teacher off sick leave from the date certified by Medmark.
Unfortunately, the DES has not defined a “reasonable” period.
Partial Resumption of Duties following Illness
Where a teacher has been employed by a Board of Management for at least one school year, a case for the partial resumption of teaching duties following a major illness, for an agreed period of time, may be made on a case by case basis by the Board to DES. The application would be considered only where (a) the teacher is still on paid sick leave; (b) where it is certified by the teacher’s registered medical consultant that that such a return would be of therapeutic benefit to the applicant and (c) where the arrangement is approved both by the Occupational Health Service (Medmark) and the Board. It would also be expected that at the end of the agreed period the teacher will be medically fit to resume full time teaching.
The arrangement would commence at the beginning of a school term and not exceed one school term only. The partial resumption would involve working 50 per cent of the time the school is open for that term and work options available to the teacher are on the basis of a “week on/week off” or “split week”. Applications cannot be considered for teachers who have retired on the grounds of ill-health or whose unpaid sick leave has expired.
Full details are available by contacting INTO Head Office or DES.
Returning to work after an absence of more than 2 years
A teacher who has been on long term leave of absence of any kind, including illness, for a continuous period in excess of 2 full school years, will be required prior to their return to undergo and pass a medical assessment through the OHS (Medmark).
When a Teacher is Unable to Return to Work
After a period of illness, most teachers are able to return to duty with little or no requirement for further interaction with the sick leave process. Unfortunately for some, however, this is not the case, should their illness become prolonged. In this instance teachers on the circular 60/10 scheme can take some comfort that for a further period of up to 2 years they can avail of unpaid sick leave, which protects their employment and allows more time for a recovery and successful return to work. For those on circular 59/14 scheme periods of paid leave, but not Pensionable leave are not catered for by payment of temp rehabilitation pay (see below).
Should, however, the illness persist and the teacher is deemed to be permanently unfit to return to duty, there is the option to apply to the DES for an Ill-Health Retirement.
Unpaid sick Leave (Applicable to teachers on the old sick leave scheme)
Once a teacher has exhausted the maximum period of paid sick leave but is still medically unfit to resume duty and wishes to retain his/her position in the school, the teacher must notify their employer (BOM) of his/her intention to avail of a period of unpaid sick leave within which he/she may resume teaching if certified as fit to do so by both their own treating doctor and the OHS (Medmark).
This period of unpaid sick leave cannot normally exceed 2 years from the date of expiration of paid sick leave and a teacher must exhaust his/her period of paid sick leave before he/she can apply for unpaid sick leave. During the period of unpaid sick leave, the teacher must continue to submit on a regular basis (max 3 months), acceptable medical certs to their employer.
In the event that a teacher returns to work after a period of unpaid sick leave, a second period of unpaid leave may be taken, but only where:
(a) the first period of unpaid leave was less than 2 years
(b) the advice of the Occupational Health Service has been obtained; and
(c) the aggregate of both periods does not normally exceed the maximum of 2 years
In the case where a teacher reaches the expiration of the two years unpaid sick leave, their employer must seek the advice of the Occupational Health Service on the teacher’s prospect of recovery and return to work.
Where a return to duty is not deemed viable, Circular 60/10 requires the employer “to take such timely action as is deemed appropriate, including, but not limited to termination of the contract of employment.” Members who are likely to encounter such a situation, should get in touch with INTO Head Office for assistance or advice, if required.
Temporary Rehabilitation pay is applicable to teachers on the revised scheme only.
Ill-Health Retirement (IHR)
Both ircular 60/10 and 59/14 state that “A teacher deemed medically unfit to continue teaching in the longer term may be entitled, to certain pension benefits under the Pension scheme for teachers”. An application to DES for Ill-Health retirement can be made by the teacher, where a medical case in support of their retirement is supplied separately to the OHS (Medmark), by their treating Consultant. They must be deemed to be permanently incapacitated and that the medical infirmity is likely to be permanent. Any period during which temporary Rehabilitation pay is paid is not regarded as pensionable service.
OHS (Medmark) are required, in all cases, by the DES to sanction such an application. Full details of the procedure are available from the Pensions section of the INTO website.
Job Sharers and Sick Leave
Teachers who are Job Sharing are entitled to an equivalent amount of sick leave as full time teachers. In order to ensure clarity in this respect, the following should be noted:
- Where sick leave absences span weekends, each intervening weekend will count as 2 days sick leave, as is the case for full time teachers.
- In reckoning the aggregate sick leave, uncertified sick leave will be taken into account, as will periods of school closure occurring during a teacher's certified absence, as is the case for full time teachers. Additionally, for job sharers, days that the teacher is not rostered for duty, occurring during a teacher's certified absence, will also be counted.