For comprehensive details of the sick leave scheme, refer to Chapter One of circular 54/2019, published 1 September 2019.
Sick Leave Podcast
The INTO prepared the podcast below in light of changes to the sick leave scheme introduced from 1 September 2014.
Ordinary Sick Leave Entitlements
Permanent, CID-holding, fixed-term, and non-casual substitute teachers will have access to paid sick leave under the public service sick leave scheme.
A substitute teacher employed on a casual basis is not covered by the sick leave scheme, so an absence due to illness will result in a loss of pay for that teacher for the duration of the absence.
For an ordinary illness, a teacher has access to 183 days of paid sick leave in a rolling four year period. This is subject to a further limit of 92 days of full pay in any single twelve month period.
After 92 days full pay sick leave in a twelve month period, the teacher will move on to half pay.
After all paid sick leave is exhausted, the teacher will move on to Temporary Rehabilitation Remuneration (TRR), which can last for a period up to eighteen months for an ordinary illness.
The leave entitlements of teachers in fixed-term or non-casual substitute contracts end at the end of their contracts.
Checking Your Sick Leave
To work out where they stand under this dual countback, a teacher should look at their sick leave record both over the past four years, and also back over the past twelve months. These records may be requested from their principal, as a print out from the OLCS, and it is good practice for schools to provide copies of their sick leave records to all staff on an annual basis.
By subtracting the total number of sick leave days used in four years from 183, a teacher will find out how many days of sick leave they still have available as of “today”. To check the rate of pay they will receive, they need to subtract their sick leave days taken in the past twelve months from 92 days. Whatever remains will be paid at full pay.
- For example, a teacher falls ill on 17 September 2018.
- In the past four years, looking back to 17 September 2014, she has used seventy days of paid sick leave. Therefore, she still has access to 113 days of paid sick leave.
- To check the rate of pay she will receive during this current illness, she will then look back over the past twelve months, to 17 September 2017.
- In that period, she has only used ten days.
- Therefore, as of today, from her overall entitlement to 92 days at full pay in one year, she has used ten, so this teacher will be able to take a further 82 days at full pay, before moving on to half pay for whatever sick leave remains.
As the relevant countback is always four years (or one year) back from “today”, the historical sick leave record is always gradually clearing.
If the full six months of available sick leave were used in a single block, this would result in a straight split of 92 days at full pay, and 91 days at half pay. However, if sick leave falls over a longer period, it is entirely possible that a teacher will receive their full 183 days of sick leave all at full pay.
- For instance, a teacher could be absent for 70 days from January to March 2016, all of which would be at full pay.
- She’s then healthy and working until she falls ill in May 2017, when she needs another eighty days of sick leave. Looking back one year from May 2017, she hasn’t used any sick leave in the past twelve months, so this leave is also at full pay.
- Then in September 2018, she falls ill again, and still has access to thirty-three days of full pay sick leave (after which she has exhausted the overall limit of 183 days).
The sick leave grid here (PDF) may be helpful to assess the sick leave record on an ongoing basis. As the relevant four year and one year periods are always rolling forward, this grid can be useful to illustrate exactly which months need to be considered, and when particular absences will no longer be relevant to the countback.
Weekends And School Closures
The sick leave scheme operates across the full 365 days of the year.
Any period in which a teacher is medically unfit to work may be counted as sick leave, regardless of whether the school is open. Weekends and school closures that fall during a period of illness will be counted as sick leave.
If a teacher is absent for a short period prior to a weekend or closure, it isn’t necessary to record that closure as sick leave.
For instance, if a certificate is presented for Wednesday to Friday only, and the teacher is fit and back to school on Monday, the weekend will not be counted as sick leave. (The school must follow the medical certificate provided, so if the certificate runs to the Sunday inclusive, the weekend will be recorded as sick leave.)
As a general rule, taking sick leave on both sides of a weekend or other school closure will result in that closure being counted as sick leave.
If the teacher was sick on a Friday and on the following Monday, they are assumed to also have been sick over the weekend, so this will be counted as a four-day absence.
The sick leave scheme requires a return to work for an unspecified “reasonable period” on either side of the closure to ensure the closure is not counted.
The Department of Education and the Occupational Health Service have the discretion to consider the individual circumstances of the teacher’s absence and nature of their illness when considering what constitutes a “reasonable period” of return, and closures may be retrospectively reclassified as sick leave.
If a teacher is absent for an extended period prior to a school closure, but is fit again immediately prior to the closure, or even on date during the closure, it is possible to avoid the whole closure being recorded as sick leave.
In these circumstances, the employer should refer the teacher to Medmark for confirmation of their fitness to work, and it will also be important that the teacher returns for a “reasonable period” following the closure.
Further information on sick leave and school closures can be found at section 12.4, of Chapter One of circular 54/2019.
Critical Illness Protocol (CIP)
There is a provision in the sick leave scheme for paid sick leave to be extended if a teacher has a very serious illness, the Critical Illness Protocol (CIP).
If granted, CIP will double the teacher’s sick leave entitlement, to 365 days in a rolling four year period, with 183 days at full pay in any single year. Access to CIP will last for one year from the date the teacher returns to work following their sick leave, and a teacher is not limited to applying for CIP only once.
The teacher will initially ask their employer to make a CIP referral to the OHS, and will need to provide a report from their consultant, outlining the serious nature of their condition.
If Medmark do not approve a teacher’s CIP, their board may exercise their discretion as the employer to grant it anyway.
Details of how to apply for CIP, the criteria used by the OHS, and guidance for Boards exercising managerial discretion, can be found in the appendices of Chapter One of circular 54/2019.
Temporary Rehabilitation Remuneration (TRR)
After paid sick leave has been exhausted, a teacher on sick leave may move on to Temporary Rehabilitation Remuneration (TRR), if they have more than five years of service completed, and if the OHS agrees there is a reasonable prospect of a recovery and return to work.
For a teacher with an ordinary illness, TRR can last for up to eighteen months, or in the case of a teacher where CIP has been granted, up to two years.
The value of TRR paid is calculated based on the teacher’s service to date, and reflects what a teacher would expect to be paid if they were to retire on the grounds of ill health – so, it is based on actual service, plus a set number of added years. (Though the value of TRR should not be taken as a guarantee of the value of their current pension.)
Every teacher will have their TRR calculated on an individual basis, but as a very broad guide: a teacher with thirty-five years of service would receive half-pay while on TRR, and a teacher with ten years of service would expect quarter-pay.
Teachers making Class A PRSI contributions are expected to continue to claim Illness Benefit while on TRR.
TRR is not pensionable service.
Self-Certified Sick Leave
A teacher may not take more than three consecutive days of self-certified sick leave and may not take more than seven days of self-certified sick leave in a rolling two year period. Absence in excess of these limits may result in the loss of pay.
Normally, there will be no substitute cover for self-certified sick leave. The exceptions to this are:
- In a school with two or fewer classroom teachers, a substitute may be employed for all days of self-certified sick leave
- If a school has two teachers absent on the same day on self-certified sick leave, they may employ a substitute for the second teacher
A teacher may not follow a period of certified sick leave with additional self-certified sick leave.
A medical certificate will be required for any period of sick leave in excess of three days. A medical certificate must be signed by a duly qualified medical practitioner registered with the Irish or UK Medical Council, or Dental Council of Ireland.
In exceptional circumstances medical certificates may be accepted from overseas medical practitioners, such as where a teacher becomes ill abroad, or is receiving a recognised medical treatment unavailable in Ireland. The advice of the OHS must be sought in such circumstances.
Normally a medical certificate will cover a period of no more than one week, although at the discretion of the board, a certificate for up to one month may be accepted.
The certificate must just state the teacher’s fitness to work or otherwise: it is not obligatory to state the nature of the illness on a medical certificate. (However, a failure to include this information could lead to difficulties if seeking to have the absence amended later, for instance, the discounting of a school closure.)
Social Welfare Obligations
As a condition of the sick leave scheme, any teacher who pays Class A PRSI is required to submit social welfare forms if they are absent on sick leave for more than six consecutive days, excluding Sundays.
Teachers on paid sick leave will receive their salary as normal for their first six days absent on sick leave. After six consecutive days of sick leave, excluding Sunday, teachers must claim Illness Benefit from the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection and the Department of Education and Skills will deduct the value of Illness Benefit from the teacher’s salary.
The obligations of teachers regarding illness benefit are set out in this DES information note (PDF), which took effect from 1 September 2019.
Sick leave can also be used for the purpose of obtaining health-related services, such as doctor and dentist appointments if such appointments could not have been arranged outside of regular working hours.
Proof of attendance at an appointment must be provided to the school, and such an absence will be part of the teacher’s certified sick leave record, and will have substitute cover.
Non-Casual Substitute Teacher Taking Sick Leave
A substitute teacher who has worked for forty days in a school year, or a teacher who commences a substitute contract of more than forty days duration such as maternity leave, is regarded as a non-casual substitute.
A non-casual substitute teacher is regarded as a fixed term worker for the purposes of the Protection of Employees (Fixed Term Work) Act 2003. As such, they are entitled to the same terms and conditions as a comparable permanent colleague, including access to their own sick leave. This entitlement comes to an end at the end of the teacher’s contract.
However, as two substitute teachers may not be paid for the same role through the OLCS, the non-casual substitute who is taking certified sick leave must be paid using the Primary Teachers Substitute for a Substitute form.
The substitute who is covering the vacancy (i.e., the teacher who is working in the school during the absence) should be paid through the OLCS. If a non-casual substitute teacher is using self-certified sick leave, they can be left on the OLCS for salary, with a manual record of their absence maintained by the school. As with other teachers, there will be no substitute cover for this absence.
Job Sharing And Sick Leave
Teachers who are job sharing have access to the same overall sick leave entitlement as full-time teachers. However, bearing in mind that the sick leave scheme operates across the entire year, not just working days, the following should be noted:
- For all teachers, weekends which fall during a period of sick leave will be recorded as part of that sick leave. Similarly, when a period of sick leave spans a school closure, that closure will be recorded as sick leave.
- For job sharers, during a period of certified illness, days when the teacher is not rostered for duty will also be counted as sick leave.
Referrals To The OHS (Medmark)
If a teacher is absent for more than twenty-eight days in a twelve-month period, either consecutively or cumulatively, the employer must make a non-discretionary referral to the Occupational Health Service, Medmark. The OLCS will indicate to the employer when this referral is necessary, and the school must provide a copy of the referral to the teacher.
A member of the Medmark team will initially make contact with the teacher by telephone, to discuss the nature of their illness and complete an Occupational Health Assessment Form over the phone. For many teachers, this phone call will be the only contact they have with Medmark, but it is possible that the teacher may subsequently be asked to attend an appointment with a doctor from Medmark. As an employer, a board of management also has the discretion to make a referral to Medmark at any stage if they have a reasonable concern about a teacher’s fitness to work.
It is important that teachers engage and cooperate with the Occupational Health Service at all stages.
Returning To Work
For the majority of teachers, returning to work following sick leave is just a matter of reporting for duty on the expiry of their medical cert.
However, if the period of sick leave has exceeded twenty-eight days, the teacher should be referred to Medmark by their employer, who will need to confirm their fitness to resume their duties.
Partial Return To Work Following Illness
A partial return to work (PRW) is intended to facilitate a teacher recovering from an illness to transition back into full duties over an agreed limited period of time. Following a period of PRW, it is expected that the teacher will be fit to return to full duties on a whole time basis.
Access to PRW is not an automatic entitlement, and is subject to the recommendation of the OHS and the approval of the employer. An employer should ensure all reasonable steps are taken to facilitate the PRW arrangement.
During a PRW arrangement, the teacher must return to duties for a minimum of two days per week, and will be paid at their full rate of pay for days worked. The rest of the week, including weekends, will continue to be recorded as sick leave, and will be covered by a substitute teacher.
It isn’t necessary for the teacher to provide medical certs for these absences – Medmark’s recommendation for PRW is sufficient evidence for the school to record this additional sick leave. Salary during this period of sick leave will be in line with the terms of the sick leave scheme (so may
be at full pay, half pay, or TRR, depending on the limits already reached by the teacher in question).
A period of PRW is limited to one school term only. The arrangement can commence at any time within a school term but cannot extend beyond the end of that term. Subject to the board and OHS approval, a teacher may return to full-time duties earlier than intended.
A board may withdraw approval for a PRW arrangement if it is not operating in the best interests of the pupils or school.
Retiring On The Grounds Of Ill Health
If a teacher’s medical condition is such that they may be permanently medically unfit to work as a teacher, they may wish to consider applying for early retirement on the grounds of ill health.
In such a case, the teacher would make an application for retirement directly to the Department of Education and Skills, and their Consultant would also need to provide the Occupational Health Service, Medmark, with medical documentation supporting their application.
To be approved, they must be deemed to be permanently incapacitated, and that the medical infirmity is likely to be permanent.
The OHS are required by the Department of Education and Skills to sanction such an application, in all cases.
Full details of the procedure, and the calculation of pension benefits, are available from the pensions section of the INTO website.
Sick Leave Supplement (PDF)
InTouch November 2014
If you have questions about your Sick Leave, the INTO QueryLine operates 9am – 5pm, Monday to Friday, on 01 804 7700.