Staff absence, SSP and salary entitlements
Long-term illness can cause a lot of pain to schools and to businesses. Unless insurance is in place – which can be just as expensive – it can cost a school thousands of pounds in additional salary costs. This guidance will be of some use to new SBMs who are not familiar with the guidelines for statutory sick pay (SSP) and how education staff are paid while on short- or long-term sick leave. I have specifically used teachers as an example as it is these absences that can be the most expensive, especially in long-term absence scenarios.
Long-term illness can cost a school thousands of pounds in additional salary costs
Entitlement to sick leave
For those who work in the education sector there are excellent contractual rights to sick pay, with entitlements to sick leave and sick pay being set out in the Burgundy Book. The entitlements are on a sliding scale according to length of service.
- during the first year of service: full pay for 25 working days and, after completing four calendar months’ service, half pay for 50 working days
- during the second year of service: full pay for 50 working days and half pay for 50 working days
- during the third year of service: full pay for 75 working days and half pay for 75 working days
- during the fourth and successive years: full pay for 100 working days and half pay for 100 working days
The Burgundy Book scheme operates on the basis of working days and only those working days for which the teacher is absent count against the above sliding scale entitlements. Holidays and weekends do not count against these entitlements. However, at their discretion local authorities can extend this entitlement in any individual case. For part-time staff, this sliding scale is pro rata.
Qualifying conditions for SSP
SSP is a measure of earnings replacement for employees who are off work because of sickness. Employers are liable to pay this to all their employees who satisfy all the qualifying conditions when they are off work sick. SSP is not payable for the first three qualifying days (QDs) in a period of incapacity for work (PIW); interestingly the PIW does include bank holidays, weekends and non-working days.
I often get asked by staff what they have to do about SSP. This is more relevant to teachers in their first years of service, whose entitlements under the Burgundy Book will be limited, but may be entitled to receive SSP for the full 28 weeks. Do they claim it or does the school/academy arrange for the payment of SSP? Generally this is down to the school’s payroll provider and its absence management policy. Under the HMRC guidelines there are qualifying conditions for someone to receive SSP:
SSP is not payable for the first three qualifying days (QDs) in a period of incapacity for work (PIW); interestingly the PIW does include bank holidays, weekends and non-working days
- They must be your employee, and they will need to have done some work under their employment contract before going off sick.
- They must be incapable for work for at least four days or more in a row.
- They must have at least one QD in each week; these are days they normally work.
- Their earnings must be at least as much as the lower earnings limit for National Insurance contributions. This is £107 a week for 2012-2013.
- They must have notified you about their sickness – either within your own time limit or within seven days of the first day of sickness.
- They must provide you with medical evidence of their incapacity if you require it.
SSP payments should be recorded and kept for at least three years after the end of the tax year to which they relate. If you outsource your payroll, then these records would be maintained by your payroll provider.
Questioning fitness for work and payment of SSP
You cannot withhold SSP for late receipt of medical evidence. However, something I didn’t know was that if you have any doubts about your employee’s sickness you can actually ask HMRC to arrange for your employee to be medically examined by their medical services provider. A report will be sent to you with an opinion on their fitness for work. You can also use this service where your employee has been repeatedly off sick for four to seven days in a relatively short period. This service can also be used if you want to stop paying SSP after four or more absences in a year and I can also confirm that there is no charge! The procedure is as follows:
If you have any doubts about your employee’s sickness you can actually ask HMRC to arrange for your employee to be medically examined by their medical services provider
- Write to your local HMRC office enclosing the employee's written permission for Medical Services to become involved and any medical certificates the employee has supplied.
- If the employee refuses to give permission, this may be grounds to stop SSP.
- Medical Services will get a report from the employee's GP, and may conduct its own examination, before deciding if SSP can be withheld.
- If Medical Services decide that an employee has grounds for their continuing absence, you should continue (or reinstate) SSP.
- If the advice is that the employee can work, you can choose not to pay SSP, but must explain why.
- If the employee is dissatisfied, they are entitled to a written explanation. If they are still dissatisfied, they can seek a formal decision from HMRC, who will obtain the medical reports from Medical Services.
Once HMRC has decided whether or not SSP should be paid, they will inform both you and the employee.
The effects of long-term illness
It would be hoped though that before this drastic decision is made that all other options will have been considered. Living and coping with a long-term illness does change people’s lives, and unfortunately there are those who do not cope as well as others. For instance, depression is one of the biggest causes of long-term illness, and like any other mental health illness continues to have a stigma about it. The difficulty is that long-term sickness does impact on other members of staff especially when they have to undertake some aspect of this person’s work, and there is nothing more frustrating that seeing your colleague ‘out and about’ socialising while off sick.
The problem is that being ill does not mean that you should not socialise – in fact, depending on your illness, doctors can prescribe that you do just that. Prescriptions can be written for membership to health clubs as I understand that exercise can improve mental health problems and thereby ensure a quick return to work.
Depression is one of the biggest causes of long-term illness
More likely to be on long-term sick leave?
Another piece of information that I found is the relationship between childhood cognitive ability and adult long-term sickness absence. A study, The association between childhood cognitive ability and adult long-term sickness absence in three British birth cohorts identifies a clear dose-response relationship between lower cognitive function in childhood and increased odds of being on long-term sick leave in adulthood. This association applies to younger as well as older workers; holds true irrespective of the decade of birth, and is mediated in part by education attainment which suggests that improved education, especially for those with lower cognitive abilities, may help inoculate them from the risk of long-term sickness absence. I have never considered this relationship before and it is probably not something that I could use in the workplace, but nevertheless it certainly was an interesting read.