From short-term sickness to longer-term illness, there’s many reasons why staff in your school may need time off work.

Best practice for managing staff absences includes actively encouraging attendance, and making sure employees understand why that’s important. Key to the process are absence policies – namely knowing if staff have or haven’t understood them, or even read them! 

Keep reading to explore three ways you can ensure staff aren’t just accepting, but better understanding, your school or trust’s absence policy to promote higher levels of attendance. 

What is an absence policy?

School staff absence policies are written documents that should clearly detail the organisation’s attendance expectations for employees. All staff should have a copy of the different types of absence policies in play and know where they can be accessed (for example, on the staff intranet).

Primarily, absence policies exist to support high levels of staff attendance. They set out the school’s procedures for different absence circumstances, including: 

  • Medical appointments 
  • Absences due to alcohol or drug misuse 
  • Compassionate leave

The policy should also detail the school or MAT’s framework for handling the array of wider activities relating to absences, like:

  • How staff should report an absence  
  • Any evidence required to support an absence 
  • Holidays during sickness 
  • Absence triggers  
  • The stages of informal and formal absence reviews 
  • Return-to-work processes

Why is an absence policy important?

A school staff absence policy is designed to ensure employees understand what they should do if they are unable to attend work. Both employees and employers should use the policy as a reference point when an absence is recorded. It’s there to plainly lay out an employee’s obligations and rights when they take time off, including terms for things like contractual and statutory sick pay. 

For best staff absence management practice, it’s recommended that the policy details the procedure that’s followed when an employee’s absence reaches a concerning level. This gives clarity to the employee of the types of absence, behaviour, and/or circumstances that could lead to the processes being escalated which could impact their career, like a formal absence review. 

How to ensure staff understand absence policies

The importance of the staff absence policy is clear to see. And with this in mind, we’ve laid out some of our top tips to help you promote staff to read and understand it! 

        1. How easy is the policy for staff to access?

When someone joins your organisation, the absence policy should be one of the core documents they’re given during the onboarding process. Some schools will still hand out a physical version of the policy, but more now prefer to distribute important documents and policies electronically.

For example, uploading the absence policy to a centralised location that all staff have access to, like an intranet or a self-service employee portal. Not only does this save on printing costs, but it reduces the risk of staff misplacing the document – and is better for the environment, too! It’s also ready and waiting in an accessible place when staff need to refer to it.

Yet whether your policy is stored within a digital system or paper handbook, you still can’t guarantee staff have read it! However, if you use the Documents and Policies module in our school HR software, you’ll come a step closer.

Let’s say you’ve just updated your sickness reporting procedure which all staff need to read. Every HR lets you upload the policy to the central dashboard where you can then select the users you need to distribute the document to. In this case, that’s your entire organisation, but Every HR also lets you select specific user groups (like teachers or estates teams).

Once the policy has been viewed by the user, they’re able to indicate they’ve read it, digitally stamping the receipt. The policy distributor can then view the list of users against these ‘read’ receipts. Reminders can be sent to the users on the list who haven’t read the document, helping to encourage compliance.

        2. The power of an open conversation

Once your employee has said they’ve read the updated staff absence policy, how do you know that they’ve understood the points within it? Knowing that staff have read the document is one thing, but ensuring their understanding of it is another! 

When staff truly understand an absence policy, attendance levels tend to be better. So, encouraging employees to ask for further explanations on certain processes or discussing the reasons behind a particular process is a proactive way of enhancing their understanding. It’s also a great way for you to spot any common points staff don’t quite understand or need further details on. You’re then informed to make the necessary changes to make the policy clearer for all, and keep those attendance levels up!

        3. Keep it under review

Like with any ‘live’ document, you’ll need to keep your absence policy in line with new or updated guidance from the DfE, relevant legislation, and changes within your school or MAT. Having a clear process in place which notifies employees of any changes to the absence policy, no matter how minor, is core to best policy management. It also promotes users to take notice of documents relating to their employment and how this could affect them. 

Policy management with Every HR

Within our school HR software is a document and policy manager which provides you with a single place to store, update, and distribute key documents. From here, you can publish new or changed policies to individual school or trust-wide websites, and then send staff ‘read’ reminders.

Every HR’s Documents and Policies module also lets you produce audit trails of documentation distribution and version history, supporting wider areas of the HR department, like performance management and recruitment.

See our Documents and Policies module in action for yourself by booking a demonstration with a member of our team!