Is accessing your sick leave a big headache?
Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 125 No 6, 14 August 2020, page no.14
At a time when authorities are encouraging people to stay home when they are unwell, it is probably timely to talk about sick leave. There are many longstanding myths, and they tend to be contagious!
You are not employed by an individual school, but rather by the education department, and you are employed under statewide conditions (even if you are in an “IPS” school). The provisions for accessing sick leave sit within the Queensland Industrial Relations Act (2016) and the Sick Leave Directive (04.16). The department’s policy outlines how these provisions have been adopted for its employees.
The QTU has long been of the view that medical certificates need only outline the details and nature of the illness where there is the need for the employer to be informed. While the department’s policy requests that any medical certificate should state the nature of the illness, the QTU disagrees. Clearly, where the injury or illness impacts on the employee’s capacity to undertake their role, or there is a safety or welfare issue that may impact on the employer, it is appropriate to make workplace adjustments and engage with organisational health. However, where the employee and/or their treating medical professional believe that there is no need for the employer (principal/manager) to know the nature of a personal illness, then this should not be required.
There are plenty of circumstances where the employee may not want to share the personal, private, or intimate nature of a health condition. Is the employer really stating that a teacher must disclose that they have been receiving treatment for a sexually transmitted disease? Of course not. Reasonable principals have always accepted that the treating medical professional is best placed to provide the details where they are needed. What the policy permits is reasonable requests.
The QTU is aware of cases where the employee has been verbally told that their sick leave may not be “approved” because a particular manager felt that the illness “did not qualify” (i.e. emotional distress and fatigue). As the IR Act states, sick leave is an entitlement. It is processed by payroll, not approved. Professional adults are well placed to make judgements about their own health and how to use their accrued sick leave appropriately. Teachers know when they are overwhelmed, and looking after your mental health is an entirely appropriate use of your sick leave.
Where there is a perception that sick leave is being misused or abused, the QTU believes a supportive manager should act with compassion and sensitivity, recognising that a pattern of absences may be evidence of some underlying personal issues (such as depression or domestic or family violence (DFV)). If sick leave is being misused, it should be addressed.
- A medical certificate can only be requested/supplied where the absence is for more than three days.
- You only need to inform the school of your absence and that you are accessing sick and/or carer’s leave. There is no requirement to explain the nature of the illness at this time.
- Medical documentation can be requested if you are subject to a process for monitoring performance, conduct or attendance.
- There is no requirement to provide a medical certificate if you are ill either side of a public holiday or mid-year school vacation.
- You can access your accrued sick leave for carer’s leave purposes – carer’s leave can be taken when a member of your immediate family or household is ill, has an unexpected emergency or has experienced DFV.
- Sick leave should not be abused, and its misuse may be a conduct issue.
- You should not be directed to access sick leave when another form of leave is more appropriate (i.e. bereavement leave for miscarriage). The QTU is aware of cases where a teacher has sought leave to attend a funeral and has been told to access sick leave. The employee is not sick, they are bereaved, and special leave is the most appropriate form of leave in this circumstance.