Where the head complains about repeated absence, it is likely that the teacher will claim ill health is the reason. In GT Netcom Lts v Whitwell (1995) Ms Whitwell was dismissed after some 18 weeks of absence due to illness. In the interim the employer had agreed with Ms Whitwell's trade union that her employment would be terminated after 16 weeks' absence if there was no immediate prospect of her return.
Although Ms W asked whether she could return to work to see if it was possible for her to carry on, her employer refused on the ground that her illness, Meni re's disease, would be dangerous to her at work. Her claim for unfair dismissal succeeded at the industrial tribunal, but was overturned at appeal on the basis that the employer had followed the company's absenteeism policy and had therefore acted reasonably.
While each case will turn on its facts, schools should have clear policies on absence which have regard to the guidance in the Burgundy Book and Conditions of Service for School Teachers in England and Wales, and any other local agreements. When a problem occurs the procedures should be strictly adhered to.
Chris Lowe is legal adviser to the Secondary Heads Association