Know your rights

6th December 2002 at 00:00
Susannah Kirkman offers advice on when you're too sick to work

If you are forced to stop work because of ill-health, you may get a far better financial deal since a High Court ruling that employers must give teachers the paid notice to which they are entitled.

Previously, many local authorities have terminated teachers' contracts on the grounds of ill-health without taking account of the notice period - usually two months during the autumn and spring terms, and three months during the summer term, or 12 weeks for all teachers with more than 12 years' service.

But the High Court has ruled this illegal. It said that Eric Dorling, who taught at Woodthorpe primary school, Sheffield, until he was granted an ill-health pension in January 2001, was entitled to the notice pay he was owed, around pound;7,000. The court rejected the LEA's claim that Mr Dorling's employment had ended automatically because of his illness and that he resigned.

"This is a landmark victory which should send a clear message to LEAs that they must treat people decently; employers have to dismiss teachers with full notice and full pay," says Brian Clegg, assistant secretary at the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, the union that brought the case.

In future, teachers retiring because of ill-health could receive three months' full salary; even if you are on half-pay after a lengthy sick leave, your employer must return you to full pay when it notifies you that your employment is to be ended.

The notice pay should also improve your retirement benefits because it will extend your length of service, and it may increase your average salary; your lump sum and your pension may be larger as a result.

Around 20 per cent of teachers taking retirement do so on ill-health grounds. Despite rising stress and workload, numbers have fallen since the rules for ill-health retirement were tightened in 1997.

To qualify, you must have medical evidence that you will never be fit to teach again because of illness and that appropriate treatment has failed to solve the problem. Your hospital consultant should write the report. If you have several medical problems, your GP might be the best person to submit the report to Teachers' Pensions, but he or she should include any copies of relevant consultants' reports.

You will not get ill-health retirement simply on the grounds of stress, even though research at the Manchester School of Management has found that teaching causes more stress than virtually any other profession. You must have a formal diagnosis that stress has caused physiological or physical problems which are permanent.

It can be difficult to get ill-health retirement because of a psychiatric illness. Marion Bird, deputy head of pensions at the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, believes this is because some GPs are reluctant to refer patients with mental health problems to a consultant psychiatrist. "GPs can take the attitude that if they can prescribe anti-depressants, there is no need for a referral," Ms Bird says. "But you must be able to show that every avenue has been explored - that you have received therapy, as well as appropriate doses of drugs, for instance."

It usually takes Teachers' Pensions six to eight weeks to process applications. If it is refused, you may appeal or submit a new application with fresh medical evidence. If your request is granted, you will receive an "enhanced" pension.

Ill-health Retirement is available from Teachers' Pensions, Mowden Hall, Darlington, County Durham DL3 9EE. Tel: 01325 745745

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