Sick leave is the most widely used of all the leave provisions in your collective agreement. It looks simple but has some complexities. There are three essential elements to sick leave. They include:
- the service that generates the sick leave.
- the entitlement that flows from the length of service.
- the amount of sick leave used and the balance remaining.
From 2022, you will always get 10 days of sick leave per year
As you have no doubt seen, earlier this year Parliament passed the Holidays (Increasing Sick Leave) Amendment Bill to increase the minimum employee sick leave entitlement from 5 days to 10 days per year.
What this means for teachers is the minimum number of sick leave days you are allocated in any given year cannot be below 10, even if you have run out of your collective agreement sick leave.
You have entitlement to sick leave under your collective agreement, but also under the Holidays Act. Where those two conflict, the better scenario applies.
So, now that the Holidays Act specifies a minimum of 10 days of sick leave a year, that is the minimum you will get, regardless of how many you have remaining under the collective provision.
Another entitlement you have which is better than the minimum under the Act is that you do not have to wait six months after taking a teaching job for your collective entitlement sick leave to begin. That starts immediately.
And a note to day relievers – you can claim sick leave if you are ill on a day you have been contracted to relieve on.
Service for sick leave
All teachers employed will generate sick leave service. Permanent teachers, whether part-time or full-time, will generate a year of sick leave service for each year of employment.
Full-time fixed term teachers, including long-term relievers will generate sick leave service as if they were permanent employees for the period of their employment.
Non-permanent part-time teachers will generate sick leave service on the basis that 80 hours equals a month and 1000 hours equals a year.
Day relievers generate their service on the basis that if they work one of the 190 days that secondary schools are open each year, they earn 365/190 = 1.921 days of sick leave service for each day. Hourly employment is pro-rated.
Before 1981, those teachers who were receiving studentships also were credited with sick leave service for their period as a student. Thus a four-year qualification followed by one year of teacher training equated to five years of service for sick leave.
Sick leave entitlements
The paid sick leave entitlement is based on the period of service. The service and entitlement table found in both the Secondary Teachers’ Collective Agreement (STCA) 6.2.2 and the Area School Teachers’ Collective Agreement (ASTCA) 5.1.1 is given below.
Length of service
Up to 3 months
Over 3 months and up to 6 months
Over 6 months and up to 9 months
Over 9 months and up to 5 years
Over 5 years and up to 10 years
Over 10 years and up to 20 years
Over 20 years and up to 30 years
Over 30 years
*Aggregate period for which sick leave on pay is granted during service.
The day you start teaching you have seven days sick leave entitlement. When you have three months’ sick leave service you gain another seven days making a total of 14 days entitlement. Note that this is an aggregate entitlement, not a cumulative entitlement. Nobody has an entitlement of more that 306 days sick leave except in cases where all 306 days have been exhausted and the provisions of the Holidays Act 2003 will then apply.
Sick leave use and balance
The balance of the entitlement depends upon how much sick leave you’ve used. A teacher with 13 years and 4 months’ service has an entitlement under the STCA to 154 days sick leave but if they have used 79 days in those 13 years, their remaining entitlement is 154-79 = 75 days.
Sick leave can be deducted as a whole or half day.
For day relievers; if they are sick on a day that they have been employed to relieve they can claim sick leave so long as they still have a sick leave entitlement. Part-time teachers can lose a whole day of sick leave even though they may only be teaching one or two classes on that day.
Leave for appointments
If you need to go to a short medical or dental appointment during the teaching day for you must notify the school in good time. No sick leave deduction will be made if you are away for less than two hours. If you are away for two hours or more your school may deduct half a day’s sick leave.
Five day rule
When a full-time teacher is on sick leave for more than five consecutive school days they also lose the intervening weekends as sick leave. Thus, a teacher absent for a week from Monday to Friday loses five days if they return to work on the Monday of the next week. Similarly, a teacher absent on Wednesday through to Tuesday of the following week also loses five days sick leave. However, in both the above examples, as soon as the total of continuous working days sick leave reaches six, a weekend is counted as sick leave, meaning that the total number of sick days used becomes eight.
Statutory holidays and vacations are not deducted from sick leave in spite of the myth that they are. Some teachers have been known to struggle in for the last day of term believing that if they do not, the coming vacation will become sick leave. This is incorrect.
A person on continuous sick leave moves from sick leave to vacations and back to sick leave after the vacation ends. For this reason, a year of sick leave is 266 days. This is because the school year is 380 half days or 38 weeks in length, the rest being statutory holidays and vacations. So 38 weeks multiplied by 7 days gives 266 days.
Frequently asked questions
What happens if I have used up all my sick leave?
Providing that you exhausted all your current entitlement in the previous calendar year, you can claim entitlement of ten days per year under the provisions of the Holidays Act 2003. This will be deducted from your next sick leave entitlement.
If you have no future sick leave entitlement, i.e you have used all 306 days, you may still claim up to ten days sick leave per year under the Holidays Act 2003.
Where are my sick leave records kept and how are they recorded?
The records are held by your school’s payroll agency. Prior to 2002 they were recorded on cards. In 2002 they were transferred to an electronic format. Your record of sick leave service to date is transferred to electronic pay advice notices. Your actual balance of sick leave available is shown on your payslip. This information is also communicated to schools in the Staffing Usage and Expenditure (SUE) report and can be accessed from your school.
If you think your sick leave balance is incorrect you should discuss this with one of your school payroll “authorised users” in the first instance.
What happens to my sick leave if I take a break from teaching?
It remains frozen awaiting your return.
What happens if I never return to teaching?
It’s still there frozen in case you ever do.
Can I cash in my sick leave?
No — in most cases. Your sick leave disappears if you take a payout option under surplus staffing. If you medically retire with the concurrence of the Ministry of Education you may choose to cash up your remaining sick leave.
Can I transfer my sick leave to and from overseas?
Can I transfer my sick leave within New Zealand?
You don’t need to as it follows you as part of your state teaching entitlement. However, it does not transfer to and from private schools. Nor does it transfer to other private employers. However, there is a provision for the transfer of sick leave from the public service into teaching. If you are considering this you should consult your PPTA field officer.
What happens if I am stressed at work?
You should see your doctor who may put you on sick leave. There is no separate category in the STCA or ASTCA called stress leave.
What about medical certificates?
You would not normally need a medical certificate for an absence of up to five days. Beyond five days you must produce a medical certificate, but if there are good reasons why you cannot get a medical certificate for sick leave for a period of between six and 14 days, you may be able to satisfy your employer with other evidence. An employer could request a medical certificate or other satisfactory evidence for a period shorter than five days where they consider it warranted.
If your employer requests a second medical opinion, or requires a medical certificate for an absence of less than five days, it should be at their expense.
How does an accident at work affect my sick leave?
It doesn’t as workplace accidents are fully covered by ACC.
And what about if the accident is not at work?
This does affect sick leave. The first seven days are a charge against sick leave and after that one day in five is a charge against sick leave.
What happens if I am sick around Easter and Easter is during a term?
The Thursday before Easter is sick leave. Good Friday is a statutory holiday and not a charge against sick leave. The Saturday and Sunday are sick leave if the absence continues longer than five working days. Monday and Tuesday of Easter are not a charge against sick leave as the Monday is a statutory holiday and the Tuesday is a holiday under Part VII of the Education Act 1989.
If I have been sick and want to return gradually to teaching and my doctor recommends this, can I do so?
You can return on reduced hours but you need the agreement of your employer as there may be staffing and/or timetabling difficulties. This would not normally be for a period of more than six weeks.
If I am on maternity leave, can I use my sick leave?
No. You can use sick leave while you are pregnant and working, but once you have taken maternity leave you can’t use sick leave because you are on leave withot pay. The same applies in all other leave without pay situations.
Can I use sick leave if my child is sick and needs to be cared for?
Yes. You can use sick leave to care for a person in your care.
Can I use sick leave if my partner is dying and I am stressed by the situation?
Special leave with pay for a close relative’s serious illness or accident is available under STCA 6.5.2 [ASTCA 5.5.2]. You can also use your own sick leave to care for a dependent who is unwell. This is provided for under STCA 6.5.3 [ASTCA 5.5.3].
Can I donate some of my sick leave to a colleague who has exhausted their sick leave?
No. It is your sick leave and it can’t be transferred to anyone else.
I have contracted influenza and I am sure I got this from school as there has been a lot around and many students have been absent. Can I apply for this not to be deducted from my sick leave?
You could but it is unlikely to be granted. It could be granted if this had been classified as an epidemic by the Ministry of Health. There are some circumstances where sick leave can be disregarded, tuberculosis and hepatitis being examples but you would need to discuss your situation with your PPTA field officer.
I am really unwell and have little prospect of returning to teaching. What should I do?
Use your sick leave. Even when it is exhausted you can still be paid for a holiday if you have not had more than 90 days sick leave without pay in that school year. You can also consider medical retirement. Sick leave has a considerable value and can enhance things such as the GSF superannuation.
Do not resign in a hurry. Talk to your PPTA field officer.
The STCA medical retirement clauses 3.12 and Appendix B were introduced in 2006 and have been valuable tools in helping teachers retire when ill.
The key criterion is the evidence from a specialist that the teacher can no longer perform his/her job currently or in the foreseeable future. Once this test is met the Ministry of Education usually grants concurrence. When that happens the teacher is retired. From that day, the school can advertise the vacant position while the teacher can opt for a number of options including using up sick leave entitlements or taking a lump sum.
Stress as such isn’t a criterion for this option; it has to be a diagnosed medical condition such as clinical depression or PTSD.
There is also a terminal illness clause (3.12.1) to support members suffering that particular tragedy.
You might have some warning of impending death and may be able to manage the situation for the benefit of your family.
The following advice is an excerpt from "Resignation, death and medical retirement' published in PPTA News February 2013.
Alice had many health problems, obesity, sleep apnoea, diabetes and so on. In mid-December one year her GP sent her to a specialist who diagnosed cancer and that the cancer could advance rapidly. Her field officer suggested that she seriously consider medical retirement under the terms of the STCA but Alice delayed any decision as she didn’t believing that the cancer could advance rapidly. She died in mid-January. Whilst there was an entitlement to the compassionate grant at the full rate because she had over 20 years service, there was now no entitlement to her estate of the medical retirement because you can't retire when you are dead.
Contrast this with Jonathan who was also diagnosed with cancer and it was expected to progress rapidly and would be terminal. Jonathan and his family did contact a PPTA field officer in early January when death was imminent. With the asistance of Jonathan’s principal, the appropriate forms were completed and sent to the Ministry of Education along with a medical certificate to say that his condition was terminal.
Jonathan died a few days later but medical retirement had been completed so there was an entitlement to 23 weeks pay under clause 1.8 (a) of the STCA, because he had exhausted his sick leave and had 3 years service. There was also an entitlement to the compassionate grant because Jonathan’s death occurred within one year of his medical retirement.
While Jonathan may not have enjoyed any of the benefits of these entitlements his partner and children were grateful for what they received.