The Department of Education and Skills (Department) has issued a new circular, Circular 62/2017, which sets out a scheme for leave of absence for special needs assistants (SNAs) who have been assaulted in the course of their duties or during approved school activities. The scheme, which applies to SNAs in recognised primary and post-primary schools, will operate on a pilot basis for two school years, commencing this school year.
Historically, teachers have benefited from a similar Department policy under circular letter 40/97. Until now, the Department has provided for assault leave for SNAs on an ad hoc basis. Under the new scheme, an SNA must make an application for assault leave within a week of the incident. There is provision for the timeline to be extended in exceptional cases where an SNA is unable to complete their part of the form due to physical incapacity. Absences due to assault leave will be combined with previous sick leave for the purposes of a non-discretionary referral to the Occupational Health Service. However, an SNA’s sick leave will be unaffected by any absences due to assault leave.
Boards of Management and ETBs may not be aware that, as employers, they have a legal obligation to report non-fatal injuries or dangerous occurrences to the Health and Safety Authority. The Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Regulations 2016 require employers to send a written report to the Authority as soon as possible and not later than 10 working days after the event. Boards of Management or ETBs are required to confirm that the incident has been reported to the HSA in the application form for assault leave.
The new circular should serve as a reminder to Boards of Management to ensure that the school has policies in place which are fit for purpose and that the school’s safety statement is made available to teachers, SNAs and other staff. The grant of leave of absence to an SNA following an incident of assault does not constitute an admission of any liability on the part of the Board of Management or ETB as the employer.
If you require further information regarding the course of action to be taken following an assault on a teacher or an SNA, please contact a member of our Education team.
The content of this article is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute legal or other advice.