Human Resources

Sickness Absence Policy - Frequently Asked Questions

Q1. Why is the College updating the Sickness Absence Policy?

A1. To enable a consistent approach for managing short term and long term sickness absence by adopting best practice guidelines to support employees to return to work. Most organisations have a sickness absence policy. Our approach shows a commitment to a fair, consistent, supportive approach to manage sickness absence. Our framework will support employees to get back to work but does enable action to be taken if there are problems and difficulties.

Q2. Does the sickness absence policy apply to all groups of staff?

A2. Yes, the sickness absence policy does apply to all groups of staff and all staff and managers should follow the policy.

Q3. What should I do if I am unwell and not able to attend work?

A3. You should let your manager, or other designated member of staff know by 10 a.m. if you work normal office hours, or in good time before you usually start work if you work shifts or teach in the evening or at weekends. You should state the reason for the absence with an indication of how long you will be off work. We know that in some cases this may not possible, for example if you are injured or admitted to hospital.

Q4. Can I send a text or e-mail to report my absence or ask someone else to ring in on my behalf?

A4. Staff should report their absence by telephone and speak with their manager, or other designation person, if at all possible. If the circumstances of your illness mean that you are physically unable to telephone, then someone else may ring in for you but you should try to contact your manager as soon as you are able to. Your manager will need to plan to provide cover and decide whether any support is needed.

Q5. Why do I have to call in again on the fourth day of absence and continue to keep in touch when I am off sick?

A5.  It is important that you keep your manager informed about your health and sickness absence as arrangements may need to be put in place to cover your work. Staff often keep in contact more often but if you have not spoken with your manager since your first day of absence, you should contact them after 3 days to let them know how you are and when you are likely to return to work.

Q6. Why must I keep in touch with my manager if I am on long term sickness absence?

A6.  If someone is off for more than 20 calendar days, this is considered long term absence.  If your absence is over a longer period you should  keep in regular contact with your manager. so that your manager is aware of  the likely duration and reasons for your absence; is able to make longer term arrangements for your work to be covered by others if appropriate; and can provide appropriate management support to facilitate and plan for your return to work. Research shows that early intervention and support offered to staff on long term absence has a higher chance of achieving a successful return to work. This could include a home visit.

Q7. What do I do if I am off sick for more than 7 continuous calendar days?

A7. You must provide a ‘Fit Note’ (Statement of fitness for work - Med 3) from your GP who will indicate whether you need to reassessed before you return to work. The ‘Fit Note’ has replaced the ‘sick certificate’. Link to 'Fit Note'  -  Statement of fitness for work form.

The ‘Fit Note’ should be forwarded to your manager or designated member of staff. It is a confidential document and will be dealt with by HR and payroll staff involved in sickness administration in the same way as the old self certification form.

Q8. My manager has asked me to attend a Sickness Review meeting - What does this mean?

Your manager may ask you to a meeting to discuss your attendance if you have had:

  • more than 10 self certificated working days sickness within a 12 month period (pro rata for part time staff); or
  • 4 periods of absence within a 6 month period
  • a pattern of absence that is of concern (e.g. Mondays and/or Fridays or absence following bank holidays).

Q9. Will disability related absence be counted as sickness absence and trigger a Sickness Review meeting?

A9. Disability related sickness will be recorded separately to sickness absence. It is important that managers carry out sickness review meetings to ensure that they are aware of, and can take steps to make reasonable adjustments in relation to disability issues, such as making changes to a job, ways of working, accessibility issues, flexible working or redeployment. Managers should refer to HR and to the College's Disability Code of Conduct when dealing with disability related absence.   .

Q10. What does an occupational health assessment involve and what will happen if I don't want to attend?

A10 An assessment involves meeting with an occupational health physician who is independent of the college. The physician will provide a report to the college with advice going forward, including advice on disability related sickness and reasonable adjustments. You will be entitled to see a copy of this report. Your manager will meet with you to discuss the report and HR will also attend this meeting.

It is a contractual requirement for staff to be willing to attend an assessment with an independent medical adviser, if requested to do so by the College. If you refuse or fail to attend a medical appointment, the College may have to make decisions about your absence based on the information available to them. You may also forfeit your right to occupational sick pay and this may become a disciplinary matter.

Q11. The policy talks about 'Return to Work Discussion or Meetings - why are these necessary? and who is this with?

A11. It is good practice to hold a discussion with a member of staff returning from sickness absence. Normally, this will be a brief conversation to find out how you are, bring you up to date with work and any changes and make sure that you are well enough to return. Your manager may make a brief note of the facts of the discussion and they will be informal meetings. Confidentiality and data protection obligations will be safeguarded.

Q12. Can I be represented by a trade union representative at meetings to discuss my sickness absence?

A12. In most cases, it is expected that matters relating to sickness absence will be dealt with informally and union representatives or work companions will not attend these meetings. However, if your manager asks you to attend a formal meeting to discuss your sickness absence, you have the right to be accompanied by a trade union representative or a work colleague from within Birkbeck. If this meeting is in your home or at another location outside the workplace, you still have the right to be accompanied at the meeting.

Q13. Can I be dismissed for having a poor attendance record?

A13. If your absence record is such that you are continuously reaching the trigger points in the policy you could be dismissed from your post as a result of a fair process in line with the Sickness Absence Policy provisions. Also, if you are absent for a period of time and there is no prognosis of a return to work then it is possible that you may be incapable of fulfilling your role on the grounds of ill health and you may be dismissed due to ill health capability.

Q14.  If I am sick during a period of authorised paid leave, can I claim back my leave?

A14. If you inform your manager when you become ill and provide confirmation from your GP of your sickness absence during a period of leave, your annual leave may be reimbursed.

Q15. How long is a phased return and will I be paid for non working days during this period?

A15. A phased return to work is normally based on medical advice and designed to facilitate your return to work. A phased return normally takes place over a period of between one and four weeks and your pay will not normally be affected.

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The HR team is based on the first floor of Egmont House
Postal address: Human Resources, Birkbeck, University of London, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HX