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Sickness Absence  : Management Guidance

Managing sickness absence effectively

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) have identified 5 key elements for the effective management of sickness absence and facilitating a return to work: absence/

  • Recording and monitoring sickness absence;
  • Keeping in touch;
  • Taking medical advice through occupational health;
  • Agreeing a plan to improve attendance or facilitate a return to work;
  • Coordinating the return to work process.

Research shows that taking a proactive approach to actively managing absence has a positive impact in terms of improving attendance and identifying health problems and support needs at an early stage. Early intervention in terms of management support, reasonable adjustments, occupational health or counselling support may help to reduce longer term sickness issues and retain staff at work. So for example, research shows that attendance improves if teams:

  • receive sound management and development support;
  • have some control over and involvement in the decision making processes that affect their job;
  • understand what their objectives are and what they need to achieve;
  • are treated equitably;
  • have a good work-life balance;
  • have a positive work environment; and
  • know their contribution is valued.

 Links: Department of Health Publication 'Working for a healthier tomorrow', Dame Carol Black's review of the health of Britain's working age population

Recording and monitoring absence

Managers are responsible for ensuring accurate records are kept in relation to sickness absence and there should be a designated record keeper within each team. Absence should be recorded electronically from the first day of absence with confirmation recorded of their return to work. When the member of staff returns from sickness absence, they will receive an automated email confirming the details of their sick leave. No other records are required for the first 7 days of absence. After 7 days, 'Fit Notes' must be provided and manager's should request these and advise HR if these are not received within 12 days of recorded absence.  The 'Fit Note' medical certificate should be passed to finance for statutory recording purposes.HR will advise managers when a trigger point is reached and the manager should arrange to meet and discuss the absence with the member of staff.

Accurate recording and monitoring should help to identify any patterns of absence that may be of concern, for example, Mondays/Fridays or days off after a holiday/Bank holiday. If you notice a pattern of absence this should be discussed with the employee giving them the factual information and asking them to explain or comment on the pattern.

Keeping in touch with staff on sick leave

Normally, staff are expected to call in on their first day of sickness by 10.00 am, explaining the reasons for absence and giving an indication of how long they are likely to be away from work. If a return to work date is not given, you should agree arrangements to keep in touch with the employee. If a member of your team is absent and doesn't contact you or your colleague, you should make arrangements to contact them and discuss the reason for absence.

Obtaining medical advice through Occupational Health

Seeking medical advice should be considered to:

  • establish whether there is an underlying medical condition, possibly a disability;
  • establish whether any reasonable adjustments are necessary (short or long term);
  • help you make a judgement on the steps you need to take to help the person improve their attendance, for example, setting attendance targets within an agreed monitoring period.

Contact your HR Manager to discuss this and they will advise on any OH referral.

Return to Work discussions and meetings

When a member of your team returns to work from sickness, you should ensure you have a brief conversation to:

  • welcome them back;
  • ask how they are feeling and check that they are well enough to be back at work;
  • explore why they were off sick, the reason may seem evident and obvious but sometimes there can be a range of factors which contribute to sickness absence;
  • bring them up to date with work issues, indicating they have been missed and telling them about any changes or other issues that are relevant to them.

Research shows that a return to work meeting should be arranged after every absence so that absence is treated in a consistent way for all staff. The conversation should normally be brief, informal and usually straightforward. Part of the return to work discussion involves reaching an understanding of the issues and factors behind the absence and the employee’s own responsibility for their attendance, health and wellbeing. The discussion should focus on:

  • how the individual can improve their attendance;
  • identifying what the reasons and contributing factors may be;
  • place the absence in the context of previous absences, discuss what steps the member of staff has taken towards their recovery and what preventative measures they are taking to reduce the likelihood of such absence occurring in the future;
  • what the next steps are to try to improve attendance. talk about trigger points and attendance targets where appropriate
  • identify how a return to work may be facilitated if absence is long term, there is an underlying medical condition or other contributing factor
  • in cases of disability related absence, identify and discuss reasonable adjustments

Intermittent short term absence - contributing factors

Some common factors contributing to intermittent absences are:

  • An underlying medical condition that flares up from time to time;
  • Vulnerability to viruses, colds etc;
  • Lack of motivation or interest in job role;
  • Pressure of work, stress or work relationships – which may be external if the person has a second job;
  • Issues related to their personal life or work/life balance
  • A secondary health problem or disability or a deteriorating condition

Understanding the cause of short term intermittent absence is key to identifying the actions needed to improve attendance. Sickness absence should always be considered genuine unless there is evidence to the contrary. If in doubt, you should ask for an explanation.

Absence trigger points and sickness review meetings

Human Resources will notify line managers when an absence trigger point is reached and you will then need to arrange a sickness review meeting.

Informal sickness review meeting:

  • 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; or
  • a pattern of absence that is of concern (e.g. Mondays and/or Fridays or absence following bank holidays).

Formal sickness review meeting:

  • attendance targets have not been met; or
  • there has been no sustained improvement; or
  • self certificated sickness absence has reached 20 working days (pro rata for part time staff) within a 12 month period; or
  • the pattern of absence is a cause of concern.

Once a trigger point has been reached, you should review the sickness absence and discuss the reasons behind the absence with the employee in order to consider what support and actions may be needed with a view to resolving issues.

Preparing for a sickness review meeting

Ensure you have an accurate record of all sickness absence for the past 12 months and that you are aware of:

  • the total number of days absence,
  • how many periods of absence and average length of absences,
  • the reasons for absence
  • notes of any previous meetings
  • details of any improvement targets agreed and whether these have been met
  • is there a pattern of absence eg. sickness just before or after holidays, Monday/Friday absence,
  • is there an underlying medical condition
  • are there other contributing factors

Outcomes of a Sickness Review Meeting:

  • Agreement to seek an occupational health report through HR if appropriate;
  • Agreed improvement targets over a monitoring period of 1-3 months;
  • Agreed review dates during the monitoring period;
  • Confirmation that if attendance remains a concern they will be asked to attend a second formal review meeting;
  • Confirmation of how this situation will be monitored.

The second review meeting is a formal meeting but not a disciplinary meeting. The member of staff should be given 5 days notice and advised of their right to be accompanied. Human Resources should be consulted at this stage.

At the formal review meeting you should make clear what the next actions will be and should confirm that the level of attendance is not acceptable as it does not meet the standards expected by the College.

Unsatisfactory attendance and the disciplinary procedure

If attendance at work is unsatisfactory, through intermittent short term absence where there is no underlying medical condition, persistent absence may be treated as misconduct and will become a disciplinary matter. If the person does have a medical condition but refuses to take positive action or medical advice to help manage this, this may also be a reason for it becoming a disciplinary matter.

If there is an underlying medical condition this becomes a capability issue and the long term sickness capability procedure should be followed.

Long Term Sickness and Capability

Managers should keep in regular contact with staff who are on long term sickness absence (i.e. staff who are absent for 4 weeks or more) and should work with the employee, HR and OH to facilitate a return to work, if this is possible. In some cases, staff may not be capable of returning to work and fulfilling their job role. In such cases, it is important to consider other options in order to retain the employee at work, such as considering reasonable adjustments, flexible working, redeployment or other actions short of dismissal for ill health reasons.

Abuse of the sickness absence policy

If there is clear evidence of abuse of the sickness scheme managers should advise the individual that this will be investigated and may become a disciplinary matter.

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