An Addendum was published which has replaced information in Section 2.3, Section 3.1, Section 3.3, and Section 3.4. Full details can be found in the Addendum.
Falkirk Council aims to maximise attendance and minimise ill-health amongst its employees by promoting Health at Work. It is recognised that attendance of employees at work is crucial for the effective operation of the Council's services. High levels of attendance at work will contribute positively to the provision of quality services. Low levels of attendance, on the other hand, will adversely affect service provision in terms of both quality and performance, and may result in low morale and motivation generally amongst employees.
The Council is committed to implementing a fair and proper means of monitoring sickness absence in accordance with the Equal Opportunities Policy, to ensure that managers can be alerted to problems with service quality and delivery, and to enable them to take appropriate action in a fair and consistent manner whilst remaining responsive to the needs of the employees.
The aims of this Policy are to:
- Promote the health, safety and wellbeing of employees;
- Promote high levels of attendance at work;
- Ensure that managers adopt a fair and consistent approach in the management of absence, taking account of individual circumstances, while seeking to achieve and maintain acceptable standards of attendance;
- Ensure employees are aware of and understand the Council's position on managing sickness absence, and their own responsibilities in reporting sickness absence;
- Ensure that employees are treated in a fair and consistent manner and are encouraged to seek help with any problems they may have which may be the cause of absence from work;
- Ensure that employees suffering from critical or terminal illness are given the necessary consideration and support;
- Provide a framework for monitoring and managing attendance;
- Comply with the legal framework of Employment legislation, Health & Safety directives and legislation, the Equality Act and the Access to Medical Reports Act.
This Policy applies to all employees of Falkirk Council. Reference is made within this policy document to other policies and procedures of the Council, including the Disciplinary Policy, Capability Policy, Rehabilitation and Redeployment Policy, Health & Safety at Work Policy, Health at Work Strategy, Drug and Alcohol Policy and Policy & Procedure for the Management of Stress and Mental Wellbeing.
Managers are expected to:
- Promote the health, safety and wellbeing of all employees, including use of risk assessments to identify and manage hazards impacting on both physical and mental health in the workplace;
- Complete absence management training via OLLE;
- Ensure employees are aware of their responsibilities, and the consequences of not complying;
- Monitor levels of sickness absence for individuals and teams, using appropriate IT systems, and apply triggers where necessary. Regular reports will be submitted to Corporate Management Team to allow this to be monitored on a Service wide basis;
- Fairly and consistently apply procedures to support and manage staff absences, whilst dealing with unauthorised and/or high levels of sickness absence;
- Maintain a positive and preventive approach rather than a punitive approach;
- Be sensitive and supportive to those suffering the effects of ill health;
- Maintain regular communication with employees who are absent on long term sick leave;
- Ensure the consistent abatement of annual leave, where appropriate, for employees on long term sick leave;
- Ensure that all sickness absence is recorded on MyView with relevant certificates either uploaded or passed promptly to Payroll to enable the payment of Sickness Allowance and Statutory Sick Pay;
- Be aware of how the disability provisions of the Equality Act could impact on managing sickness absence.
Employees are expected to:
- Attend work unless unfit to do so;
- Advise their manager of any illness which affects their ability to attend for work or to undertake the duties of their post to a satisfactory level;
- Raise concerns with their manager if they believe that their job is making them ill or contributing to their illness;
- Report sickness absences promptly to their manager and ensure that the appropriate certification is provided, using MyView as appropriate, in accordance with the procedure;
- Maintain contact with their manager during periods of sickness absence and communicate effectively about their sickness absence;
- Co-operate fully with the Occupational Health Unit and other organisations that provide support to the Council and its employees;
- Ensure that medical advice and treatment, where appropriate, is received and followed as quickly as possible in order to facilitate a return to work;
- Ensure that, where required, medical reports are made available to Occupational Health from their GP, as soon as possible:
- Not participate in any extra-mural or sporting activities which may be detrimental to their health or recovery;
- Not abuse the sickness absence procedures or sick pay scheme.
In order to support this policy and its implementation, the following services are available to managers and employees:
- Occupational Health Service: to provide advice and guidance on the impact of ill health on work, and what steps the Council and/or employee may take;
- Physiotherapy assessment and/or treatment where appropriate;
- Employee Assistance Helpline (24-hours a day, 365 days a year) offering counselling and advice on a variety of personal, family or workplace issues.
- Human Resources: to provide support and guidance to managers and employees in dealing with sickness absence and ill health, and in the use of the Council's related policies and procedures (e.g. Health & Safety, Stress, Capability etc.);
- Phased return to work/rehabilitation programmes;
- A range of flexible working arrangements to support the needs of employees in managing their health;
- Permanent and temporary redeployment to assist with return to work.
3.1 Notification and Certification
Managers have direct responsibility for managing sickness absence. It is essential that they are familiar with and fully understand the Council's procedures for reporting, recording and monitoring sickness absence.
Employees also have a responsibility to follow certain procedures to be entitled to Occupational Sickness Allowance and Statutory Sick Pay. Sickness absence and sick pay (both occupational and statutory) are calculated over a seven-day week regardless of the employee's contracted working days.
It is the responsibility of managers to ensure that employees are aware of notification arrangements, as detailed below, and the consequences of non-compliance. This should form part of induction training and any changes to these arrangements should be notified to all relevant employees.
Employee responsibilities for notifying sickness absence:-
- On the first day of absence- employees are required to telephone the appropriate supervisor or manager as early as possible and certainly no later than one hour after normal starting time. Employees who work shifts, job-share or part-time should notify their supervisor or line manager as soon as they become aware that they will be absent from work. They should not wait until their next scheduled work period. Some Services have local procedures such as telephoning a specific contact number for out of hours reporting. Employees should check with their manager if this affects them.
- Employees are expected to telephone their manager personally to report their sickness absence. Sending a text message is not acceptable and only if the employee is physically unable to speak to the manager should a representative (such as husband or wife, partner, relative or friend) be asked to act on behalf of the employee to ensure that the manager is advised promptly of the employee's absence. As soon as the employee is physically capable they should contact their manager direct. If the manager is not available to take the call, arrangements should be made for a nominated person to act as a contact point and for the manager to return the employee's call later. The employee will be expected to provide the reason for the absence and the likely duration of absence to the person who takes their call.
- The employee must stay in regular contact with his/her line manager. If the duration of illness was not specified at the time of the initial call then it is the employee's responsibility to telephone their manager the following day to update them and to keep in touch with the manager thereafter to advise of an expected date of return.
- If the absence continues for more than three calendar days, the employee must contact the line manager again on the 4th day. At this point, the employee should be asked to indicate whether the absence is likely to continue beyond the seventh calendar day. Employees absent for more than seven days should keep in weekly contact with their manager (unless another arrangement is made) and continue to submit medical certificates on the due date. Occupational Sickness Allowance and Statutory Sick Pay may stop if medical certificates are not submitted on time.
- For absences up to seven calendar days, it is expected that a statement of short term sickness absence will be completed on the day the employee returns to work. This should be completed via MyView where possible. In respect of teaching employees it is recognised that national conditions state in section 6.27 that "where the absence period is 4 to 7 days, the employee will complete a self-certification form on return to work". Teaching employees are however, encouraged to complete a statement of short term sickness absence from day one of absence. This enables managers to provide appropriate support for employees such as early referral to Occupational Health or Physiotherapy, as required.
- If the absence is longer than seven calendar days then the employee should complete a sickness absence self certificate (either via MyView or on form sent to them by their manager) and send this to his/her normal operating base along with a Medical Certificate (Doctor’s Statement Form Med3) to cover the period of absence beyond the first seven calendar days/self certification period. The Med3 certificate will state that the employee is either unfit for work, or may be fit for work taking account of advice provided. The advice is likely to cover issues such as: phased return, altered hours, amended duties, and/or workplace adaptations. (See Addendum)
Manager responsibilities regarding notification of sickness absence:-
- Managers must keep in contact with employees who are absent from work;
- If the absence lasts, or is likely to last longer than seven calendar days, then a sickness absence self certificate form must be sent to the employee as soon as possible for them to complete and return;
- Managers must ensure that all sections of the self certificate form are completed prior to submission to Payroll;
- Managers are responsible for ensuring that medical certificates are passed to Payroll promptly upon receipt;
- Managers should advise Payroll of periods of unauthorised absences.
Guidance for Managers on receipt of the Med3 Statement of Fitness for Work
If the Med3 states that the employee is not fit for work:
- You will check that the GP has indicated the expected period of absence [either as (1) a period of time or (2) between specific dates] and whether or not the employee will have to see the GP again before returning to work.
[NB: Any period described in days refers to calendar days not working days. Within the first 6 months of an absence the maximum period a GP can certify at any one time is 3 months.]
- If the GP does not need to see the employee again, you can expect the employee to return to normal duties at the end of the Statement period.
- If the employee feels well enough and asks to return before the end of a "not fit" Statement period, they do not have to return to the GP. However, you should consult the Occupational Health Adviser by telephone or email.
- If the Occupational Health Adviser wishes to see the employee, you should proceed with an Occupational Health Referral in the normal way. You should not allow an employee who has a "not fit" certificate to return to work without Occupational Health approval. If Occupational Health do not authorise a return to work, the employee will still be covered up to the end date of the certificate. The Occupational Health Adviser will confirm any telephone consultation by e-mail [with a copy to HR].
- If the GP needs to see the employee again and then decides that the employee can return to normal duties the GP will not issue a new Statement. GPs no longer issue "signing-off lines". GPs will continue to issue consecutive "not fit" certificates in the case of long-terms sickness.
- If you have any queries, please contact Human Resources.
If the Med3 states that the employee may be fit for work and recommends adjustments for a specific temporary period:
- You will consider the adjustments suggested and contact Occupational Health by telephone or e-mail for guidance. If the Occupational Health Adviser wishes to see the employee, you should proceed with an Occupational Health referral in the normal way.
- If the Occupational Health Adviser confirms temporary adjustments, you should discuss these with the employee and make every effort to accommodate them. Where issues such as manual handling are involved, you should also consider carrying out a risk assessment.
- If the adjustments can be accommodated, then you should arrange for the employee to return to work immediately. In these cases, the period of time given on the Med3 relates to the need for adjustments.
- If it is not possible to accommodate the adjustments, the employee may remain on sick leave up to the end date of the Med3 without obtaining a further certificate. An additional certificate is only required if the employee is unable to return to work at the end of the Med3 period.
- If the GP has recommended an Occupational Health assessment, you should still telephone or e-mail the Occupational Health Adviser for guidance. A referral to Occupational Health will only be required if the Occupational Health Adviser requires to see the employee.
- If the employee feels able and asks to return to full duties before the end of the certificate period, and Occupational Health are in agreement, you may allow the employee to return. If Occupational Health are not in agreement, the employee must remain on restricted duties or on sick leave as appropriate and as advised by Occupational Health.
- If you have concerns at any of the above stages, you should telephone Human Resources.
If you have discussed with Occupational Health and agreed adjustments to enable an employee to return to work and the employee disagrees with your proposal:
- You should discuss the issues with the employee to find out why they feel they cannot return to work.
- You should contact Human Resources for guidance, and you may also wish to contact the Occupational Health Adviser again to discuss any issues raised by the employee.
- If the employee is still reluctant to return to work, you should refer the employee to Occupational Health for an independent assessment of their fitness to return to work with the adjustments you have proposed.
- If Occupational Health consider that the employee is fit to return the employee will be expected to return immediately.
- If Occupational Health consider that the employee is not fit to return, then the employee can continue on sick leave up to the end date on the Med3 without revisiting the GP.
It should be noted that employees returning to work before the end date of the Med3 Statement with Occupational Health approval will be covered by Falkirk Council’s Employers Liability Insurance as it is generally accepted that an employee does not necessarily have to be 100% fit to return to work. However, managers should ensure that they record all actions taken so that they can demonstrate that they have done everything possible to minimise the risk to the employee.
3.1.1 Pregnancy-related sickness absence
The Council has no obligation to provide different sick-pay provision for women who take time off work for reasons related to their pregnancy. However, managers should note that they must not include absences related to pregnancy in any assessment of an employee’s sickness record as this could leave the Council vulnerable to claims of sex discrimination if, for example, a trigger was reached. An employee who is absent due to a pregnancy-related illness during the four week period prior to her due date can be required to start her maternity leave early, and will, where eligible, be entitled to maternity pay and not occupational sick pay or statutory sick pay.
3.1.2 Sickness absence due to Industrial Injury/Disease
Where an employee is absent due to sickness or disablement as a result of an accident or incident arising out of and in the course of employment, which has been investigated and accepted as industrial injury, an Incident Report must be completed as appropriate, by the employee and the manager. The employee will be entitled to payment of Industrial Injury Allowance. This is separate from Occupational Sickness Allowance and does not count against that entitlement. Details of the accident must be entered on the sickness absence self certificate form.
Where an absence is as a result of a disease caused by work, or by any reportable disease, as defined by the HSE, the manager must ensure an Incident Report is completed.
Further information and guidance is available from the Health, Safety and Care Team and the Policy for the Prevention and Management of Infectious Diseases.
Failure to notify that an absence results from an accident or incident at work will result in non-payment of Industrial Injury Allowance, and could jeopardise future claims for Industrial Injury Benefit.
Following any musculoskeletal injury to an employee at work, the manager should make an immediate referral to Occupational Health for physiotherapy assessment/treatment, where appropriate. Equally, where an employee is absent citing work related stress, an immediate referral to Occupational Health should be progressed and reference should be made to the Stress Management and Mental Wellbeing Policy.
Ideally, where possible, a completed stress risk assessment should be forwarded to Occupational Health with this referral.
Further information and guidance can be found in the Corporate Health, Safety and Care Policy and the Corporate Accident/Incident Reporting Policy and Procedure.
3.1.3 Sickness absence during Industrial Action
There is no entitlement to sickness allowance if an employee is off work sick during a stoppage of work at the place of employment due to a trade dispute, unless the employee has not taken part in the trade dispute and has no direct interest in it.
3.1.4 Sickness absence during Disciplinary proceedings
If an employee is suspended from work due to a disciplinary issue being investigated and then becomes ill, the employee will be required to report the absence through the normal procedure as stated previously in the policy. The employee will then be paid as per relevant sick pay provisions. If an employee is absent from work due to illness and then a disciplinary issue comes to light, a meeting will be convened with the employee to explain the situation. If necessary a referral to Occupational Health will be organised to check if the employee is fit to proceed with the disciplinary process. Payroll should be kept advised by the Service so that the employee’s salary is processed correctly. Please seek advice from Human Resources.
3.1.5 Non-compliance with notification and certification procedures
If an employee fails to comply with the sickness absence notification and certification requirements without good reason, the manager may consider this unauthorised absence and, in discussion with Human Resources, it may be appropriate to withhold pay pending an investigation into this matter in line with the Disciplinary Procedures, confirming this in writing to the employee involved. Persistent disregard of the notification procedures may also be dealt with through the Disciplinary Procedures.
3.1.6 Conditions of Service for Teachers and Associated Professionals
Teachers and Associated Professionals will receive pay and leave in accordance with National Conditions in respect of:
- Respiratory Tuberculosis (Clause 13.6) – where a teacher is found to be suffering from respiratory tuberculosis, the teacher shall be entitled to receive full salary for any period up to a maximum of 12 months and half salary for up to a maximum of 6 months thereafter, where the absence is supported by a Med3 certificate; and
- Victims of Crime Violence (Clause 13.2.20) - Where a teacher is absent from work because of an injury in respect of which an award may be made by the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board and the teacher is otherwise qualified to receive sickness allowance, such allowance shall be granted without a requirement to refund any proportion of any sum which the Compensation Board may award. Where such an award is made, the period of absence shall not be treated as sickness absence and will not count against any period of entitlement but should instead be treated as special leave. In the case of an assault occurring in the course of employment, the period of absence will not be treated as sickness absence and shall not count against sick pay entitlement. Any such absence will be treated as special paid leave.
3.2 Managing Short Term Sickness Absence
Short term sickness absence is the most disruptive form of sickness absence to Services, as it is difficult to put alternative arrangements in place to cover the absent employee and ensure service provision. Over a period of time it can affect the morale and performance of other staff, and it is important that it is carefully managed.
Short term absences are normally sporadic and attributable to minor ailments: in most cases these are unconnected. Short term absences can last for up to 7 calendar days and are covered by a self-certificate form.
The key to managing short term absence is ensuring that employees are aware of the standards expected of them, and applying the procedures consistently. The effective use of the Return to Work Interview, the monitoring of trigger levels and the Stage 1 and Stage 2 absence review meetings are vital tools for managing sickness absence.
3.2.1 Return to Work Interview
Return to Work Interviews can be particularly effective for the management of short term, recurrent absences as they enable the manager and employee to meet within hours of an employee returning to work to discuss the reason for absence. However, a Return to Work Interview (RTWI) must be adopted as regular practice for each and every period of sickness absence, to ensure an effective means of reducing absenteeism. Prior to the RTWI managers should review an employee’s sickness absence as per section 3.2.3 to establish if there is a pattern and/or whether a trigger has been reached. The RTWI should (where possible) be completed on the day the employee returns to work and certainly within 72 hours of returning to work. Obviously, if an employee has been absent from work due to a musculoskeletal problem and they carry out a physical job then their RTWI should be completed before they resume normal duties in case any adjustments to working practices need to be made. A RTWI is not about challenging the reason for sickness or disputing that genuine sickness exists. It may be used to provide any information which may assist the employee to improve attendance, while highlighting the importance of good attendance and advising the employee that there is a limit to how much non-productive time the Council can sustain. The RTWI should be informal, always conducted sympathetically and held in private.
The WARM approach is useful to refer to when conducting RTWI’s. Guidance on this approach is on the Return to Work form.
If you have identified that the employee has reached one of the absence triggers this should be discussed and, where appropriate, Stage 1 monitoring should be implemented. It is recognised, however, that in some service areas, the immediate manager/ supervisor responsible for conducting RTWI may not be responsible for the management of absence and in such circumstances, a separate Stage 1 absence review meeting may be appropriate. This should be confirmed to the employee in writing. Stage 1 Absence Guidance can be found in the Employee Absence Management Guidance.
Where the employee is already on Stage 1 monitoring and they have had further absences they should be advised at their RTWI that they may be invited to a Stage 2 absence monitoring meeting and you should seek guidance from Human Resources re how to progress.
3.2.2 Occupational Health Referral
If a possible underlying health problem is indicated, the manager may propose a referral to Occupational Health to seek medical advice. Alternatively if the employee is suffering from a musculoskeletal problem (work-related or not) then the manager may consider referral for physiotherapy assessment/treatment. Equally, where an employee’s absence relates to a mental well being or any stress related illness, an Occupational Health referral should be considered. In such circumstances a stress risk assessment should be completed and ideally submitted with the referral or as soon as possible thereafter. HR should be included in any meeting with the employee to discuss the stress risk assessment.
Full details of occupational health/medical referrals can be found in section 3.3.2.
3.2.3 Applying Trigger Levels
When an employee has been off work due to sickness their manager must look back at their sickness absence record to establish if any of the following trigger levels have been met or exceeded. This should be reviewed prior to the employee returning to work to inform discussion at the RTWI.
The trigger levels are:
- Three absences of any length in three months;
- Four absences of any length in 12 months;
- 10 days or more absence in 12 months;
- Two or more absences equating to more than 15% absence in 2 out of the previous 3 years (this information will be provided by HR).
It is recognised however that there may be circumstances where a Service may want to consider adjusting the trigger levels and this should be done in consultation with Human Resources and appropriate Trade Unions.
An employee whose sickness absence meets or exceeds a trigger level will be reviewed by the manager and this will be discussed at the RTWI or at separate Stage 1 absence review meeting as appropriate. This however, does not necessarily mean that any formal action should be taken or that an immediate referral to Occupational Health is required. The purpose of the trigger is to ensure that the manager reviews the employee's attendance record and provides appropriate support and assistance to the employee to enable them to attend work.
Managers must remember that each employee and his/her absence record is a unique case, and they should look at the circumstances of each period of absence leading up to the trigger, including:
- The reason for each sickness absence and whether there is any connection between them;
- The duration of each sickness absence;
- If any patterns are identified;
- The impact on service delivery/staff morale;
- The % absence and days lost.
Managers should be aware that there are various types of patterns of absence which can emerge when sickness absence is being regularly reviewed, such as before or after weekends, annual leave, public holidays or related to personal problems e.g. caring for dependants. Managers should not assume that this indicates that an absence is not genuine, but should be prepared to discuss this with the employee and try to establish whether a genuine health problem exists.
Patterns may also become evident which may be connected to the working environment, such as several employees in the same area being off with similar complaints. This may indicate problems such as:
- Inefficient lighting, heating and/or ventilation;
- Inadequate training on manual handling;
- Improper workstation setup;
- Low morale, stress.
This list is not exhaustive. Managers should be prepared to investigate any such patterns, check risk assessments, and find ways of alleviating problems. Further guidance is available in the Health & Safety at Work Policy, Policy for the Prevention and Management of Infectious Diseases and the Policy & Procedure for the Management of Stress & Mental Wellbeing.
3.2.4 Monitoring Absence
When an individual’s sickness absence becomes more frequent, and meets or exceeds a trigger level then the line manager should identify this prior to the Return to Work Interview (RTWI) and discuss the triggers reached with the employee during the RTW meeting (RTW form provides a checklist of what should be discussed at this meeting). It is recognised, however, that in some service areas, the immediate manager/ supervisor responsible for conducting RTWI may not be responsible for the management of absence and in such circumstances, a separate Stage 1 absence review meeting may be appropriate.
Managers may apply discretion when applying monitoring as there may be situations where it may not be appropriate e.g. where employee has previously had excellent attendance record, pregnancy related absences, industrial injury, bereavement, disability related absences etc.
This meeting/RTWI should include discussion around the following areas:-
- Reasons for absence.
- What is expected of the employee and how their current high absence level is affecting the rest of the team.
- Referral to Occupational Health if this has not been done previously (or a further referral if a significant time has passed, there are additional concerns, absences relate to a different health condition etc.).
- Where relevant, the employee should be advised that their absence level will be monitored on this informal basis for up to 6 months and if they have any further absences during this period then they may be called into a Stage 2 absence review meeting. (In specific cases it may be appropriate to extend Stage 1 arrangements by a further 2 months rather than moving to the Stage 2 process e.g. industrial injury, bereavement, significant improvement then just 1 day off sick).
- If aspects of the job may be contributing to the sickness absence, then the manager should explore possible solutions with the employee. These could include doing risk assessments to identify problem areas, allowing the employee to work in more flexible ways, or more flexible hours, or changing to part-time for a short period. Contact Occupational Health or Human Resources for advice and guidance on suitable options for consideration.
- If the employee is finding it difficult to cope with the job, because of a lack of skill or knowledge, and this is contributing to the sickness absence, then the manager should look into what skills or knowledge gaps can be addressed by education or training. In these circumstances, managers may consider it more appropriate to follow the Capability Procedure. Human Resources can provide advice on the application of this procedure and options for employee training and development.
After the meeting, the manager should write to the employee confirming all the points discussed and stating that their level of sickness absence will be monitored informally for 6 months, following the Absence Management Guidelines. Managers should note that they do not have to wait until the end of a review period to proceed to the next stage of the monitoring procedure if an employee has further absences.
Following or during the Stage 1 monitoring period, if the employee has failed to achieve or maintain the required attendance levels, the following options are open to the manager at this point:
Progress to the Stage 2 monitoring process under the Council’s Capability Policy.
If satisfied that a return to an acceptable level of attendance is likely within an acceptable period of time, continue to monitor and review under the Stage 1 process, giving the employee an extension to the monitoring period and confirmation of this in writing.
If an underlying health problem has been highlighted or suggested, the manager should arrange a medical referral and continue to monitor and review, under the Stage 1 process initially although the Stage 2 process may be used thereafter where the triggers continue to be met or the employee fails to achieve or maintain required attendance levels.
If there is firm evidence that any sickness absence is not genuine, the manager should advise the employee that the matter will now be dealt with under the Council’s Disciplinary Procedures. In these circumstances, the manager should always seek advice from Human Resources.
If a pattern of Stage 1 or Stage 2 monitoring followed by only short term improvements in attendance emerges, it may be appropriate for the matter to progress directly to Stage 2 absence monitoring, without completing further Stage 1 monitoring periods. It may also be appropriate to proceed to a formal capability hearing.
3.3 Managing Long Term Sickness Absence
Long term sickness absence is considered to be continuous absence in excess of 4 weeks. When dealing with employees on long term sickness absence managers should adopt a sympathetic and understanding approach.
Managers should ensure that they keep in touch with employees when they are off ill for a long period, holding periodic absence review meetings/home visits. These meetings should of course be kept informal and used as a catch up unless the employee has been informed that their absence record is being monitored on a formal basis.(See addendum)
3.3.1 Keeping in touch
This has a number of benefits for both parties:
- It can be used to remind the employee that a doctors certificate is coming to an end;
- The employee can be kept up-to-date with changes in the workplace;
- The employee will not feel that they have been forgotten or are unimportant or being ignored;
- It is an opportunity for the manager to ask the employee whether there are any changes to be considered which would make it easier for the employee to return to work;
- It will provide the manager with the opportunity to discuss when a return to work may be possible (this will help with decisions about any cover that has been put in place for the post).
It is important that the manager maintains regular, informal contact with the employee, by telephone or home visits (if the employee agrees), showing concern for the employee’s welfare. The manager must discuss with the employee the process for keeping in touch and agree how and when this will take place. In any case, once an employee has been off for four weeks, consideration should be given to arranging a home visit with the employee or a meeting in a mutually agreeable location. This may simply be a courtesy visit (and some managers may feel comfortable with making such a visit earlier than four weeks). Even where a home visit is not considered to be practical, appropriate contact must be maintained. Each contact must be handled sensitively, and due consideration must be given to the nature of the employee’s illness. In some cases it may be appropriate to ask the employee if they would prefer that another manager or officer conducts the home visit/ maintains contact.
If the employee wishes representation or support at any meeting or home visit, this must be permitted. However, it should be borne in mind that any suggestion that the employee is entitled to representation is likely to make the employee feel anxious and defensive. It is essential that the employee is not given the impression that this visit represents any kind of formal disciplinary meeting. It is better to maintain the informal approach, and arrange the meeting by telephone rather than by letter, although the meeting should be documented to record discussions.
If the manager does not know the employee personally, he/she should take someone who does know the employee. It is important that the employee feels at ease during the meeting. The manager should read through the employee’s file and be familiar with the relevant information so that the purpose of the visit can be clearly explained to the employee.
If the absence extends to 4 months a further review meeting should be arranged (unless it is deemed appropriate to meet at an earlier date) and if the absence continues meetings should be arranged every 2-3 months to maintain contact and discuss ongoing absence. These meetings should be documented.
3.3.2 Occupational Health/Medical Referrals
The Occupational Health Service is provided by an independent contractor who will provide managers with impartial professional advice to assist in managing employees with health issues which are contributing to their sickness absence record or impacting on their performance at work. The information provided will be limited by rules governing medical confidentiality.
An Occupational Health referral may be made where, e.g.:
- A work related illness is suspected;
- The capability or disciplinary procedures are being implemented as a result of short term persistent absences;
- Advice is needed on fitness for duties after an accident;
- An employee has been absent from work due to sickness for 4 weeks or more;
- An employee is off with depression/anxiety or any stress-related illness. In most mental wellbeing cases immediate referral should be sought. However managers should, where possible, ascertain the cause of the depression, anxiety, stress etc. as this may determine whether a referral to Occupational Health is required or whether some other forms of support would be more appropriate e.g. in short term absence cases where the cause of stress or anxiety is due to bereavement. Consideration should also be given to the stress risk assessment process. Managers should decide the most appropriate course of action;
- The manager has concerns about the absence continuing and feels that an Occupational Health assessment (whether or not the employee has previously attended Occupational Health), would be beneficial for the employee and for managing the absence;
- A long term sickness absence is continuing, and the outcome and likely duration is unclear;
- Advice is needed about any measures that can be put in place to assist the employee to return to work/continue in work;
- Advice is needed about whether the employee is permanently unfit/or could be considered for redeployment.
In other cases, where an absence is lasting longer than expected or is causing concern in other ways, a referral is appropriate, especially where an employee has been off for 4 weeks. Do not wait until an employee goes on half-pay or is out of pay before referring. You can get advice and guidance about whether to refer an employee from Human Resources.
A referral for a physiotherapy assessment may be made for an employee who has a musculoskeletal condition which, e.g.
- Has the potential to deteriorate and result in sickness absence;
- Is affecting the employee’s ability to carry out their full range of normal duties or appears to be aggravated by the employee’s work duties or postures;
- Has resulted in recurring absences for similar reasons;
- Was the result of an injury at work; **Has resulted in a current absence of 5 days or more.
Early referral for employees who experience any musculoskeletal problem can greatly reduce and even prevent sickness absence. Please note that referral for physiotherapy does not require an appointment with the Occupational Health nurse or physician and can be requested direct using the referral form.
Referral process (See OH User Guides )
Managers who wish to refer an employee for an occupational health/medical or physiotherapy assessment should meet with the employee and discuss the referral with them. At this meeting the manager must complete the referral form or at least discuss the content of the referral form on the OH portal. Managers must provide as much background information about the employee’s absence and their job as possible (by enclosing absence records and job description where possible) and should also clearly explain the reason for the referral (e.g. long term absence, physiotherapy assessment etc.) and the advice required from Occupational Health, by indicating on the referral form which questions they wish Occupational Health to comment on and by adding their own questions if necessary. Managers may call HR for advice on completing the referral form. It is good practice to give the employee a copy of the completed referral form as this will be discussed with them by Occupational Health. Information that has not been discussed with the employee should not be included on the referral form. When a referral is being made a manager should give the employee a copy of the Explanatory Notes for Employees which can be found in the Absence Management Guidelines.
The completed referral form should be e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org the first instance, where it will be logged and passed onto Occupational Health. Once the referral is received at the Occupational Health Unit, it will be assessed by the Occupational Health Nurse Adviser, who will write to the employee within one week giving an appointment date and time, either for a physiotherapy session or for an appointment with an Occupational Health Nurse or Physician. A copy of this letter will be sent to the referring manager.
The Occupational Health Nurse or Physician will not normally send for a GP report, if required, until after the employee's first appointment, so that the Occupational Health Nurse or Physician has a full understanding of the case and can ask specific questions of the GP. Where required Occupational Health will get the necessary mandate signed and make a request for a GP report.
Refusal to attend Occupational Health or for GP report to be requested
The Council has the right to insist that the employee attends Occupational Health. Where possible, appointments should be made within an employee’s normal working hours. Occupational Health should be advised of this on the referral form. If the employee refuses to attend Occupational Health, this should be discussed with the employee to clarify the reasons for refusal. If the specific physician or nurse is unacceptable to the employee, Human Resources will make every effort to arrange for the employee to be seen by a mutually acceptable Occupational Health practitioner. However this cannot be guaranteed. If the employee is physically unable to attend an Occupational Health appointment, then a home visit may be arranged if, in the judgement of the Occupational Health practitioner, this is the most appropriate way to obtain information.
If the employee unreasonably persists in not attending, this may have to be dealt with under the Disciplinary Procedures, and managers should contact Human Resources to discuss the way forward.
The employee has the right to refuse permission for the Occupational Health practitioner to approach their GP. However, the manager will then have to take a decision based only on facts/advice already known. This again should be discussed with the employee where necessary. Occupational Health will also explain this to the employee at their appointment. If there is an unreasonable delay in obtaining a medical report from the employee’s GP, the employee should be asked to contact their GP to prompt this directly and it should be explained that, if this is unavailable, management will be required to make a decision based on the facts already known.
Following the employee's appointment a report will be sent by Occupational Health to the manager within one week.
Managers may contact the Occupational Health Unit direct with specific queries about appointments or reports. The Occupational Health Unit is open during office hours, Monday to Friday.
New OH Portal: The Occupational Health Unit
Tel: 03300 084 348
3.3.3 Outcomes of Medical Referrals
The outcomes of a medical referral can potentially be very complex, and the manager should seek advice on handling such long term sickness absence cases from Human Resources, particularly where there may be Equality Act implications. If the report includes inaccurate information the manager should contact Occupational Health and provide facts and updated information where necessary. In complex cases, a case management discussion can be arranged involving Occupational Health, the manager, the employee and HR.
In all other cases, after the referral, the manager should arrange a meeting with the employee to discuss the Occupational Health report. This will normally fall into one of the following categories:
1. Fit to return to work at an agreed date (with or without a temporary period of rehabilitation).
The manager should ensure that the employee agrees with this and discuss the proposed reintroduction to work. If Occupational Health has recommended a temporary period of part-time working, or alternative work, the manager should make every effort to accommodate this advice, if it is operationally possible. Further information on arranging a phased return to work can be found in section 3.3.4.
2. Fit to return to work at an agreed date with modifications or adaptations to the working environment.
The manager must comply with the disability provisions of the Equality Act, which places a responsibility on the Council to make reasonable adjustments to meet the needs of a disabled employee. Reasonable adjustments do not just refer to equipment but can involve changes to working hours or working patterns etc. For further details please see section 3.3.5. Occupational Health will make recommendations on any modifications or adaptations which may assist the employee. These will require to be discussed with the employee and it will be for the manager to assess and agree, in consultation with Human Resources if required, whether they can be practically and reasonably supported.
3. Unfit for the current post, but fit for other duties on a permanent basis.
The manager must discuss the option of redeployment in full with the employee. It is the responsibility of the employing Service to find alternative employment, but options can be explored within other Services. Further information is available in the Rehabilitation and Redeployment Policy. If no suitable alternative employment can be found, or the employee refuses an offer of alternative employment, the manager should check with the Occupational Health physician whether ill-health retiral is an option. If not, and all other options have been ruled out, the manager will have to proceed to a Capability Hearing. Managers should refer to the Capability Procedure and seek advice from HR. (See section 3.5.)
4. Currently unfit for the post, and unlikely to be fit in the foreseeable future but not meeting criteria for Certificate of Permanent Ill Health to release pension.
The manager must balance the impact of the continuing absence on service delivery against the employee’s individual circumstances and decide whether to:
(a) Allow the absence to continue in the hope that the individual will be able to return to work soon;
(b) If the service cannot accommodate the employee’s absence continuing long term proceed to a Capability Hearing. (See section 3.5.)
Where Occupational Health have indicated that they will review the employee’s case in, for example, two months time, managers should note that they do not have to wait until this time has expired to make a decision on an employee’s capability. If there is no clear indication of a return to work or any suggested return is not within a reasonable timescale then the manager can progress with recommending a capability hearing.
5. Permanently unfit
Ill- health retiral (dismissal on capability grounds) is only possible where every effort has been made to find reasonable adjustments, or redeployment opportunities have been examined and ruled out, or where the employee is unfit for all work. There are 2 tiers of ill health retirement options, entitling employees of the pension scheme to either a higher or lower tier of ill health pension provision. In either case, a Certificate of Permanent Ill Health will require to be agreed by an independent physician and, if considered appropriate, Occupational Health will organise this Certificate.
Teachers who are members of the Scottish Public Pensions Agency scheme which has different rules, will have to apply to the SPPA for early release of pension benefits on the grounds of ill health, and the final decision lies with the SPPA, irrespective of the guidance provided by the Council’s Occupational Health Service.
NB: Guidelines for employees who are being dismissed are available in our Policies - Guidance Section. The manager should always provide a copy of these guidelines to any employee who is being dismissed after long term sickness absence.
For any of the above, the manager should seek advice from Human Resources.
3.3.4 Phased Return to Work
Returning to "normal working" after a prolonged period of absence can prove difficult for an employee. When an employee has been off on long-term sick leave and they are ready to come back to work it is essential that their return to work is planned and managed effectively. A phased return to work is recommended for most employees who have been off long-term as it facilitates an early resumption of normal duties, allowing them to re-familiarise themselves with the working environment and their role on a gradual basis. It also, where necessary, allows time for any adaptations to be made.
Occupational Health can advise on a return to work plan, but a manager must consider whether or not the service can accommodate it. A phased return to work is not compulsory nor is it a right and therefore implementation will be at the discretion of the manager. Where possible, however, a phased return to work should be accommodated by the Service. However, if it cannot be accommodated the manager should consider alternative approaches and discuss this with Occupational Health. In all cases the details of the phased return to work plan should be co-ordinated by the manager and agreed with the employee taking into account the views of Occupational Health and the needs of the Service. Where it cannot be accommodated or where any recommendation from Occupational Health cannot be put in place, this should be explained to the employee with the reasons for this provided.
The Phased Return to Work Process is an integral part of the Managing Sickness Absence Policy. In implementing a phased return to work managers should consider the following on a temporary basis:
- Reduced hours;
- Alteration to shift pattern days;
- Restricted/modified duties;
- Buddy system/mentor;
- Temporary relocation/redeployment.
A return to work plan should form a written document which includes the following:
- A programme or timetable showing the days/hours the employee is expected to work and showing the gradual increase back to normal working hours over the period of the phased return;
- The period of the phased return - usually 2-3 weeks, but occasionally up to 6 weeks, and only in exceptional cases longer than 6 weeks;
- Any other issues such as restrictions or modifications to the job role;
- A date to review the plan;
- Details of annual leave and/or special leave used to facilitate the phased return to work. (Managers should therefore calculate how much leave the employee is entitled to and use this towards the phased return – see section 3.4)
The manager will monitor the return to work and will review the employee’s progress as required during the programme and before a return to full normal working arrangements. The manager can contact Occupational Health to request further advice at anytime during the process as necessary. The phased return should be a short-term measure and employees should be encouraged to build up to normal employment within as short a timescale as is reasonable given their medical condition.
Further details are available from Human Resources.
3.3.5 Equality Act
Many illnesses which result in long term sickness absence will require to be considered under the disability provisions of the Equality Act. The Act defines disability as: "a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on a person's ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities".
This definition includes:
- Physical impairment- weakening or adverse change of part of the body caused through illness, by accident or from birth. e.g. blindness, deafness, heart disease, the paralysis of a limb or severe disfigurement. It also includes conditions such as cancer, MS, HIV from the date of diagnosis etc.;
- Mental impairment – this can include learning disabilities and all recognised mental illnesses;
- Substantial – this does not have to be severe, but is more than minor or trivial;
- Long term adverse effect – that has lasted or likely to last more than 12 months;
- A normal day-to-day activity – one that affects one of the following: mobility, manual dexterity, physical co-ordination, continence, ability to lift, carry or otherwise move everyday objects, speech, hearing or eyesight, memory or ability to concentrate, learn or understand, or perception of the risk of physical danger. It does not include the ability to work because no particular form of work is 'normal’ for most people. (Source CIPD and Shaw Trust)
When dealing with cases with disability issues, the Act places a duty on employers to make reasonable adjustments to enable an employee to return to work. This duty requires managers to be flexible, to look at what needs to be done and accept that it may be possible to achieve the right end by different means. Managers are not expected to know all the answers for the best solution for any case, but they are expected to make every effort to find out.
Some examples of reasonable adjustments are:
Making adjustments to premises (e.g. installing electronic door openers, ramps; installing loop systems, visible fire alarms);
- Arranging to modify equipment or acquiring specialised equipment;
- Re-allocating some of the duties;
- Altering employee’s working hours (allow extra flexibility);
- Assigning the employee to a different place of work;
- Giving or arranging special training;
- Providing additional supervision and/or support;
- Providing a reader or interpreter;
- Transferring employee to an alternative post (redeployment).
Occupational Health will provide advice and guidance on the types of adjustments, aids or adaptations required, but it is the manager’s responsibility to consider the appropriateness, and where appropriate, to put such adjustments in place. Managers can suggest alternatives and should discuss them with Occupational Health. Costs of any adjustments will be borne by the Service. External funding to purchase aids or adaptations, or to assist with transport to work, in some cases may be available. Further details are available within the Rehabilitation and Redeployment Policy or from Human Resources. Decisions must be justifiable and reasonable given the size of the Council and must be recorded by the manager for future reference.
3.3.6 Sensitive Illnesses
For any sickness absence that is as a result of a critical or terminal illness, managers must be extremely sensitive and understanding. With cancer or other critical illnesses an employee may be off long term sick or may be able to work between treatment and medical appointments. Managers should keep in regular contact with an employee who is off long term sick with a critical illness just as they would with any other employee with a long term illness.
An employee with a critical illness who is fit enough to be at work must be given support from their line manager. Time off should be granted for specialist treatment and medical appointments, with self-certification used to cover periods of related illness. Where necessary, adjustments to working hours and/or equipment should be made to accommodate effects of the illness and its treatment.
For employees who are on long term sick leave as a result of sensitive illnesses, managers should discuss this with Human Resources in the first instance, to consider whether unpaid special leave would be appropriate and beneficial. Approval for such leave will then require to be sought from the relevant Head of Service.
3.4 Sickness Absence and Annual Leave
Abatement of Leave
For SJC and Craft employees, where an employee has a sickness absence which lasts over three months, annual leave will be limited to an amount pro-rated to the period of actual service given during the year, provided:
- The period of annual leave granted in a full leave year does not fall below the statutory minimum (currently 28 days, which can include public holidays which fall outwith the period of sickness absence), and
- Annual leave which would otherwise have been lost because of the sickness absence may be reinstated if required to facilitate a phased return.
An example of an abatement calculation is as follows:
Full time employee absent from 1st March to 4th July in current leave year. If they have a normal leave entitlement of 33 days, their leave would be abated by the equivalent of 4 months leave i.e. 11 days leaving 22 days leave outstanding to be taken. However, as this outstanding entitlement is less than the statutory minimum, they must receive the statutory minimum of 28 days leave inclusive of public holidays. As such, the manager would be required to deduct from the statutory minimum any days already taken as annual leave (in this case 10 days) and any public holidays they have had or which fall after their return to work (2 days in January, 1 day in September and 2 days in December i.e. 5 days) which would leave 13 days leave to take as leave for the remainder of the year.
If the absence of 3 months of more spans two leave years e.g. November to March, leave entitlement for each year will be limited to an amount pro-rated to the period of actual service given during that year. Carry over leave from one leave year to the next will be limited as outlined below.
For Teachers, where a teacher has a continuous absence of 8 consecutive days or more, the teacher will accrue compensatory leave if the following conditions are met. For each such certified absence, the teacher will accrue compensatory leave of 2 days for every 5 days of designated annual leave which cannot be taken. This is subject to a maximum credit of 8 such days in any one leave year but any such days are not in addition to statutory leave. The entitlement should normally be taken within the school session in which the teacher returns to work (subject to the overriding needs of the Service).
For Education Associated Professionals, where sickness coincides with any period of annual leave, this period should be regarded as sick leave when the appropriate self certificate or medical certificate is submitted. If absent through sickness on public holiday, the Sickness Allowance should be received on that day. A day off in lieu should also be granted to be taken, at the convenience of the Council.
Annual leave for term-time employees is not abated.
Further guidance on the Abatement of Annual Leave is available – How to Abate Annual Leave
Carry Over of Leave Arrangements
Where an employee has been absent for a 12 month period and has therefore been unable to take annual leave during the leave year, they will be entitled to carry over any outstanding leave from a maximum entitlement of 20 days to the following year or be paid in lieu of such holidays if they are dismissed. Where the employee returned to work prior to the end of the relevant leave year and had the opportunity to take outstanding leave, there will be no entitlement to carry over this additional leave. The carry over of leave from one leave year to the next is limited to a maximum of the equivalent of 18 months entitlement.
For Teachers, any leave up to the statutory leave provision which remains untaken at the end of the leave year, shall be carried forward into the next leave year and shall be taken following the employee’s return to work. The timing of this leave shall take account of the needs of the service and should normally be taken in the term in which the return to work takes place or within the following term.
Employees on long term sick leave can apply to take annual leave while they are on sick leave. This period will be treated as annual leave and will interrupt the sickness absence. That being the case, the resumption of sickness absence following the annual leave period will constitute an entirely separate period of sick pay linked only as set out below:
For Occupational Sick Pay (OSP), the period of sickness absence will start afresh with the only link to the previous period being that entitlement to OSP will be reduced by the number of days in the year prior to the new period of absence.
For Statutory Sick Pay (SSP), the period of sickness absence will start afresh with the only link to the previous period being where the new period is less than 56 days (i.e. it is linked for SSP purposes), in which case the entitlement to SSP will be reduced based on the balance of SSP due at the end of the previous period of absence.
Where an employee intends going on holiday during their sick leave or otherwise would normally have requested annual leave as they do not wish to be considered available for work, they are encouraged to contact their line manager to request annual leave. If an employee wishes to apply to take annual leave whilst they are on sick leave then they should write to their line manager with their request. The line manager should then contact Human Resources and the Payroll Manager. Medical certificates should continue to be submitted during this period.
3.5 Capability Dismissals On Ill Health Grounds
The manager should arrange for an informal meeting or formal capability hearing to be convened, as appropriate, as per the Capability Policy in circumstances where:
- the Council's Medical Adviser has advised that an employee's sickness absence is likely to continue long term, or
- the employee is permanently unfit for the post, and all assistance (such as the provision of aids or adaptations, rehabilitation, redeployment, or supported employment) has been ruled out, or
- redeployment has not been ruled out but no suitable post has been found within reasonable timescales (as per the Rehabilitation and Redeployment Policy), or
- there are high levels of short term sickness absence.
Where consideration is being given to dismissing someone on the grounds of capability due to long term ill health managers must ensure that the following steps have been taken (and all documented) before the matter is referred to a hearing:
- Where the employee perceives that work has caused or contributed to the ill health the issue must have been fully explored and documented by the manager, taking reasonable steps to try and address them e.g. for a work related stress absence a Stress Risk Assessment questionnaire should have been completed and processed, followed by a meeting to discuss and a letter issued to confirm discussions.
- A medical report has been obtained in the previous 12 week period.
- There has been discussion with the employee and their representative, where appropriate.
- Where appropriate, alternative employment has been explored.
- Where reasonable, adjustments to the workplace and/or job and hours of work have been considered.
- The possibility of dismissal as a result of capability proceedings has been raised in at least one of the attendance meetings above and has been noted.
- The employee has been made aware of the impact of their absence upon the authority and service.
- All appropriate steps have been taken to comply with the Equality Act.
- Further medical opinion has been sought by from GP/specialists where appropriate.
Guidelines which should be made available to employees being ill-health retired or dismissed after a period of long-term sickness absence are available in our Policies and Guidance .
The Chief Executive and Chief Officers of the Council are responsible for the effective operation of the policy across the Council as a whole and within the various Services respectively. The responsibilities of individual managers and employees are detailed at 2.3 above.
4.2 Monitoring & Review
The Head of People, Technology and Transformation will review this policy as per the agreed Human Resources Policy Review timetable in conjunction with Chief Officers and Trade Unions taking into consideration legislative amendments and best practice advice.
This Policy has been Equality Impact Assessed and no adverse impact has been identified.
In order to support this policy and its implementation, the following services are available to managers and employees:
Long term sickness absence is considered to be continuous absence in excess of 4 weeks. When dealing with employees on long term sickness absence managers should adopt a sympathetic and understanding approach.
Managers should ensure that they keep in touch with employees when they are off ill for a long period, holding periodic absence review meetings/home visits. These meetings should of course be kept informal and used as a catch up unless the employee has been informed that their absence record is being monitored on a formal basis. (See addendum)
Further guidance on the Abatement of Annual Leave is available – How to Abate Annual Leave