1 PROCEDURE FOR MANAGING SICKNESS ABSENCE GUIDANCE FOR MANAGERS
2 2 1 Introduction PROCEDURE FOR MANAGING SICKNESS ABSENCE GUIDANCE FOR MANAGERS CONTENTS 2 Notification/Certification of Sickness Absence 3 Maintaining Contact with Absent Employers 3.1 Normal Contact with Absent Employees 3.2 Home Visits 4 Return to Work Interviews 5 Medical Examinations 6 Long-term Sickness Absence 6.1 General 6.2 Assessment of Sickness Absence 6.3 Initial Absence Meeting 6.4 Medical Referral Long-term Sickness Absence 6.5 Employee Declared Permanently Unfit 6.6 Employee to be Absent for an Undefined Period 6.7 Termination of Employment on the Grounds of Capability due to Ill-health 6.8 Employee Returning to Work 6.9 Phased Return to Full Time Work 7 Short-term Sickness Absence 7.1 General 7.2 Monitoring Sickness Absence 7.3 Counselling Interviews 7.4 Review Periods 7.5 Medical Referral Short-term Sickness Absence 8 Short-term Sickness Absence as a Disciplinary Matter 9 Short-term Sickness Absence as a Capability Matter 9.1 Stage 1 Absence Meeting 9.2 Stage 2 Absence Meeting 9.3 Stage 3 Absence Meeting 9.4 Further Medical Referral 9.5 Termination of Employment due to Persistent Short-term Sickness Absence 9.6 Recurring Absence Following Satisfactory Attendance 10 Alternative Employment 11 Abuse of Sickness Scheme
3 3 List of Appendices Appendix 1 Appendix 2 Flow Chart Summarised Procedure for Managing Sickness Absence Return to Work/Counselling Form
4 4 PROCEDURE FOR MANAGING SICKNESS ABSENCE 1 INTRODUCTION 1.1 The procedure for Managing Sickness Absence sets out the process for dealing with both long-term and short-term sickness absence problems. It is important to emphasise that employees who have such problems must be dealt with in a fair and sympathetic manner. However, the needs of the department must be balanced against those of the individual and it must be recognised that where an employee s level of sickness absence continues to be unacceptable over a period of time then the end result could be dismissal. 1.2 The Council has a responsibility to those employees who attend work regularly and have a very low level of sickness absence from work. Sickness absence puts additional pressure on these employees and this can, over a period of time, have an adverse effect on their health. 1.3 An overview of the Procedure for Managing Sickness Absence is presented in the form of a flow chart at Appendix 1 of this document. This, however, only summarises the Procedure and line managers must follow the more detailed guidance given in the other section(s) of this document when dealing with specific cases to ensure that employees are treated fairly and consistently. 2 NOTIFICATION/CERTIFICATION OF SICKNESS ABSENCE 2.1 Line managers must ensure that all employees are aware of the procedures for notifying and certifying sickness absence in their department. This should be achieved through induction training and by issuing the Council Staff Handbook. 2.2 Where an employee fails to comply with the notification and certification requirements, then he/she should be counselled to reinforce the requirements of the Procedure. 2.3 It is the responsibility of employees to ensure that either they, or someone else acting on their behalf, notify their manager or other specified person at the earliest possible time (normally no later than am) that they are unfit to attend work. 2.4 Where an employee or some other person acting on his/her behalf fails to notify the department on the fourth day of absence he/she has failed to comply with the Sickness Notification and Certification procedures. Unless the employee can provide a satisfactory explanation for not notifying then he/she should not be paid sickness allowance for the day(s) in question and the matter should also be dealt with as misconduct. 2.5 Where an employee fails to submit medical certificates to cover periods of absence beyond seven days then he/she should not be paid sickness allowance for the day(s) in question and the matter should also be dealt with as misconduct. 2.6 In circumstances where employees submit back-dated medical certificates then departments are not entitled to pay the employee for the period during which they failed to certify their absence. The department may, after investigation, withhold sickness allowance for the day(s) in question and deal with the matter as a disciplinary issue. If, however, the employee provides an acceptable reason for submitting back-dated medical certificates then the department should normally authorise retrospective payment for the day(s) in question.
5 5 2.7 Employees should be made aware that during longer periods of sickness absence they are required to make contact with their department at regular intervals as agreed with their manager. This is in addition to the requirement to provide medical certificates to cover the period of absence. 2.8 If an employee intends to return to work before expiry of a doctor s medical certificate then a medical certificate indicating fitness to resume duties will be required. 3 MAINTAINING CONTACT WITH ABSENT EMPLOYEES 3.1 Normal Contact with Absent Employees Line managers are required to maintain regular informal contact with an employee to ensure that both parties are kept up-to-date on developments relating to the employee s sickness absence. Maintaining contact with employees is particularly important in cases of long-term sickness absence. This contact should result in the department being aware of the up-to-date medical condition of the employee and the employee being kept informed of the situation at work and the position of the department with regard to the continued absence In most cases contact with employees will be by telephone and/or letter. However, in cases of long-term sickness absence it is desirable that meetings are arranged between the employee and an appropriate officer within the department to discuss the situation. (See Section 6 below). The fact that an employee is unfit for work does not necessarily mean that he/she is unfit to attend a meeting. Such meetings should be handled with sensitivity taking into account the nature of the illness. 3.2 Home Visits Meetings with employees should normally be held at the employee s normal place of work or, to reduce the travelling requirements on the employee, at a suitable Council office/establishment close to the employee s home. If the employee s medical condition is such that they are unable to attend a meeting at their usual place of work or at another Council establishment then consideration should be given to holding a meeting to take place in the employee s home. Home visits can only be arranged with the agreement of the employee It is imperative to ensure that the officer attending a home visit is known to the employee. Given that the employee is ill it is important that he/she feels at ease during a home visit. If the employee s condition is such that he/she is unfit to receive a home visit it will be necessary to postpone the meeting until he/she is sufficiently recovered It must be emphasised that, when maintaining contact with employees on sickness absence, this is handled sensitively and with due consideration to the nature of the employee s illness With regard to an employee being accompanied at a meeting held in his/her home this is largely a matter for the employee to determine. Therefore, members of the family or friends could be present if the employee so wishes. Where the home visit is part of regular informal contact with an employee aimed at ensuring both parties are kept up-to-date on developments relating to the employee s absence it is neither necessary nor appropriate to provide a right to be accompanied by a trade union representative Where the home visit is to conduct a more formal meeting either under the long-term or persistent short-term sickness headings (eg an Initial Absence Interview) then the right to be accompanied by a trade union official or some other person of their own choice will apply.
6 6 4 RETURN TO WORK INTERVIEWS 4.1 Return to work interviews should be conducted by the employee s immediate line manager. When that manager is not at work, another appropriate officer should conduct this interview in order to ensure that the matter is dealt with promptly. 4.2 Employees returning from a period of sickness absence should report to their line manager to obtain a self-certification form. It is important that department ensure line managers have a supply of self-certification forms and that employees are instructed to obtain these from their line manager. Where an employee works in a dispersed location, and it has been agreed that the employee need not come to the office to complete a self-certification form, line managers should send out a form for completion, with a covering letter. 4.3 Return to work interviews should be essentially an informal discussion between manager and employee and in the vast majority of cases this discussion will be brief, informal and straightforward. The main aims of the interview are to acknowledge the employee s return to work and to facilitate the speedy completion and processing of a self-certification form. A return to work interview should be seen as recognition that an employee s absence has been noticed, and that their manager has a genuine interest in their health. Where an employee works in a dispersed location, or from home, contact may be made by telephone. However, where such an employee is returning to work following a long period of sickness absence, or where the level of absence is causing concern, a meeting will need to be arranged. 4.4 Return to work interviews should be conducted sympathetically and in private. The interview should not take place at an employee s desk or in a location where other employees can overhear. 4.5 In the case of long-term sickness absence, the return to work interview will need to be longer, more comprehensive and more structured. In such cases it will be necessary for the manager to ensure that the employee is brought up to date on their duties and any changes that have happened within the workplace during their absence. It is also important that any outstanding aspects of the employee s sickness absence are discussed and identified and that any problems the employee may raise regarding returning to work are explored and where possible alleviated. 4.6 Similarly in cases of persistent short-term sickness absence, a longer, more comprehensive return to work interview may be necessary to determine whether counselling is required at that stage. If a need for counselling is identified, it should be carried out at a separate meeting specifically convened for that purpose. Return to work interviews, whether brief or more comprehensive, will continue with employees even when they are being dealt with at the later stages of the Procedure for Managing Sickness Absence. 5 MEDICAL EXAMINATIONS 5.1 Where it is necessary for an employee to undergo a medical examination then that employee must, in accordance with the provisions in the appropriate Scheme of Conditions of Service undergo a medical examination by the Council s Occupational Health Adviser. Where an employee does not have a justifiable reason for failing to attend a medical appointment then he/she may be liable to disciplinary action. 5.2 All referrals to the Occupational Health Adviser must be made through Personnel Services who will co-ordinate and advise on the referral procedure. 5.3 Where the medical appointment notified is unsuitable to the employee then it is his/her responsibility to advise Personnel Services of the reason(s) why the date or time is unsuitable.
7 7 5.4 Where an employee is on sick leave and too ill to attend a medical appointment, then an alternative appointment will be made when the health of the employee enables him/her to travel. 5.5 Where the Occupational Health Adviser requires a medical report from an employee s general medical practitioner/hospital consultant in order to make a medical assessment of the individual then the employee will be informed of his/her rights under the Access to Medical Reports Act In general terms the main rights are: to refuse consent to a medical report being supplied having given consent, to have access to a medical report before it is supplied, and to attach a statement to any such report giving the individual s own views on the report. 5.6 Where an employee refuses permission for a medical report or, having had access to the medical report refuses permission for it to be forwarded to the Council, the Occupational Health Adviser will give an opinion based solely on the examination carried out without the benefit of a medical report. Personnel Services will advise departments on the appropriate action once the medical report has been received. 5.7 It is important to emphasise that the role of the Occupational Health Adviser is to provide an up-to-date medical opinion which will allow management to determine the best course of action. The decision on what action should be taken regarding an employee is made by management, not by the Occupational Health Adviser, and should take account of: the operational requirements of the department the contents of the report from the Occupational Health Adviser, and the views of the employee. 5.8 Where in a case of either long-term or persistent short-term sickness absence the Occupational Health Adviser confirms that there is an underlying health problem which accounts for the absences then this must be treated as a capability issue. In such a case the Disciplinary Procedure must not be used. 5.9 In the absence of a specific underlying health problem there is no basis for treating the matter as a capability issue and the employee s unacceptable level of sickness absence should then be regarded as an issue of misconduct. This does not mean that the genuineness of each sickness absence is being challenged but rather that there is no satisfactory explanation for such a level of unrelated sickness absences. 6 LONG-TERM SICKNESS ABSENCE 6.1 General Long-term sickness absence will normally be regarded as a continuous absence from work for health reasons of eight weeks Employees on long-term sickness absence are normally suffering from at least a relatively serious illness and departments should be mindful of this when dealing with these cases. They should be dealt with in a sympathetic manner, regular contact should be maintained with employees and every effort should be made to be open with the employee and to ensure that he/she is aware of the steps being taken regarding their absence.
8 It should be a major aim, in cases of long-term sickness absence to assist the employee, in any reasonable way, to return to work. Departments should therefore make use of provisions such as phased return to work, part-time working, or alternative employment where they can be used to facilitate the return to work It must be recognised that where an employee has been absent for a considerable length of time and there is no likelihood of them returning to work within an acceptable period it is reasonable for departments which have followed this Procedure to dismiss that individual provided that the necessary procedural steps have been followed Each case of long-term sickness absence will have its own characteristics. Each case must be looked at on its own merits taking account of the individual circumstances involved It must be made clear to the employee that as well as being concerned about the operational effect their absence is having, the department is also concerned with the interests of the employee. It is necessary to balance the needs of the department with the needs of the sick employee and the needs of those employees at work who are put under pressure because of the increased workload due a colleague being absent. It is important that the department tackles the problem of the absence as quickly as possible, while acting in a reasonable manner towards the employee who is sick Employees attending formal Absence Meetings during periods of long-term sickness absence should be advised, prior to the meeting taking place, that they may be accompanied by a trade union or other representative if they so wish. 6.2 Assessment of Sickness Absence Whenever a case of long-term sickness absence is identified, the employing department will examine the circumstances to establish: the reason for the sickness absence; the likely duration of the sickness absence; and the impact on the department caused by the continuing sickness absence. The assessment process should be completed by the tenth week of absence When it is considered that the absence may continue for some considerable time or the employing department cannot establish the likely duration of the absence, then an initial Absence Meeting should be arranged with the employee. Such action would be particularly relevant if the employee concerned is a key worker whose absence is causing serious operational difficulties. 6.3 Initial Absence Meeting Where it is necessary to arrange for the Initial Absence Meeting to be held at an employee s home then departments should follow the guidance given in Section 3.2 of this document.
9 The purpose of the Initial Absence Meeting is to consider: the employees current state of health the likely duration of the sickness absence, and the employees expectations concerning his/her future fitness to return to work. It is also an opportunity for the manager to make the employee aware of the operational effect his/her absence is having on the department If during the meeting it is apparent that the employee is either unsure of the duration of the sickness absence or that it is likely to be lengthy then the employee should be advised that a medical examination may be required. It may be unnecessary to refer the employee to the Occupational Health Adviser In all circumstances, the department should write or send a copy of the absence interview form to the employee confirming the details discussed during the meeting and any proposed action. Where the employee states that he/she will be fit to return to work on a specific date, this should be confirmed in the letter and the employee s continuing absence should be monitored to ensure that he/she returns to work on the anticipated date If the employee does not return to work on the expected date and a new medical certificate is not forthcoming a further meeting should be arranged to establish the reasons for this. Following the meeting, the details of the discussion and the proposed action should be confirmed in writing to the employee. 6.4 Medical Referral Long-term Sickness Absence Medical referrals should be arranged through Personnel Services who will assist in completing the relevant documentation Following receipt of the Occupational Health Adviser s report a meeting should be arranged with the employee to advise him/her of the contents of the report. 6.5 Employee Declared Permanently Unfit In the majority of ill-health cases where an employee is found to be permanently unfit to carry out the duties of his/her post the employee will be fully aware before the medical examination that this will be the likely conclusion. Whatever the outcome the manager is required to meet with the employee to: advise him/her of the details of the Occupational Health Adviser s report (through Personnel) obtain and consider the employee s comments on the report and their medical and employment situation consider again, if appropriate, possible alternative employment (See Section 10) where no other option exists, you will advise the employee that a recommendation for termination of employment on the grounds of capability by reason of ill-health is being made to the director of the department The decision to terminate the employment of an employee on the grounds of capability by reason of permanent ill-health will be taken by the director of the department. Where dismissal is the outcome, the director will write to the employee confirming the decision and informing them that they have a right to appeal against the decision.
10 Termination of employment on the grounds of capability by reason of permanent ill-health is with effect from the date of the letter of dismissal. The employee should receive payment in lieu for any outstanding annual leave which fell during the paid period of sickness absence. Pension benefits where applicable will be paid (full details on pension benefits can be obtained from the Payroll Section) If the employee is unwilling to accept the Occupational Health Adviser s opinion or wishes to discuss the situation with their own GP, specialist, etc. the employee should be allowed reasonable time to do this. In these situations the department will defer a final decision on the matter for a short period to allow time for these consultations to take place. Costs of these additional reports will be borne by the employee If following this period the employee provides the department with written confirmation that their GP or specialist disagrees with the Council s Occupational Health Advisers opinion then the Occupational Health Adviser should be allowed to consider this information and re-assess the case. If the Occupational Health Adviser is still of the opinion that the employee is permanently unfit then a third independent opinion should be sought The Occupational Health Adviser will consider this third medical opinion and again re-assess the case. The Occupational Health Adviser will express the opinion either that: a) the employee is permanently unfit to carry out the duties of his/her post, or b) the employee is not permanently unfit to carry out these duties The department will rearrange another meeting with the employee. Where the meeting is to convey outcome a) above, the meeting must be conducted by the director in consultation with Personnel Services. Where the outcome is b) above, the employee will not be declared permanently unfit but is likely to be absent for a considerable length of time. 6.6 Employee to be Absent for an Undefined Period The Occupational Health Adviser s report may state that although the employee is not permanently unfit he/she will either: be absent for a lengthy period of time, or require to be re-examined by the Occupational Health Adviser after a given period of time In both these circumstances the department must assess whether operationally they can accept the employee being absent for a lengthy period. In reaching a conclusion on this matter the department must take into account: the operational problems being caused by the continued absence of the employee the operational need to speedily fill the post on a permanent basis the availability of temporary staff to cover for the absent employee, and the possibility of alternative employment for the employee. A meeting should be arranged with the employee to discuss the matter.
11 It is very unlikely that the operational problems caused by an absence will, at this stage (ie following the Initial Absence Meeting), necessitate an employee being dismissed on the grounds of capability due to ill-health. There are likely to be a number of meetings between the department and the employee before a decision to dismiss is taken These Absence Meetings should be held at regular intervals of between two to three months to review the medical position. During these meetings the following topics should be brought to the attention of, or discussed with, the employee: any updated medical opinion from the Occupational Health Adviser; the prognosis for a return to work; the work situation and any operational difficulties being caused by the continuing absence; depending on the medical condition of the employee and the available medical opinion, the possibility of re-deployment; and the possibility of the continued absence from work resulting in dismissal. The employee should be encouraged to raise any issues regarding his/her sickness absence and medical condition and to express his/her opinion on the likely time scale for recovery If an employee s sickness absence continues then a stage will be reached where it is appropriate to dismiss that employee. It is not possible to give detailed guidance on when dismissal will become appropriate as departments must consider the particular circumstances of each case. Prior to dismissing an employee on long-term sickness absence a department must in conjunction with Personnel Services, obtain an up-to-date medical opinion on the employee concerned. The Procedure requires that a senior manager of the department meets with the employee at this stage. A senior manager will be an officer who has formal delegated powers to dismiss The likely outcome of this latest Occupational Health examination will be either that: the medical condition of the employee has deteriorated to such an extent that he/she is permanently unfit to carry out the duties of his/her post. In such an event the department should follow the guidance in Section 6.5 of this Guidance Note. the employee is fit to return to work. In such an event the department should follow the guidance given in Section 6.8 of this Guidance Note. the absence will continue. In such an event the department should follow the guidance given in Section 6.7 of this Guidance Note. 6.7 Dismissal on the Grounds of Capability due to Ill-health Prior to arranging a meeting with the employee, departments must consult with Personnel Services to discuss the details of the case. At the meeting with the employee, the senior manager should as stated in paragraph of the Procedure: inform the employee of the Occupational Health Adviser s opinion advise the employee that his/her absence can no longer be accommodated and the reason(s) why this is the case, and consider any issues raised or comments expressed by the employee or his/her representative It is particularly important that even at this stage, the manager gives full consideration to any issues raised by the employee.
12 Where the employee disagrees with the Occupational Health Adviser s report and this is supported by his/her General Practitioner then a third medical opinion should be sought. This is dealt with in paragraphs to of this Guidance Note. Where appropriate, alternative employment should also be explored with the employee. Alternative employment is dealt with in Section 10 of this Guidance Where having considered all the available information the manager is of the opinion that the only option is dismissal then the employee should be advised that he/she is to be dismissed on the grounds of capability due to ill-health. This should either be done at the meeting, or if it is necessary to consider in detail issues raised by the employee, at a subsequent meeting Where a decision is taken to dismiss an employee on the grounds of capability due to ill-health the dismissal is with immediate effect ie the date of the meeting and this must be confirmed in writing to the employee within five working days of the meeting. The employee will be entitled to receive payment in lieu of notice as he/she is unfit to work the notice period. The employee should receive payment in lieu for any outstanding annual leave etc Only in exceptional circumstances will the decision be conveyed in writing to the employee without there first being a meeting with the employee to advise him/her of the decision eg hospitalisation, employee refusing to attend a meeting etc. Every effort should be made to meet personally with the employee. 6.8 Employee Returning to Work Having examined an employee the Occupational Health Adviser may consider that he/she is fit to return to work either immediately or in the near future. A meeting should be arranged with the employee to advise him/her of the contents of the Occupational Health Adviser s report and to discuss the expected date and the basis of the return to work. The details of the meeting will be confirmed in writing to the employee. 6.9 Phased Return to Full-time Work In all cases of long-term sickness absence departments should give consideration to the employee returning to full-time working on a phased basis. It may be that the employee, his/her GP or the Occupational Health Adviser has already raised this possibility. Where it is recommended that a phased return to full-time work will be beneficial to an employee this should normally be accommodated by the department on a mutually agreed basis Where the Occupational Health Adviser has not recommended a phased return to full-time working and the department has some concerns that the matter should be re-referred to the Occupational Health Adviser to ensure that no adverse affect on the health of the employee is anticipated The detail of the phased return to work (ie the length of the period before full-time employment is undertaken and the actual working pattern) should be agreed between the department and the employee. The phased return is designed to encourage the employee to build up to full-time employment within as short a time scale as is reasonable given their medical condition. The phased return may take a variety of forms, including: working only on certain days of the week; working a reduced number of hours; and undertaking restricted duties for a period of time though exceptionally, where the employee has acquired a disability, the adjustment may be permanent, subject to a period of review.
13 It is recommended that this period should not normally exceed four weeks. Where it is envisaged that a longer period than four weeks is required to return the employee to full-time employment this should be discussed with Personnel Services prior to agreement being reached with the employee Although the employee will only be working part-time during the period of a phased return to work he/she should normally receive full pay. If, however, the employee s phased return to full-time work is taking substantially longer than originally anticipated his/her fitness for full-time employment may need to be reviewed. At this stage the question of the employee s pay will need to be addressed. This matter should be the subject of discussion with the Personnel Section Where an employee s condition is such that the phased return to work proves too much for them they should advise the department accordingly in addition to consulting further with their own GP. If a more gradual phased return is appropriate, arrangements should be made to adjust the original time table. 7 SHORT TERM SICKNESS ABSENCE 7.1 General It is inevitable that employees will at some stage during their employment be affected by ill-health and be absent from work. Short-term sickness absence only becomes a problem when the incidence of absence within a group of employees is high or a particular individual s level of absence is high Line managers must ensure that short-term sickness absence is dealt with in a consistent manner and that individuals are not seen to be singled out while other individuals with similar levels of sickness absence are ignored. To avoid this the sickness absence records of all employees should be monitored regularly and any problems addressed. 7.2 Monitoring Sickness Absence Sickness absences should be routinely examined at least monthly on a rolling basis. This frequency of sickness absence monitoring will enable line managers to identify and resolve potential problems quickly Line managers should use trigger levels to monitor absence within their Department Areas. The following trigger levels can be used in determining when an employee should be interviewed on an informal basis: When an individual has six weeks medically certified sickness absence in 12 months; or three periods of absence in 3 months from work; or any combination of the above forms of absence on at least three occasions; or unacceptable patters, eg regular Friday or Monday, or any day immediately before/following a bank holiday. These trigger points are used as a general standard across the Council. There is however, no reason why departments cannot set a more stringent trigger level based on reasonable department requirements. Employees whose level of sickness absence, either in total days of sickness absence, or in the number of occasions of sickness absence, goes above the trigger level should be highlighted.
14 Sickness absence reports will highlight individuals whose sickness absence level has reached or is above the trigger level. Line managers should examine in detail the sickness absence records of their employees to establish whether it is necessary to hold a discussion with them at this stage. It is emphasised that it is not necessary to meet with employees purely because they have reached the trigger level. The reasons behind the statistics must be examined prior to any decision being taken to meet with individual employees If it is considered necessary to meet with an employee, the purpose of that meeting should be confined to drawing the employee s attention to his/her level and frequency of absence to date and indicating that it is beginning to cause concern Line managers need not meet with employees who normally have a good attendance record but have been highlighted in a particular month because of a specific injury illness eg a broken limb or a bout of illness due to flu, as it is unlikely that they will go above the trigger level again. 7.3 Counselling Interview When a manager decides that a particular employee s sickness absence record continues to cause concern a counselling interview should be arranged. This measure should be seen as a means of encouraging an improvement in the employee s sickness absence record and not merely a method of applying a form of sanction Counselling interviews should normally be a one-to-one discussion between an employee and his/her manager. During counselling the manager should discuss with the employee the required standards of attendance at work, the employee s level of sickness absence and the reasons for the level of sickness absence. The manager should indicate clearly to the employee the improvement required and should consider other action which might assist the employee to achieve this improvement eg consulting with their GP It is emphasised that counselling is a two-way discussion and the employee s explanations and/or comments should be properly considered and if they are accepted this should be made clear to the employee. It is important that the manager s comments are constructive and that the employee s views are not simply ignored or rejected out-of-hand Although counselling should normally be a one-to-one discussion it may be that an employee will request that he/she be accompanied at a counselling interview by a trade union or other representative. In these circumstances the manager should indicate that, in view of the informal nature of the counselling interview, representation is not necessary. If the employee still wishes to be accompanied, it is recommended that the request be granted but it should be made clear by the manager that he/she wishes to discuss the sickness absence issue directly with the employee and not via the representative At the conclusion of the counselling interview the manager should ensure that the employee understands and, if possible, acknowledges the improvement required and the action, if any, which is to be taken to assist the employee to achieve this improvement. It should also be made clear that his/her sickness absence record will be closely monitored over a given period and reviewed at the end of that period A record of the return to work interview using the Sick Absence Form Appendix 2 should be kept on the employee s personal file. The manager should ensure that they record the date and reason for the counselling interview and should advise the employee accordingly.
15 Review Periods At the counselling interview, a review period will be set during which the employee s attendance level will be closely monitored. Review meetings must take place at intervals of between two and three months during the review period At the review meting, the employee s level of attendance during the review period will be discussed. The outcome of the review meeting and resulting action will be one of the following: Attendance has Improved to a Satisfactory Level The employee will be encouraged to maintain regular attendance and will be advised that their attendance will be subject to routine monitoring on an on-going basis. Attendance has Improved but not to a Satisfactory Level The employee will be advised that although some improvement has occurred, the level of attendance remains unsatisfactory. The manager will discuss with Personnel Services whether there is a need for the employee to be referred to the Occupational Health Adviser. Attendance Level has not Improved or has Deteriorated The employee will be advised that their level of attendance remains unsatisfactory, and depending on the circumstances, it may be more appropriate to set a further review period where the employee s absence has been exacerbated eg as a result of a fractured limb sustained during their original review period. The employee will be referred to the Occupational Health Adviser Departments may, in exceptional circumstances, review an employee s sickness absence record before the two to three month review period is completed. Where an employee s sickness record is so poor in the early part of the review period that even perfect attendance from then until the end of the review period will not make the sickness absence record acceptable then the department should meet with the employee at the earliest opportunity to deal with the situation. 7.5 Medical Referral Short-term Sickness Absence Medical referrals will be made through Personnel Services who will assist in completing the relevant documentation and making the necessary arrangements. The employee should be advised that he/she is required to submit a medical examination and this should be confirmed in writing The most important fact to establish from the referral to the Occupational Health Adviser is whether any underlying health problem is contributing to the employee s level of sickness absence. This will determine whether the short-term sickness absence problem is dealt with as a capability issue or as a conduct issue.
16 Departments are required to provide Personnel Services with the following details on the employee being referred for an occupational health assessment: a detailed account of the employee s sickness absence record including the frequency of sickness absences, any recognisable patterns to the sickness absences (eg Monday, Friday etc) and the reasons for absences; any relevant information obtained from the employee during the return to work interviews and the counselling interview; and a summary of the duties and responsibilities undertaken by the employee, the working environment etc and any other relevant information Where the Occupational Health Adviser states that the sickness absences are not due to any underlying health problem and are not linked then the sickness absences should be dealt with as a conduct issue and the Council s Disciplinary Procedure should be used. This does not mean that the genuineness of each sickness absence is being challenged but rather that there is no satisfactory explanation for such a level of unrelated sickness absences Where the Occupational Health Adviser confirms that there is an underlying health problem which accounts for the absences then this must be treated as a capability issue. In such a case the Disciplinary Procedure must not be used. Where an underlying health problem has been established, a Stage 1 Absence Meeting should be arranged, (see paragraph 9.1). 8 SHORT-TERM SICKNESS ABSENCE AS A DISCIPLINARY MATTER 8.1 Where the earlier counselling stage has been completed and the report from the Occupational Health Adviser states that the sickness absences of an employee are not linked to any underlying health problem, the matter will be progressed in accordance with the Disciplinary Procedure. 8.2 In applying the Disciplinary Procedure, the periods for closely monitoring an employee s short-term sickness absence will be based on the time scales after which disciplinary warnings are normally disregarded. In order to achieve consistency with the approach to controlling short-term sickness absence as a capability matter, the same time scales will be used at Stage 1, 2, and Absence Meetings (see Section 9). 9 SHORT-TERM SICKNESS ABSENCE AS A CAPABILITY MATTER 9.1 Stage 1 Absence Meeting The purposes of the Stage 1 Absence Meeting is to advise the employee of the content of the Occupational Health Adviser s report and to discuss the details of his sickness absence record. The employee should be provided with written details of his/her sickness absence record along with the letter calling him/her to attend the meeting. The employee will also be advised that he/she may be accompanied by a trade union official or some other person of his/her choice It is important that the employee is given the opportunity to express his/her views regarding his/her illness and that any possible methods of responding to the underlying health problem are explored. The line manager should be sympathetic towards the employee s genuine health problem.
17 The points raised by the employee should be noted and considered by the line manager. The line manager should advise that the employee s level of sickness absence is not acceptable in terms of the operational requirements of the department. It should be emphasised that the genuineness of the absence is not being questioned. Although it is recognised that the employee has a genuine underlying health problem he/she should be encouraged to seek further medical advice on methods of controlling the problem thereby enabling him/her to attend work on a more regular basis The employee should also be advised that his/her level of attendance will be closely monitored over a six month period and that regular review meetings will take place at two or three month intervals during that period All the relevant points discussed during the meeting should be confirmed in writing to the employee with a copy to his/her representative if any Where the employee achieves and maintains the necessary level of attendance at work for a period of six months following this meeting, he/she will be informed of this in writing and thereafter normal monitoring procedures will be followed Where the employee has failed to achieve or maintain the necessary attendance level by the end of the monitoring period (or earlier if necessary), a Stage 2 Absence Meeting should be arranged (Section 9.2). 9.2 Stage 2 Absence Meeting Prior to the Stage 2 Absence Meeting taking place the employee should be given details of his/her sickness absence record during the review period The employee s failure to achieve or maintain the necessary attendance level should be discussed at the meeting along with the reasons for absences during the review period. The employee should be allowed to raise any points he/she wishes to discuss regarding his/her medical condition and absences Having considered the points raised by the employee, the line manager should inform the employee that his/her level of sickness absence during the review period has remained unacceptable, that his/her level of attendance will continue to be closely monitored over a further period of nine months and that further, regular review meetings will take place at two or three month intervals. It is considered appropriate that at this stage the employee be advised, for the first time, that if the level of sickness absence continues to remain unacceptable the eventual outcome is likely to be dismissal on the grounds of capability due to ill-health All the relevant points discussed during the meeting should be confirmed in writing to the employee with, where appropriate, a copy to his/her representative Where the employee achieves and maintains the necessary level of attendance at work for a period of nine months following this meeting, he/she will be informed of this in writing and thereafter normal monitoring procedures will be followed Where the employee has failed to achieve or maintain the necessary attendance level by the end of the period (or earlier if necessary), a Stage 3 Absence Meeting should be arranged. (See Section 9.3). 9.3 Stage 3 Absence Meeting A Stage 3 Absence Meeting must be conducted by a senior manager/assistant director.
18 Prior to the Stage 3 Meeting taking place, the employee should be given details of his/her sickness absence record during the review period The employee s failure to achieve or maintain the necessary attendance level should be discussed at the meeting along with the reasons for the absences during the review period. Again the employee should be allowed to raise any points he/she wishes to discuss regarding his/her medical condition and absences Having considered the points raised by the employee the senior manager/assistant director may inform the employee that his/her level of sickness absence during the review period has remained unacceptable. The employee should be reminded of the warning given at the Stage 2 Absence Meeting regarding the consequences of his/her level of sickness absence continuing to be unacceptable and that close monitoring of his/her attendance level will continue for a further review period of twelve months. It should be clearly stated that should the employee continue to fail to achieve and maintain the necessary level of attendance at work then he/she will be dismissed. The employee should also be advised that is it likely that he/she will be referred to the Occupational Health Adviser, prior to the next absence meeting All the relevant points discussed during the meeting should be confirmed in writing to the employee with, where appropriate, a copy to his/her representative Where the employee achieves and maintains the necessary level of attendance at work for a period of twelve months following this meeting, he/she will be informed of this in writing and thereafter normal monitoring procedures will be followed Where the employee has failed to achieve or maintain the necessary attendance level by the end of the review period (or earlier if necessary), the employee should be referred to the Occupational Health Adviser. 9.4 Further Medical Referral It is vital that an employee is medically examined before considering a decision to dismiss the employee. This medical examination undertaken during or at the end of the review period should determine whether the underlying health problem has deteriorated or remained unchanged. Where the condition of the employee has deteriorated the Occupational Health Adviser should also be asked whether he/she is permanently unfit Where the condition has deteriorated to the extent that the employee can be declared permanently unfit then a meeting should be arranged to advise the employee that a recommendation is being made to the director to terminate their employment on the grounds of capability due to permanent ill-health 9.5 Termination of Employment due to Persistent Short-term Sickness Absence Departments must consult with Personnel Services to discuss details of the case and any recommendations made by the Occupational Health Adviser. The employee will be asked to attend a meeting to discuss their level of sickness absence. The employee should receive a minimum of five days notice of this meeting and should also be advised that they can be represented by a trade union or work colleagues.
19 At this meeting the employee will be advised of the content of the Occupational Health Adviser s report and that the department cannot continue to accept their level of sickness absence. You should also make it clear to the employee why their level of attendance is unacceptable. Any issues raised by the employee or their representative should be considered before any decisions or recommendations are made. Where it is concluded that no other option is appropriate, the employee should be informed that a recommendation for termination of employment on the grounds of capability due to ill-health will be made to the director Where the director upholds the recommendation to terminate employment, the decision will be confirmed in writing and will contain the following information. refer to meetings held to discuss the employee s absence; refer to the most recent medical opinion and any earlier relevant medical opinions obtained from the Occupational Health Adviser; state the reason for dismissal; state the effective date of dismissal; indicate that the employee will receive normal pay in respect of his/her notice period; and confirm the employee s right of appeal under the grievance procedure and indicate the date by which notice of appeal should be received The entitlements due to the employee will be the same as those for employees dismissed on the grounds of capability due to ill-health following long-term sickness absence. (See paragraph 6.7.4). 9.6 Recurring Absence Following Satisfactory Attendance Where an employee s sickness absence record becomes unacceptable again following the required period of satisfactory attendance he/she should be interviewed by his/her line manager. The aim of this interview will be to establish the reasons for the employee s sickness absence record becoming unsatisfactory Given that the employee s attendance record has improved to a satisfactory level it would be normal for departments to commence the procedure with a Stage 1 Absence Meeting. If, however, there is a history of these lapses it may be appropriate to commence the procedure at a more advanced stage taking into account the employee s previous sickness absence record. However in such cases line managers should seek advice from Personnel Services. 10 ALTERNATIVE EMPLOYMENT 10.1 Where in cases of either long-term or short-term sickness absence the Occupational Health Adviser recommends that alternative employment be considered then this must be considered fully. The question of alternative employment must be discussed with the employee and their views on the option(s) taken into consideration The onus will be on the employing department to re-deploy the person within that department. Every possibility should be explored and only if this fails should re-deployment to other departments of the Council be pursued through Personnel Services. It must be stressed that there is no obligation to create a post where no suitable vacancy exists.
20 If a suitable vacancy is found the employee should be advised of the duties, terms and conditions attached to the post and an offer of appointment made. It should be emphasised that failure to accept this offer will normally leave no other option than dismissal. It must also be made clear that the employee will be transferred to the post on the terms and conditions of that post and there is no right of protection of the employee s existing terms and conditions The employee must be given reasonable time to consider the offer of alternative employment. If the employee rejects this offer which the department regards as suitable in the circumstances then the employee will be dismissed on the grounds of capability due to ill-health. Where an employee can clearly demonstrate that the alternative post is unsuitable the department should make a further attempt to find another post for the employee Before dismissing an employee the department must meet with the employee to discuss the reason for rejecting the post. The dismissal should be confirmed in writing and the employee advised of their right to appeal against the decision. 11 ABUSE OF SICK ABSENCE SCHEME 11.1 If an abuse of the sick absence scheme is suspected at any point, the matter will be dealt with under the Council s agreed Disciplinary Procedure.
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