SICKNESS ABSENCE MANAGEMENT POLICY. Guidance for managers

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1 SICKNESS ABSENCE MANAGEMENT POLICY Content Policy statement 1. Principles 2. Sickness absence procedure 3. Sick pay 4. Handling absence 5. Frequent short term absences 6. Long term sickness 7. Appeals 8. Effective date 9. Review date 10. Amendment history Issued 06/04/10 Page 1 of 25

2 SICKNESS ABSENCE POLICY Document Control Summary Title Sickness Absence Policy & Procedure Electronic file reference (network or intranet) Status ERMS - Corporate HR/Policy Review 2008 Published Version No. 2.0 Date of this Document 6 th April 2010 Author(s) Megan Olsen, Corporate HR Advisor Amanda Amor, Deputy HR Director Approved by (Names, titles and date) Corporate HR MRC Trade Union Side Next Review Date April 2013 Equality Impact Assessment Completed in Financial implications of This version August 2008 None Issued 06/04/10 Page 2 of 25

3 Management Guidance This document provides additional guidance for managers and Regional/unit HR in the handling of sickness and absence management issues. It includes the MRC s Sickness Absence Management policy and procedure which is contractual. The additional guidance which is shaded in blue is not intended to be legally binding and does not form part of the MRC s Sickness Absence Management policy and procedure. Policy statement The Medical Research Council (MRC) is committed to supporting the health, safety and welfare of its employees and has a range of health and welfare services and structures in place to support this aim. The MRC expects all employees to attend work regularly. Whilst it is recognised that employees will on occasion suffer with ill health which can reduce attendance and performance, it also recognises that such absences can impact upon organisational activities and increase costs. The MRC seeks to ensure a healthy and productive workforce but cannot ignore the effects of absences on operational effectiveness and on work colleagues. To this end, the MRC will monitor sickness absence and its underlying causes across the organisation and investigate whether there are any measures the organisation can take to reduce the impact of any such problems. The overriding aim of the MRC s sickness absence management policy and procedure is to support those employees unable to attend work whilst also monitoring absence levels and therefore costs across the organisation. It is not a manager s role to determine if sickness is genuine or not. This policy instead focuses upon the need to manage the impact of absence and the impact upon work. Managers should work with employees in order to facilitate their return at the earliest opportunity and/or to enable informed decisions to be taken about the employment relationship at appropriate times. The Sickness Absence Management Policy and Procedure (the Sickness Absence Policy) has been agreed with the National Trade Union Side and complies with statutory legislation as well as ACAS best practice. In addition, the MRC s policies are assessed for language accessibility and equality impact. The MRC s operational activities are regularly reviewed with key stakeholders and Trade Unions, which in turn contributes to the further development of the MRC s policies. The Sickness Absence Policy applies to all employees of the MRC. This includes those employed on temporary or fixed term contracts but excludes visiting workers, students or those workers provided by a third party agency. Whether a worker is deemed to be a worker or employee is not always clear under employment legislation. In cases where managers have any doubt as to whether the Sickness Absence Policy should apply, advice should be sought from regional/unit HR. Issued 06/04/10 Page 3 of 25

4 1. Principles 1.1 Employees must adhere to the MRC s notification and certification procedures regarding sickness absence reporting. Managers will be provided with guidance on these policies. In the event that employees do not comply with the notification and certification procedures set out in Section 2.2 of this policy, any absence will be treated as unauthorised and sickness payment will normally not be made. 1.2 The Sickness Absence policy will be applied fairly and consistently within the constraints dictated by the working needs of an employee s area of work. The MRC also accepts that each case of ill health may be different and that personal circumstances will be specific to each individual. 1.3 Both managers and employees have responsibilities to identify and resolve any issues which might impact an employee s ability to attend work. 1.4 In the interests of all concerned, health and absence issues should be identified early and resolved promptly. 1.5 The MRC is committed to supporting the health of its employees. Where appropriate it may seek advice or guidance from its Health and Safety, Occupational Health Advisors, or other medical advisors. 1.6 Where employees qualify, the MRC will provide paid sickness absence, subject to limits. 1.7 Managers will hold a return to work discussion after any period of sickness absence where they consider it appropriate in the circumstances and will maintain regular contact with employees who are absent. 1.8 Upon return to work, managers will discuss with employees their wellbeing in order to assist with the employees return to work, confirm that the employee is fit to return to work and to minimise the likelihood of future absences. 1.9 All health issues will be dealt with in strict confidence The Shared Services Centre (SSC) will maintain records, based on information received from employees and managers, for all periods of absence. This information will be used to monitor absence levels and to indicate areas for action The MRC adopts a proactive approach to managing absence levels across the organisation. Where these exceed trigger levels managers will be required to take appropriate formal action. Trigger levels may vary depending upon the circumstances. However, some examples are set out in Section Employees need to consider the effects of absence upon both their work and their colleagues. Employees must co-operate with their manager, regional/unit HR and Occupational Health Advisor (OHA) where appropriate to ensure instances of sickness absence are avoided and/or minimised if at all possible. Employees may be asked by their manager to attend OHA for review. Section provides further information on referring employees to Occupational Health Regional/Unit HR will provide advice and guidance to managers and employees in the implementation of this procedure and relevant legislation. Issued 06/04/10 Page 4 of 25

5 1.14 Employees have the right to be accompanied by an MRC colleague or represented by a recognised Trade Union representative. 2. Sickness absence procedure 2.1 Reporting sickness absence Employees absent from work due to sickness or injury must follow the MRC s sickness notification and certification procedure. Failure to do so may result in MRC Sick Pay and Statutory Sick Pay being withheld and could potentially lead to the MRC Disciplinary Procedure being invoked. In these circumstances managers must refer to the MRC s Unauthorised / Unplanned Absence policy as there may be additional reporting requirements in that policy to cover this type of absence. Managers should ensure all employees are aware of the local arrangements for notifying sickness absence and confirm the methods of contact. 2.2 Notification and certification procedures Employees must comply with the MRC s general notification and certification procedures outlined in this policy as well as any procedures specific to their locality (the Notification Procedures) On the first day of sickness, the employee should notify his/her immediate manager or nominated deputy usually within one hour of their normal start time and thereafter as agreed, to advise that he/she will not be attending work due to sickness and the likely anticipated duration of the sickness. If the employee is not able to contact his/her manager personally, then the employee should ensure that someone contacts his/her immediate manager or nominated deputy. SSC should be informed of any employee absence as soon as possible. On the first day of absence, the manager (or nominated deputy) should complete the Notification of Sickness Absence form and forward to the SSC to be recorded and placed on the employee s personal file If the absence continues for more than one day the employee must keep his/her immediate manager or nominated person informed of their progress and the date they expect to return to work If the sickness absence continues or is expected to continue for more than seven consecutive calendar days, the employee must obtain a doctor s certificate and send this to his/her manager or nominated deputy as soon as possible. If the employee is unwilling to disclose the nature of illness, doctor s certificates should be sent directly to the regional/unit HR team. It is important that contact between the employee and manager is maintained during periods of absence Employees returning to work after a period of absence will be asked to complete and sign a self certification form (referred to as End of Sickness Absence Form) covering the whole of the period of absence. The form should be completed regardless of the length of their absence and how it is otherwise certificated. It should then be handed to the employee s manager or nominated deputy so that it can be forwarded to SSC to be placed on the employee s personal file. For those wishing to keep the nature of sickness Issued 06/04/10 Page 5 of 25

6 confidential from their manager at this time, they should attach a note to the End of Sickness Absence Form in a sealed envelope marked private, giving the nature of their illness. It is important that the employee provides the MRC with correct information relating to absences The End of Sickness Absence Form can be downloaded from the Shared Service Centre (SSC) section of the Portal. It is important that the manager (or nominated deputy) authorises and forwards the completed End of Sickness Absence form to the SSC in a timely manner to ensure the absence period is accurately recorded. This is especially important where any period of absence has an impact upon pay Weekend (and privilege days) will be included when counting days of sickness absence if they fall during a period of absence but not if they fall at the beginning or end of a period If the absence continues beyond the period covered by the first doctor s certificate, the employee must continue to submit doctors certificates (termed fit note from April 2010) to cover the entire period of absence. It is the employee's responsibility to ensure that a current medical statement covers the whole period of absence A false declaration regarding absence will be treated as a disciplinary offence and will be dealt with under the MRC s Disciplinary policy. Before authorising and signing the Self Certification Form, the manager should confirm the period of sickness absence, any ongoing issues and the employee s view of any likely recurrence Information on Return to Work discussions is available in Section 4 of this policy. Managers will hold return to work discussions with employees after a period of absence. This will ensure both parties are aware of attendance levels and will enable the manager to identify common absence patterns and provide assistance and support at an early stage. Further information is contained under Section 4 of this policy. Managers in receipt of a doctor s certificate (termed fit note from April 2010) must consider any advice given to support an employee s return to work. The fit note will indicate may be fit for work with details of suggest support, which may include a phased return to work, altered hours, amended duties, and/or workplace adaptations. Managers should liaise with HR to establish how this will happen, what support the employee should receive, and how long the support will last. The manager must be sufficiently satisfied that the employee is now fit to return to work and should consider whether a follow-up medical assessment is required. 2.3 Medical appointments Where possible, doctor, hospital, dental, optician or other necessary medical appointments should be arranged outside working hours or at a time which will cause the Issued 06/04/10 Page 6 of 25

7 least disruption to the employee s work and the work of the employee s colleagues, department / unit Where reasonable notices of such appointments are given, leave should be granted Managers have the right to ask for proof of attendance at such appointments. 2.4 Contagious illness Employees who believe that they may have been in contact with or who are known to be carriers of an infectious or contagious disease, illness or virus should advise their manager or if unavailable a person of an equivalent level, as soon as possible, particularly if they are in positions which might jeopardise: a) the health of other MRC employees or anyone work at an MRC establishment; b) the health of animals held within MRC premises; c) the health of third parties with whom they may come into contact with in their MRC capacity; and/or d) the success of MRC projects or experiments The manager should consult an appropriate medical advisor and if necessary a medical examination should be arranged Such employees should not resume work until medical clearance has been given either by the employee s doctor or by a MRC Occupational Health Advisor. If necessary, the advice of regional/unit HR should be sought. 2.5 Health at work Whilst it is recognised that absences impact on a unit s effectiveness, employees do need to be fit and well in order to perform their roles effectively If an employee s health is having an adverse affect on their work, on the health of colleagues or is in any way a cause for management concern, the MRC may require the employee to undergo a medical examination performed by a MRC Occupational Health Advisor or another medical advisor appointed and paid for by the MRC Employees who feel unwell during working hours and have to go home must notify their manager before doing so. Where part days are worked, employees will receive normal pay For the purpose of identifying any patterns of sickness absence, managers should keep a local record of those employees who attend work and subsequently go home due to illness. Issued 06/04/10 Page 7 of 25

8 2.5.5 Every effort must be made to provide support to the employee, advise them of the Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) and other mechanisms. 2.6 Annual leave If an employee falls sick during a period of annual leave, they must comply with the notification procedures Annual leave continues to accrue during paid sick leave. Employees are only able to carry in excess of 10 days holiday entitlement over to the following year if they have been unable, due to their ill health, to take it in the year in which the holiday entitlement relates On termination of employment, employees will be paid in lieu for any annual leave which they have accrued but not taken including the annual leave that they accrued during sick leave. 2.7 Occupational related ill health All work related illness or injury must be reported as soon as possible to the employee s manager Both injuries sustained at work and employee s illness that is potentially work related will be investigated by the local Health and Safety Coordinator, who will provide a report for the regional/unit HR. Where appropriate, individual cases will be referred to Occupational Health. Managers should inform the local Health and Safety Coordinator of such occupation related ill health. 2.8 Accidents at work Employees should report all accidents at work, however minor, to their manager Some serious accidents require immediate notification to the Health and Safety Executive by telephone. Other incidents, including those where the employee s absence following an accident is for more than three days including weekends, must be reported within one week of establishing the cause of the absence. Notifications can be made by telephone, electronically or in paper format. The appropriate forms for injury or disease are generated automatically via the MRC s web based reporting system. This is in compliance with The Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 1995 (RIDDOR) In addition, where: a) an accident results in the employee being absent from work, or b) an employee believes that he/she is suffering from an occupationally related illness, the employee must complete the relevant section of the Self Certificate Form to indicate that their absence was occupationally related. Issued 06/04/10 Page 8 of 25

9 Managers must notify the local Health & Safety Coordinator of all accidents, however minor within 24 hours of an incident. This is because the local Health & Safety Coordinator is required to record such details within 48 hours on the web based accident reporting system. 2.9 Injury benefits scheme The Injury Benefits Scheme provides a guaranteed minimum income to eligible employees in the event of impairment of earnings capacity resulting from injury in the course of duty, or from injury or disease directly or mainly attributable to their employment with the MRC. For further details of the Scheme, see the MRC Early Retirement and Severance Compensation Scheme policy. 3. Sick pay 3.1 Sick pay may comprise of Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) and/or MRC Sick Pay, up to a maximum of the employee s normal basic pay. 3.2 Both MRC Sick Pay and SSP paid during sickness absence are subject to income tax, Class 1 National Insurance contribution deductions and all other lawful deductions from pay such as deduction of pension contributions and Student loan. 3.3 Providing that the correct notification procedures have been followed, payment will normally be made. 3.4 Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) SSP is the minimum level of sick pay employers are obliged to pay to employees who have been off sick for four or more consecutive days. The eligibility requirements are set by statute The level of SSP is determined by statute, as amended by the Secretary of State from time to time, and is related to the employee s average weekly earnings. For example, from 6 April 2009 to 5 April 2010, SSP is SSP is payable for up to 28 weeks in any period of incapacity for work or linked periods of incapacity SSP is normally not paid for the first three days in any period of sickness, unless the employee has been absent on a previous occasion not more than 56 days earlier and had received SSP then, in which case, if the absence is for a further period of at least four days, it may be paid from the first day of absence. The absences are treated as being linked for these purposes SSP will only be paid when employees are ill and where illness prevents the employees from doing any work they are employed to do or that the employer could reasonably expect the employee to do The MRC reserves the right to investigate the reasons for employees absence before making a payment of SSP. Failure of the employee to comply with the notification procedures may also affect their right to receive SSP. Issued 06/04/10 Page 9 of 25

10 3.4.6 If the employee believes that SSP has been withheld incorrectly, the employee may make a claim to the HM Revenue & Custom Disputed Payment team who will consider the matter Employees who are excluded from SSP will continue to be treated in accordance with the MRC s own paid sick leave arrangements Employees who are excluded from or have exhausted SSP payments may be able to claim State Incapacity Benefit (ICB). Payroll should forward a form (SSP1) to relevant employees. However, if any such employee does not receive this form automatically, they should request it from payroll. 3.5 MRC sick pay Under the MRC s sick pay scheme, all eligible employees may receive up to 6 months full pay (inclusive of any SSP entitlement) within a rolling 12 month period of absence. After the six month point is reached, they may receive half pay (inclusive of SSP) for a further six month period. However, once an employee has received MRC Sick Pay (i.e. including six months full and six months half pay) for a cumulative total of 12 months in any period of four years or less, their entitlement to MRC Sick Pay will cease Further sickness absence over and above the maximum limits as detailed in above, may be allowed but will normally be unpaid In exceptional cases, further payment may be made at the lesser of half pay or pension rate (i.e. the amount of pension that the employee would have received had he/she retired on ill health grounds). Such payments will only be made where there is a reasonable prospect that an employee will return to work Periods of unpaid leave (for sickness and/or other reasons) are recorded but do not count in the determination of sick pay Authorised sickness absence is treated as pensionable service under the MRC pension scheme, unless the absence results in nil pay MRC sick pay will not be paid to employees who are on maternity leave. If an employee who is pregnant is absent because of a pregnancy related illness in the four weeks leading up to the expected week of confinement, her maternity leave will commence automatically. 3.6 Third parties If an employee receives compensation from a third party for an injury or illness that has caused the employee to be absent from work, the MRC reserves the right to ask the employee to repay the MRC for the (occupational portion of any) sick pay paid to the employee, (inclusive of SSP) unless the employee is eligible for and entitled to such SSP in which case the employee is only required to repay the difference between SSP and MRC sick pay. Issued 06/04/10 Page 10 of 25

11 4. Handling absence 4.1 Return to work discussions Return to work discussions will be carried out by the employee s immediate supervisor or manager after each instance of sickness or related absence (including annual leave). Where these discussions are held, they should be conducted on the first day of return or as soon as reasonably practicable and normally within one week of the employee s return to work. Return to work discussion enables managers to ascertain whether the employee is fit to return to work, and also where appropriate to draw to the employee s attention their sickness record and to emphasise the importance of regular attendance. Another reason for Return to Work discussions is to establish any need for support. It is an essential element of managing sickness absence and allows time for managers and employees to discuss any support required to minimise further recurrence of absence. Managers must consider advice provided on the doctor s certificate (fit note) which may suggest a number of ways to support an employee back to work, i.e. a phased return to work, altered hours, amended duties, and/or workplace adaptations. A written note of any support or adjustment as a consequence of the Return to Work discussion should be agreed by the employee and manager as part of the sickness absence management process and be forwarded to SSC for retaining on the employee s personal file. HR will support managers when considering the action needed from Return to Work discussions and will provide advice on current legislation, rehabilitation arrangements, and external organisations the MRC seek to use in managing sickness absence (i.e. Access to Work). Occupational Health Advisors can provide advice and guidance on what rehabilitation arrangements are appropriate. This will form part of the medical review of an employee for successful return to work. Sickness absence may have psychological as well as physical aspects to be addressed. It is important to create a sensitive and confidential environment in which employees can discuss sickness absence and any health issues or problems including whether the illness is as a result of a disability. Managers should contact HR for further guidance in managing individual cases The aim of return to work discussions is to offer managers the opportunity to: a) Confirm that the individual feels fit to return to work; b) Confirm that the individual is made aware of any factors affecting their role which may have arisen during their absence; c) Establish the reasons/limitations which may prevent the individual being able to attend work or carry out certain tasks; Issued 06/04/10 Page 11 of 25

12 d) Determine whether the employee is taking any medication that may cause side effects etc; e) Offer help to the employee if needed, for example, Employee Assistance Programme (EAP), the MRC s Occupational Health Advisors or other health facilities; and f) Make the employee aware that a more formal review will be triggered by frequent short term absences and/or long term absences. From gathering the information above, the manager and employee will be able to identify the appropriate and timely support with the intent of reducing future absence and therefore reducing the impact on MRC s business and that of work colleagues. 5. Informal Stage in Reviewing Sickness Absence 5.1 High levels of sickness absence, either due to frequent short term absences or long term absence can have a serious impact on the operational effectiveness and cost of a unit and can also cause pressures on other employees who may have to cover for their absent colleagues. Managers should: a) be aware of sickness levels within their areas and should make every effort to monitor and control sickness absence. b) ensure that full records of absence are maintained so that managers have full and accurate facts on which to act if an individual s sickness record gives cause for concern. c) obtain reports of duration and stated reasons for absence from HRIS. d) analyse these for trends/patterns of absence in respect of an individual and/or groups of individuals. This analysis will help to identify potential issues to explore with individual employees. 5.2 Frequent short term absences For employees with frequent short term absences, managers should monitor the situation carefully and meet with employees to discuss their absence levels and the reasons given for the absences. Managers should look specifically for any pattern of regular absences, or a regular day each week. Frequent short absences could be due to a series of sickness episodes or could be a symptom of unhappiness at work or of other personal problems or may be an indicator of an underlying serious medical condition. It is important that managers speak to employees about their absence levels Managers can speak to employees about their absence levels at any time but examples of levels of absence, which shall trigger a discussion, are as follows: An employee has been absent continuously through ill health for more than two weeks with no indication of a return to work within the next two weeks. Issued 06/04/10 Page 12 of 25

13 An employee s absence due to ill health covers more than 12 working days during the preceding 12 month period. An employee has been absent on five separate occasions in a six month period. An employee has shown deterioration in performance or conduct where there is reason to believe that ill health may be a contributory factor. There are grounds for suspecting the nature of the work/work environment are causative factors in an employee s health. Any discernible pattern of absence is giving cause for concern. Any of these events may warrant the instigation of the formal stage under Section 6 of this policy. In the case of personal or domestic circumstances which may be contributory factors, employees should be made aware of support mechanisms available, such as the Employee Assistance Programme (EAP). In such cases, the period of absence should not automatically be treated as sickness absence. Consideration of alternative provisions such as parental leave should be made. It is essential that persistent absence is dealt with promptly, fairly and consistently in order to show both the employee concerned and other employees that absence is regarded as a serious matter. 5.3 Long term sickness It is the duty of managers to attempt to balance the needs of the MRC with support for an employee who is suffering from long-term sickness The primary aim in dealing with long term absence should be to facilitate an individual s return to work at the earliest reasonable point. Equally, it is important to recognise that in some extreme cases, an employee may ultimately be unable to return to work Within the MRC, long term sickness absence is defined as 20 consecutive working days. Managers should give due consideration to the employee s own opinions on their condition, likely date of return and the work they would feel capable of doing upon return. However, this needs to be balanced against professional medical opinion. 5.4 Medical report If the employee is unable to provide adequate information concerning their absence and/or anticipated return to work or the manager considers it appropriate in the circumstances, the manager will liaise with their local MRC Occupational Health Advisor who will seek written consent from the employee to obtain a written medical report from the employee s General Practitioner (GP) and/or specialist. Under the provisions of the Medical Reports Act (1988), employees may request to see any report provided by their doctor/specialist before it is passed on to the OHA. Refer to MRC s Occupational Health policy (HR7.03, Section 6.5) available on the MRC Portal for further information. Issued 06/04/10 Page 13 of 25

14 5.4.2 The MRC may require the employee to undergo a medical examination performed by an Occupational Health Advisor or a medical advisor appointed and paid for by the MRC and employees authorise the regional/unit HR to have access to any such medical report(s) produced as a result of any examination(s) If employees unreasonably refuse to consent to undergo a medical examination, the MRC may in some circumstances commence the Disciplinary Procedure on the basis that the employee has refused to comply with reasonable requests of the MRC and/or the MRC may have to make such decisions as are necessary about their employment without the benefit of the fullest advice available The objective of the medical report is to provide the manager with appropriate information enabling a decision to be made as to how to proceed Following the receipt of the medical report, it may also be necessary for the employee to visit their local MRC Occupational Health Advisor by way of referral. Requests for referrals to Occupational Health Advisors should be in writing and should include a job description of the role carried out by the employee concerned. They should be specific and should ask for a written report covering: The nature of the illness and why it prevents the employee from doing his/her regular duties. The nature of treatment and possible side affects. An indication of when the employee is likely to be able to return to work. Whether on return there may be a limitation on the duties the employee should undertake and if so the likely period of time. Whether there is anything the MRC can do to help improve the employee s attendance or to help the employee return to work. In particular, consider whether there should be any reasonable adjustments made to the employee s role or way of working that might accommodate the medical condition If the advice received by the MRC is inconclusive, it may be necessary to obtain a second medical opinion All medical reports provided by the MRC s Occupational Health Advisors will be treated in strict confidence. A copy of such medical reports will be given to the employee concerned. 5.5 Considerations Once medical advice is available, managers will consider the next steps which should be taken in light of the medical advice received In considering the advice from Occupational Health ascertained from the medical report, the manager in conjunction with regional/unit HR will review whether any reasonable adjustments are required to work practices, premises and/or equipment. Issued 06/04/10 Page 14 of 25

15 Managers are expected to make any reasonable adjustments to facilitate the employee s attendance at work before taking any steps to terminate employment. Possible adjustments may include: Making adjustments to premises. Reallocating work. Providing training. Providing more supervision. Being more flexible about working hours. Managers should seek advice from regional/unit HR as appropriate Where as a result of a medical condition, following an investigation into and consideration of potential reasonable adjustments to the existing job, an employee is unable to continue in their normal position, advice should be sought from the employee s GP and the Occupational Health Advisor in order to identify the types of duties the individual could undertake that would not endanger the health of the individual or their fellow employees The medical evidence could indicate that an employee has a disability under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 which affects his/her ability to attend work or carry out their duties satisfactorily. Whether or not an employee is disabled can be a complex area and should be considered carefully in discussion with regional/unit HR. Disability related leave Disabled employees as defined under the DDA should be allowed to take time off during working hours and/or agreed periods of leave for rehabilitation, assessment or treatment in connection with their disability. Any such leave depending on the circumstances may be recorded separately from and not be counted in the calculation of sickness absence or trigger levels. Disability leave is distinct from sick leave and includes time when an employee is well but absent from work for a disability related reason. Issued 06/04/10 Page 15 of 25

16 5.6 Review meetings If the medical report indicates that an employee has a specific health condition which affects his/her ability to attend work or carry out their duties satisfactorily, managers should meet with the employee. This meeting should normally be arranged within 10 working days of receipt of such advice from the employee s GP/Specialist and/or Occupational Health Advisor Employees may if they wish be accompanied by an MRC colleague or represented by a recognised Trade Union representative of their choice. If agreed and necessary, the meeting may take place at the employee s home Managers should discuss the next steps with the employee in light of the medical advice received. These discussions should cover: a) The likely timescale for recovery. b) Any practical solutions or reasonable adjustments that might expedite a return to work, for example, or adjustment to working hours, to all or some duties or to the working environment for a specified review period. c) Available job opportunities, where redeployment is approved and appropriate. d) If medical advice states that no adjustments will assist or are possible at this stage, a specified review period could be agreed. Possible work adjustments When looking at facilitating an employee s return to work or at alternative suitable jobs, the following may be useful to consider: A phased or supported return to work, o on a part time basis o on an incremental basis o with practical support (resources/guidance) in the early stages. Modification of work patterns or practices, equipment, management systems, workstations which might assist the employee s access to or confidence in the workplace. Provision or support in any medical interventions, for example physiotherapy or time off for other medical appointments which might alleviate the employee s condition Possible outcomes from such a meeting might be: a) Extension of the review period for a specified time. b) A temporary or permanent workplace adjustment with a further review in a specified time. c) Redeployment to another position more compatible with the employee s health condition. Issued 06/04/10 Page 16 of 25

17 d) A requirement to provide a certificate from the employee s GP for all subsequent sickness absence. It is important that any return to work plans are properly understood and implemented. They should include clear timeframes and be kept under close review If the report indicates that the employee will require assistance in being fully integrated back into work and should for example only be able to initially undertake light duties, the position must be kept under review once the employee returns. It is unlikely that any alternative arrangements to facilitate an employee s short term rehabilitation will exceed three to six months. 5.7 Further reviews Managers should keep the employee s position under review through ongoing discussion, encouragement and support. The employee should be invited to attend regular review meetings At these meetings employees may be accompanied by an MRC colleague or represented by a recognised Trade Union representative The possible outcomes to this and subsequent review meetings might mirror those listed in section or an alternative outcome may be that: no further action is necessary due to sickness absence levels no longer causing concern; or more formal action is required under the Formal procedure of this policy For employees who are unable to work at all, early ill health retirement may be an option. This stage may be reached at any point in the review discussions, provided that the Occupational Health report indicates that a return to work is unlikely in the foreseeable future. 6. Formal Stage in Managing Sickness Absence 6.1 First Formal Review Meeting Where, after informal discussions, there is ongoing cause for concern about an employee s sickness absence record or if due to the circumstances of the absence, a more formal process is deemed appropriate, a formal review meeting should be held with the employee. When considering formal action, Manager must notify their regional/unit HR for advice and guidance throughout the formal procedure. Issued 06/04/10 Page 17 of 25

18 6.1.2 Employees may be accompanied by an MRC colleague or represented by a recognised Trade Union representative. At least five to 10 working days written notice should be given for attendance at the meeting An employee s absence record over the past 12 months should be made available for reference during any return to work/review discussions The aim of these discussions is to: a) Review and discuss previous sickness absence. b) Allow the manager to explain why the level of absence is giving concern. c) Allow the employee to explain the absence(s). d) Seek to ascertain if there are any underlying problems which might be causing the absence. e) Consider and discuss where adjustments can be made to help prevent a recurrence. f) Agree next steps/date for review. Examples of adjustments to working practices include: Allow the employee more time off work than would normally be considered acceptable. Vary the employee s hours of work either temporarily or permanently in order to fit in with medical care. Provide additional rest breaks if the employee s condition means that they tire easily. The manager may consider it appropriate to adjourn the meeting to consider the absence record in light of the responses given by the employee and/or to arrange a medical examination by an MRC Occupational Advisor. At the end of the discussion, the manager should: a) Let the employee know what improvement is required (if any). b) Consider, where appropriate, whether there are any reasonable adjustments which could be made. c) If appropriate, set a review date to ensure the level of improvement is achieved. d) If appropriate, arrange another meeting to discuss the latest results of the medical examination. e) Let the employee know what the consequences will be if they fail to achieve and maintain the required level of improvement, i.e. next stage of the Formal Procedure. f) Summarize the position to the employee. g) Consider issuing an Improvement Notice letter which will also include details of the discussion in the above points and right of appeal. Issued 06/04/10 Page 18 of 25

19 6.1.5 After the discussions, managers will normally issue a First Stage Improvement Notice letter which confirms the main discussion points from the meeting. This should normally be issued within five working days of the meeting and would normally remain on the employee s personal file for a period of 12 months. Managers should also: Confirm in writing the review date. Ensure any follow up action is taken and any agreed assistance given. Monitor the employee s attendance closely Employees have the right of appeal to an Improvement Notice letter at any stage of the formal procedure. Details about the purpose and lodging an appeal are detailed in Section 7 of this policy. 6.2 Second stage review meeting Where concerns about levels of sickness absence persist and a satisfactory level of attendance is not achieved within agreed timeframes, a further, second stage review meeting may be held At a second review meeting the requisite improvement set at the first meeting will be discussed. a. If a satisfactory level of attendance has been achieved, no further steps will be taken under the formal process. The employee should be reminded that the level of attendance must now be sustained and that if there are absences again in the future, the formal process may be reinstated. b. If sickness attendance continues to be unsatisfactory, the points raised in the first review stage will usually be reiterated and a further review period set. Employees may be advised that if standards are not met and maintained during the new review period than the next stage of the formal procedure will be initiated, which could lead to dismissal After the discussion, the manager may issue the employee with a Second Review Stage Improvement Notice letter which will include a summary of the points raised at the meeting, the improvement required, any actions and the associated timescales. This should normally be issued within five working days of the meeting Employees have the right of appeal to an Improvement Notice letter at any stage of the formal procedure. Details about the purpose and lodging of an appeal are detailed in Section 7 of this policy Managers will consider whether it is appropriate to consult OHA and will work with regional/unit HR to ensure this is instigated. Issued 06/04/10 Page 19 of 25

20 6.3 Final stage review meeting At the end of a second review period, a third meeting may be arranged to discuss the requisite improvements set in the second meeting: a) If a satisfactory level of attendance has been achieved, no further steps will be taken under the formal process. The employee should be reminded that the level of attendance must now be sustained and that if there are absences again in the future, the formal process will be reinstated. b) If the absence continues to be unsatisfactory and it is felt that the employee is unlikely to meet the required standard within a reasonable period of time, consideration will be given to progressing to the next stage of the formal procedure, which may lead to dismissal After the discussion, the manager will usually confirm in writing and/or may issue a Final Improvement Notice letter which will include a summary of the points raised, the improvement required, that continuation of sickness absence may lead to dismissal, and the review period. This should normally be issued within five working days of the meeting Employees have the right of appeal to an Improvement Notice letter at any stage of the formal procedure. Details about the purpose and lodging of an appeal are detailed in Section 7 of this policy Managers must seek the advice of their regional/unit HR Managers will consider whether it is appropriate to consult OHA and will work with regional/unit HR to ensure this is instigated. 6.4 Improvement Notice Letters The purpose of giving an Improvement Notice letter to an employee is to ensure that the employee is fully aware of the seriousness of continuing sickness absence and understands the need to achieve a satisfactory level of attendance Where an Improvement Notice letter is being considered, the employee must be advised of this in writing and required to attend a meeting, normally within 10 working days from issue of the letter. The employee may be accompanied by an MRC colleague or represented by a recognised Trade Union representative Where an Improvement Notice letter is given to the employee, the manager should confirm this in writing and inform the employee of their right of appeal A copy of the Improvement Notice letter together with the individual s response will be kept on the personal file but it will be disregarded normally after 12 months, subject to satisfactory attendance and where no further action has been taken within the period Managers will consider whether it is appropriate to consult OHA and will work with regional/unit HR to ensure this is instigated. Issued 06/04/10 Page 20 of 25

21 6.5 Dismissals Before taking a decision to dismiss an employee a Formal meeting must be held. The matter should be referred to the appropriate Director or his/her nominated deputy and regional/unit HR as soon as the seriousness of the event becomes apparent Where sickness absence continues or recurs, further action including termination of employment must be considered Dismissal on the grounds of Ill Health Retirement may be considered, on advice from OHA and always in discussion with the employee In any circumstances, the decision to dismiss will only be taken after a full review of all relevant factors including the context of the whole employment history Managers will have considered consulting with OHA during the formal procedure and must consult with regional/unit HR if dismissal is considered to be appropriate All rehabilitation options must be considered by managers, regional/unit HR and OHA before Ill Health Retirement may be considered. Managers may contact regional/unit HR or OHA to discuss the rehabilitation arrangements and external support available If an employee is considered incapable of performing their job for health reasons, either due to frequent short absences over a long period, or long term absence due to an ongoing illness, it may be appropriate to consider dismissal on the grounds of capability. This would not be a dismissal on disciplinary grounds. The option of dismissal should always be considered very carefully and before any decisions are made there should always be full consultation with the employee, medical investigations and consideration of other remedies and/or of alternative employment opportunities. Such terminations will be either with notice or payment in lieu of notice. Employers are expected to consider whether any alternative suitable work is available before dismissing in long term sickness cases. It is important that such consideration is undertaken properly and where possible alternative employment offered. The employer is not, however, expected to create a special job for the employee concerned, nor to be a medical expert, but to take action on the basis of the medical evidence. Steps must be taken to establish the true medical position. Provided that the employer has taken reasonable steps to secure the employee s cooperation in gathering medical evidence, but has failed to do so, the employer is entitled to take action on the evidence available, even if that falls short of revealing the full medical position. In cases where the Occupational Health advice is that an employee has become permanently incapable of carrying out their duties by reason of permanent ill health, managers should consider recommending ill health early retirement, subject to the MRC s Pension Scheme rules. (See further guidance below). Dismissal or redeployment may also be appropriate in cases where the nature of the illness makes it unsafe for the employee to continue to carry out their duties in their existing role. This could be where it is unsafe for the employee, for other groups of workers or members of the public. Issued 06/04/10 Page 21 of 25

22 Retirements The Trustees of the MRC Pension Scheme are not able to sanction an application for ill health retirement without first receiving an independent medical assessment, using their appointed Medical Advisors. The medical forms required by the Trustees can be found on the portal. An employee s inability to return to work on a permanent basis may become apparent at any stage in the sickness review process. Cases can only be considered by the Trustees that have the recommendation of management and the support of Occupational Health and the medical forms needed for an independent assessment have been completed and submitted to MNPA. 7 Appeals 7.1 Principles All employees have the right to appeal against Improvement Notice letters from any formal review meetings Details of the person to whom the employee should appeal will usually be included in the decision letter. Where such details are not included, they will be provided to the employee upon request Should an employee wish to appeal against a decision to recommend ill health retirement, he/she should lodge this in writing to the Pensions Manager in the first instance who will take forward with the MRC Pension Trustees. For further information on Ill Health Retirements refer to the Pensions Guide available on the Portal Appeals should be lodged in writing within seven working days of the receipt of the decision letter. The letter should indicate the full grounds upon which the appeal is made and whether it applies to the decision or the penalty or both An employee can submit additional evidence or information that he/she considers relevant to the appeal Employees may be accompanied by a MRC colleague or represented by a recognised Trade Union representative. 7.2 Purpose of the appeal The purpose of the appeal is to: a) Determine whether the decision to dismiss or to recommend retirement on ill health grounds was fair and reasonable in all the circumstances. b) Determine whether the formal procedure set out in Section 6 of this policy was followed correctly. Issued 06/04/10 Page 22 of 25

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