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Sickness - Management Guidance

This Guide is only applicable for those staff employed in UCL Australia

1. Introduction

This Guidance supplements the Sickness Absence Policy Australia/sickness_absence.php which covers the following:

  • Sickness absence reporting procedures - the procedure that staff should follow to inform the department that they are sick and unable to attend work
  • Sickness absence recording and monitoring procedures - how information about staff sickness should be collected and monitored; when a medical certificate is required; the arrangements that apply to sickness and annual leave, medical appointments and pregnancy-related illness
  • Referral to the Occupational Health Service (OHS) - information about when you should refer your staff to the OHS and how this can be done
  • Long-term sickness absence - the procedure that you should follow if a member of staff has been absent for 4 weeks or more
  • Repeated short-term absence - the procedure that you should follow if a member of your staff has had 6 episodes of absence in a rolling 12 month period, or more than 12 working days within a rolling 12 month period.

These guidance notes must therefore be read in conjunction with the Sickness Absence Policy

 2. Support Available to Managers

HR Advice

Advice is available from the Human Resources Consultancy Team to assist managers in dealing with specific cases and to assist managers in implementing the Sickness Absence Policy in a fair and consistent way. There are also a range of policies and procedures which you may find helpful to refer to - see Section 9 for further details.

Occupational Health Advice

Professional occupational health and occupational medical advice is available from the OHS through the management referral service (see . Advice can be provided about fitness to work and workplace adjustments that could enable employees with physical or mental impairments to undertake their work effectively. Staff can also refer themselves to the OHS. However, any advice received will remain confidential to the individual, and no feedback will therefore be given to their manager or HR. In addition, your involvement will be necessary should any workplace adjustments be recommended by the OHS. Information about making a referral can be found in the Sickness Absence Policy, Section 5 and in the document Management Referral for Occupational Health Advice, available on the HR web pages, which also provides guidance on completing an Occupational Health Referral Form.

Staff Development and Training

Advice and coaching on the application of the policy is available from HR Consultancy. Local training courses on managing absence or disability awareness may be sourced.

Safety Advice

UCL's Safety Services (see provide safety advice at all levels, safety training to departments, inspections and monitoring, risk assessment, and assistance in devising and implementing safety management systems. If a member of staff has an injury or accident at work, a UCL Accident or Incident Form must be completed and returned to the Safety Advisory Service. Referral to the OHS must be made if there is any concern about the impact of the injury or accident on the employee's ability to work.

3. Managing Sickness Absence Checklist

All managers are required to do the following:

  • Ensure there is a local system in place to record and monitor sickness absence, and that you comply with it
  • Arrange for sickness absence training to be given to managers within your team
  • Apply the Sickness Absence Policy consistently and fairly to all staff
  • Advise staff of UCL's Sickness Absence Policy, clearly stating their responsibilities regarding sickness absence
  • Ensure that all staff are inducted in the health and safety requirements of their job, and that risk assessments have been undertaken where necessary
  • Ensure that all staff know the accident/injury reporting system, and ensure that you investigate all accidents under this procedure
  • Conduct return to work interviews with all staff on the day they return to work following each episode of sickness absence (further guidance is given in Section 5 below)
  • Discuss any problems at an early stage, offering support and advice where necessary
  • Maintain reasonable contact with employees when they are absent for an extended period of time to reduce feelings of isolation, to keep them in touch with major developments in the workplace and to remain informed about the likely duration of their absence; ensure that you do not have detailed discussions with absent employees regarding work-related issues
  • Refer the employee to the OHS, in consultation with your contact in the HR Consultancy Team, when advice is required on fitness to work and workplace adjustments that could enable employees with physical or mental impairments to undertake their work effectively, or when their period of absence reaches four weeks. Ensure proper consideration is given to the advice obtained when making any decisions regarding the employee and that staff are fully informed and consulted about this advice

4. Preventative Measures

It is generally accepted that motivated staff have lower sickness absence levels than those who are not. Motivation can be enhanced by:

  • Involving and listening to staff in the planning and delivery of services, layout of the workplace etc.
  • Clarifying and recognising the role and contribution individuals make to the service
  • Ensuring a conducive and healthy working environment
  • Giving staff responsibility, authority and accountability within a defined framework
  • Ensuring all members of staff are treated equally and with respect, in accordance with UCL's Equal Opportunity Policy Statement
  • Taking the time to get to know your staff and treating them as individuals
  • Ensuring that regular feedback is given on performance, that good performance is recognised and poor performance addressed in a constructive way
  • Having a clear and explicit set of expectations which are known and understood by everyone
  • Developing a common standards and values base
  • Keeping your staff informed of issues which may affect them
  • Demonstrate genuine interest in your staff - if you are not interested in them, why should they be interested in UCL?
  • Being aware and recognising sympathetically the problems faced by staff in their daily work, and understanding how problems at home may have an impact at work

5. Conducting Return to Work Interviews

When a member of staff returns to work after sickness absence, you should arrange an interview with him/her on their first day back or as soon as possible thereafter. Managers will need to make a judgement on a case by case basis as to the detail discussed and length of these meetings. It is anticipated that the vast majority of these meetings will be very brief and informal. However, research has proved that where regular return to work interviews are undertaken sickness absence levels are reduced.  

The purpose of the interview

  • To give you, as the manager, the opportunity to check that the member of staff is fit enough to return to work. Where there is any doubt, you should ask them to return home and then refer them to the OHS.
  • To allow you to express a proper interest in the member of staff's welfare
  • To give the member of staff an opportunity to voice any concerns that he or she may have, and to identify any domestic, welfare or work related problems in an appropriate forum
  • To discuss the need for referral to the OHS
  • To allow you to ensure that the member of staff knows that they have been missed and to update them on events that have occurred in their absence.

Preparing for the interview

Prior to the interview, you should gather all relevant information regarding his or her absence record including:

  • Information on whether the employee has complied with the procedures
  • Information on previous absence patterns e.g. are the absence's regular or erratic? Does the absence precede or follow annual leave? In which part of the week do the absences occur? What is the average length of each episode of absence?
  • Information on the reasons given for the current and previous episodes of absence, and details of any action taken by the employee
  • Information on how the absence record compares with that of colleagues, as if sickness levels indicate a number of staff in the same area have high levels of absence, their working environment, working conditions and arrangements for work may need to be reviewed to seek improved attendance levels.

Conducting the interview

During the interview, ensure that you give the member of staff every opportunity to discuss any concerns they may have with regard to their absence. Do not be judgemental, confrontational, become over-involved, make assumptions, or attempt to give any advice which you are not qualified to give (e.g. counselling).
You may find the following structure helpful:

I. Welcome back

Begin the interview by welcoming back the member of staff and letting them know that they have been missed. Explain the purpose of the interview, and make it clear that it is routine to conduct a return to work interview with all staff who are absent due to sickness, and after every episode of absence.

II. Enquire about health

You need to gain the following information:

  • Whether the member of staff is fit enough to resume their duties
  • Whether the absence was work-related
  • What steps the member of staff has taken towards their recovery e.g. seeking medical advice
  • What preventative measures they are taking to reduce the likelihood of such absence occurring in the future

These areas should be explored in a concerned and sympathetic manner. The best way to do this is by active listening, that is by listening to what the person has to say and by not challenging them at this early stage of the interview.

III. Consequences of absence

Brief the employee on how their work was covered during their absence to emphasise the consequences of their absence and to enable them to take over their work again.

IV. Future action

In cases of repeated short-term absence, you should explain that continued periods of absence could lead to formal action being instigated. In all cases, you should summarise any action that you have agreed should take place e.g. referral to the OHS, changes to working arrangements etc. It is important that there is agreement over what action is to be taken, clarity over responsibility for these actions, and clearly specified arrangements for any review of these actions.

6. Setting Targets for Improvement in Sickness Absence Levels

In order to control levels of absence in the workplace, managers need to make clear to staff what level is deemed to be 'unacceptable' at UCL and set appropriate targets when following the Sickness Absence Policy. It is important to ensure that these are set taking the individual circumstances of the employee into account. Factors to consider are:

  • Does the employee have an underlying medical condition or disability?
  • Has any advice been received from the OHS which needs to be implemented?
  • Are there any reasonable workplace adjustments which need to be put in place before improvements in attendance can be expected?
  • Is the absence related to an injury or accident at work?
  • Is the absence related to pregnancy?

7. Managing an employee's return to work following long-term sickness absence

As soon as it becomes clear that a member of staff is well enough to consider returning to work, the manager should start to consider what assistance the individual might require. Most individuals return to work after illness without needing any special adjustments to be made to their working arrangements. However, some individuals who are either returning following a period of extended sick leave, have been absent with a disability-related illness (see Section 8 below for further details), or who suffer from a progressive illness that affects their health in the workplace, may need particular arrangements to be made.

In general terms, a rehabilitation programme may be helpful where an employee is well enough to do some of their work, but may need additional time to recover completely and will be able to return to their normal working pattern within a prescribed period of time. The following circumstances could mean that special arrangements will need to be made to assist the individual to return to work:

  1. They have been absent for 4 weeks or more
  2. They have been suffering from serious, long-term physical or mental ill health
  3. They have a new disability or a new physical or mental impairment
  4. They have had surgery or a long stay in hospital
  5. They will continue to need treatment for their illness following their return to work

If a rehabilitation programme will assist a member of your staff, you should make a referral to the OHS, in consultation with the Human Resources Consultancy Team.
The individual must always be consulted on any proposed arrangements or adjustments. Although the OHS will have discussed these with them, you should consult the individual before the arrangements are finalised and implemented to ensure that the needs of the individual are balanced with the operational needs of the department. It is essential that everyone involved in the process has a common understanding of what is going to happen, when and whose responsibility it is.
The OHS may recommend a temporary adjustment to hours of work. Where hours are reduced as part of a rehabilitation programme, this would normally be on full pay for a limited period of up to four weeks. If the normal hours of work are reduced over a longer period, a corresponding reduction in salary is likely to result. However, the individual circumstances of the case will be taken into account.

8. Additional guidance on managing staff with disabilities

Disability is defined in the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 includes:

  • Physical
  • Intellectual
  • Psychiatric
  • Sensory
  • Neurological, and
  • Learning disabilities, as well as
  • Physical disfigurement, and
  • The presence in the body of disease-causing organisms.

This broad definition is meant to ensure that everyone with a disability is protected.

The DDA covers a disability which people:

  • Have now,
  • Had in the past (for example: a past episode of mental illness),
  • May have in the future (eg: a family history of a disability which a person may also develop),
  • Are believed to have (for example: if people think someone has AIDS).

All staff experiencing disability-related sickness absence will be managed in accordance with the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 guidance from the Australian Human Rights Commission . This means that UCL will try to make workplace adjustments to enable staff to continue working.

Advice on what type of adjustments would make a significant difference to the individual's attendance levels or ability to continue working should be sought from the OHS, in conjunction with the HR Consultancy Team. It is for the manager to then decide in consultation with the HR Consultancy Team, whether the adjustments recommended by the OHS are reasonable to implement within that particular workplace and if not, whether there is an alternative role within the department or UCL.

Equal Opportunities Co-ordinator

Advice on general issues which apply to staff with disabilities (e.g. information on the types of aids and adaptations generally available, can be obtained by contacting the Equal Opportunities Co-ordinator ( see

9. Other Policies, Procedures and Guidance

Managers must ensure that are aware of the full range of HR policies, procedures and guidance which may be relevant in managing sickness absence, and apply these where appropriate with guidance from the HR Consultancy Team where necessary. These are:

  • Policy on Alcohol and Substance Misuse: where it is established that an attendance problem may be related to alcohol dependency or dependency to another substance(s), this policy should be used in conjunction with these procedures:

  • Managing Stress at Work: this establishes guidelines for managers and encourages staff who are experiencing stress to seek assistance and receive the advice and support they need when they need it:

  • Policy on Leave for Personal and Domestic Reasons: this should be referred to where absence is due to a personal or domestic reason, or for information relating to medical appointments: Australia/leave_domestic_personal.php

  • Work Life Balance: this policy provides guidelines on how all staff, not only parents, can request a change to their working arrangements, on a permanent basis, to enable them to achieve an effective balance between work and life outside the workplace:

These documents may also be obtained from the HR Division in printed form.