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Sickness - Management Guidance
This Guidance supplements the Sickness Absence Policy http://www.ucl.ac.uk/hr/docs/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 Statement of Fitness for Work (Fit Note) is required; the arrangements that apply to sickness and annual leave, medical appointments and pregnancy-related illness
- Referral to the UCL 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
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. Your contact in the Team can be found on the HR web pages at http://www.ucl.ac.uk/hr/staff/hr_staff_contacts.php . There are also a range of policies and procedures which you may find helpful to refer to - see Section 10 for further details.
Occupational Health Advice
Professional occupational health and occupational medical advice is available from the OHS through the management referral process. 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. 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
Management training on the Sickness Absence Policy is available on a departmental level by request by contacting the Human Resources Consultancy Team. The session offers practical advice on implementing the Policy and gives managers the opportunity to explore ways of dealing with a variety of cases. Disability Awareness Training and courses on specific conditions e.g. sight or hearing impairment, is also available to all managers. Details of all courses offered are available on the Organisational and Staff Development website.
UCL's Safety Services (see http://www.ucl.ac.uk/efd/safety_services_www ) 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 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 all sickness absence is recorded on MyView. If the employee does not wish to reveal the exact nature of the illness s/he must indicate broadly the cause of the absence. If they are not willing to disclose this, the nature of the illness should be described as personal and recorded on MyView under the category 'Unknown causes / Not specified'.
- Arrange with the Human Resources Consultancy Team for sickness absence training to be given to managers and supervisors 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
- Take into consideration any suggestions on adjustments to work contained in the Statement of Fitness for Work (Fit Note), to assist staff in returning to work
- 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 employees 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 advice is required on rehabilitating staff to work who have been absent. 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.
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 absences 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 feels fit enough to resume their duties. If the employee has been off for more than 7 calendar days they will have a Statement of Fitness for Work (Fit Note) issued by their GP and the content should be discussed with the employee during the interview, including any suggestions for potential adjustments. See Appendix A and Appendix B
- 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.
It is possible that, during the return to work meeting, in addition to the content of the Fit Note, the staff member discloses medical information about an underlying health issue that could affect their ability to do their job. As above, you should seek advice from Occupational Heath about potential adjustments. (See Section 9 for more information).
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. The fit note may provide suggestions/advice from the GP which should be considered. Further work related advice may also need to be sought from OHS. Most individuals return to work after illness without needing any special adjustments to be made to their working arrangements. However, some individuals who have been absent with a condition that impacts on their functional capacity to carry out a particular aspect of their work, or are 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.
It may also be appropriate to refer an individual to OHS where the fit note states 'not fit for work', especially if there are musculoskeletal or mental health problems. Early intervention by OHS can aid the speed of recovery and assist in planning a return to work, even if the person is not yet fit to return.
In general terms, a rehabilitation programme may be helpful where an employee is well enough to do some of their work as indicated by a 'may be fit for work' fit note, but may need adjustments to work to help them 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:
- They have been absent with a condition that impacts on their capacity to undertake particular work activities
- They have been suffering from serious, long-term physical or mental ill health
- They have a new disability (a new physical or mental impairment – see Section 9 for a full definition)
- They have had surgery or a long stay in hospital
- 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 Managing holiday for employees on long-term sickness absence
The following applies to employees with long term sickness of four continuous weeks or more. It should be read in conjunction with sections 10 - 13 of the Annual Leave policy. Reference to the Sickness and Annual Leave FAQs may also be useful.
Calculating holiday entitlement
If an employee has been on sickness absence for all of a leave year s/he will receive 28 days holiday (pro-rata for part time employees) because this is the statutory minimum holiday entitlement inclusive of bank holidays. Managers must request the extra 1 day (pro-rata for part time staff) holiday entitlement for the employee in MyView. If the employee has been on long term sickness absence for part of the leave year, there will be no requirement to amend the holiday entitlement.
Processing holiday requests during sick absence
Where an employee provides reasonable notice for a holiday request during sickness absence, managers must arrange payment for holiday by contacting the local HR Consultancy contact.
The MyView record will continue to show the employee on sickness absence.
Managing untaken holiday entitlement during sickness absence
Where an employee decides not to take holiday during sickness absence, the annual leave policy allows for untaken holiday to be carried to the next and subsequent leave years if the employee remains on sickness absence. Taking into account any occupational health advice on managing the return to work, consideration may be given to the employee taking the accrued holiday immediately prior to his/ her return to work.
9 Additional guidance on managing staff with disabilities
Disability is defined in the Equality Act 2010 as a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on a person's ability to carry out normal day to day activities, which would include things like using a telephone, reading a book or using public transport.
All staff experiencing disability-related sickness absence will be managed in accordance with the Equality Act 2010 and related Codes of Practice. This means that UCL will try to make reasonable adjustments to enable staff to continue working.
Where staff are returning to work after a long period of illness or where the reasons for ill health recur over a period of time, the underlying illness may be due to a disability under the definition above. Staff may be concerned about disclosing a long-term illness that may be classified as a disability. Managers are advised to seek an OHS referral where either the staff member discloses a long term medical condition or where they have a reason to believe that the sickness absence relates to an underlying disability.
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 .
Access to Work Programme
A member of your staff who becomes disabled under the criteria of the Equality Act 2010 may be eligible for a grant from the 'Access to Work' Scheme. This is a programme run by the Department of Work and Pensions to provide support to disabled people to help them overcome work related obstacles resulting from their disability. The disabled employee has to make contact with the Access to Work scheme to access a variety of practical help such as aids for communication, special equipment, alterations to premises or the working environment, and assistance with travel where a disabled person is unable to use public transport. In the case of special equipment being needed, once Access to Work has agreed funding, the onus is on the department to purchase the equipment and then claim the cost back. Further details, including eligibility criteria and the application procedure can be found in the document Access to Work (see section 10 for further details).
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 and how to apply to the Access to Work Scheme), can be obtained by contacting the Equal Opportunities Co-ordinator http://www.ucl.ac.uk/hr/docs/equal_opportunity.php
10 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:
- Employee Guidance on Sickness Absence: this document supplements the Sickness Absence Policy and provides additional guidance for staff in relation to the management of sickness absence at UCL, and the support available to them:
- The Policy on Disability in Employment: this provides guidance to managers and staff on employment issues, other than sickness absence, affecting disabled members of staff:
- Access to Work: if you have a member of staff who has a disability, they may be eligible for a grant from the Access to Work Scheme; full details are provided in this document:
- 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:
- Flexible Working to Care for Children: the purpose of this document is to establish a clear procedure for the consideration of requests from staff with young children to change their working arrangements to enable them to care for their children:
- 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:
- Annual Leave: this policy provides the principles for accruing and taking annual leave in relation to long term sickness:
These documents may also be obtained from the HR Division in printed form.
Updated September 2010