Employee absence management policy
This guide has been written to ensure that across the Council a fair and consistent approach is taken towards the effective management of sickness absence and that the costs and service implications of this kind of absence are kept to a minimum.
The guide (or a summary of key points) will be made available to all employees of the Council (other than in schools where separate similar guidelines are in place) and sets out what people must do in relation to sickness issues. All employees will be expected to comply with the requirements and responsibilities explained to them.
As a Public Body, the Council has a responsibility to the public to provide high quality cost effective services, therefore Shropshire Council is committed to take action by encouraging attendance and managing sickness absence.
The Council recognises its responsibilities to those who are genuinely ill and unable to attend work. The management of attendance and sickness absence is very much a line management responsibility and all managers will be provided with training, support and guidance to help them meet these responsibilities. Managers are asked use the Absence Management managers’ toolkit in conjunction with this policy.
2. Aim of the policy
By managing absence, Shropshire Council aims to minimise the amount of employee time lost at work through reasons of ill health, while also providing reasonable support to those absent for legitimate reasons and in promoting healthy living initiatives.
3. Policy objectives
To equip all Managers to deal with sickness absence more effectively through the foundation of clear procedures and guidelines on how to manage sickness absence within the workplace.
To encourage and assist all employees to achieve and maintain acceptable standards of attendance at work by:
- Promoting a safe and healthy working environment
- Providing adequate ‘Staff Support Services’ to deliver professional advice to Employees and Managers on ill health matters (Details of Staff Support Services are available in Appendix 4)
- Ensuring all employees experiencing ill health problems are treated in a fair and consistent manner and receive the necessary support wherever possible to enable them to improve their health and to maintain their employment with Shropshire Council
- Providing all employees with a clear Policy which outlines their obligations and entitlements when they are unable to work because of illness.
4. Absence management procedure
4.1. “Sickness” is defined as incapacity to carry out the duties and responsibilities which the employee is contractually obliged to do because of their own illness or accident. This Policy and Procedure therefore applies to absence caused by personal illness or accident, not for the purpose to take time off work because of the illness or accident of others e.g. children, dependent or partner.
4.2. It is not the intention to lay down a rigid definition of what constitutes an acceptable or unacceptable level of sickness absence as each case is unique and will be treated on its own merits. However, it is important that any concerns or patterns of absence are recognised by managers and that the employee is made aware of management concerns.
4.3. It is a Managers responsibility to deal promptly with any cases of absence from work seeking appropriate advice and guidance where necessary.
4.4. Where there is reason to believe an absence is not genuine, Shropshire Council reserves the right to challenge ‘genuine sicknesses by conducting an investigation into these concerns.
4.5. Special considerations
4.5.1. Cosmetic surgery (elective/reconstructive)
- When an employee elects to undergo cosmetic surgery, occupational sick pay will not be payable in accordance with this policy. However, occupational sick pay may be payable in cases where written confirmation is received from the employee’s medical practitioner that the surgery is essential for the physical and/or mental wellbeing of the individual.
- Whilst occupational sick pay is not normally payable for elective cosmetic surgery, it may be paid if an employee develops serious complications following surgery necessitating in hospital treatment.
- Where an employee is undergoing cosmetic surgery for the purposes of reconstruction (for example following a previous illness, accident or defect of birth), occupational sick pay is payable subject to appropriate evidence and certification in accordance with this policy.
Shropshire Council recognises its duty of care to all it employees and expects all concerned to act reasonably when dealing with individual absence issues.
Shropshire Council expects its employees to take responsibility for managing their own health to ensure regular attendance at work, and to engage fully in the absence management process when ill health and absence occur.
Employees will be expected to follow reasonable requests to attend Occupational Health appointments during their employment with Shropshire Council.
Shropshire Council expects managers to provide support and guidance to staff in accordance with the Absence Management procedure.
Managers will be expected to monitor, report and investigate absence and maintain accurate records within their teams and are expected to refer to guidance set out in supporting management toolkit’s.
5.3. Trade Union Representatives
Trade Union Representatives are responsible for advising and supporting their members during formal processes when requested.
5.4. Human Resources
Human Resources will advise and support both mangers and employees in the application of the Absence Management Policy.
5.5. Occupational Health Services
Occupational Health Services will provide medical advice, reports for consideration on any reasonable adjustments and on various health, safety and wellbeing initiatives.
5.6. Health and Safety
In order to manage effectively the various risks associated with the work activities, managers may need seek specialist help from the Health & Safety Team to help identify and assess risks, and to find practical and effective means of eliminating or controlling risks.
6. Notification and certification procedure
6.1. Responsibility for these actions sits clearly with employees. Failure to follow these procedures without good reason is likely to result in disciplinary action and will be considered as unauthorised absence. Unauthorised absence may result in the suspension of pay.
6.2. All periods of sickness must be covered by either a self-certificate and/or fit note (medical certificate); employees are responsible in ensuring these are passed to managers within 48 hours of receipt.
6.3. Table of Contact and Certification requirements
Where an employee is unwell and unable to attend work, it is their responsibility to telephone their manager as soon as possible but no later than two hours after their expected start time and explain:
The first seven calendar days* of any absence due to ill health requires an employee self-certify their absence using the Employee’s statement of sickness form unless they are covered by a fit note (medical certificate).
Failure to complete a self-certification of sickness may result in the suspension of sick pay for which employees may be eligible.
* Please note: Seven calendar days includes those days on which an employee does not normally work, e.g. weekends and public holidays.
All medical certificates should be concurrent.
2, 4 & 6
If incapacity lasts for 2 days or more, employees are required to telephone every other day to keep their manager informed of their progress.
Where absence exceeds 8 calendar days or is likely to result in long term absence, a reasonable contact agreement should be reached between manager and employee.
It is expected contact will be maintained at least twice a month.
Fit notes (medical certificate)
Employees absent for more than seven calendar (consecutive days including weekends and public holidays), are required to submit a medical certificate from their doctor/consultant. This should explain the nature of their illness and confirm when employees will be fit to return to work.
Employees should contact their manager, prior to returning to work, where a medical certificate stating employees "may be fit for work".
Managers will discuss with their employee any reasonable adjustments that may be needed to facilitate a return to work, taking into account the medical advice.
Where reasonable adjustments cannot be taken, employees will remain on sick leave but will need to be covered by appropriate certification and a date to review the situation will be agreed between the employee and manager.
Serious illness - Contact Requirements
In cases of serious illness and/or hospitalisation, employees who are unable to maintain contact themselves, should ask a suitable person e.g. partner or carer to maintain contact on their behalf.
The certification requirements above would still apply.
Managers – keeping in touch during long term absence
Managers are expected to maintain contact with employees during long term absence and notify them of changes within the workplace and essential information which may affect their employment.
Managers should apply sensitivity when maintaining contact with absent employees, however it is essential that contact is maintained. Employees who are absent for some weeks can start to feel increasingly out of touch and undervalued; maintaining contact can support the return to work process once recovered.
Due care should be applied in cases where the cause of absence is attributed to work. Managers should seek advice from Human Resources or Occupational Health in these circumstances.
7. Planning a return to work
Before returning to work
After any period of absence, before returning to work, employees should inform their manager of their intention to return to work and supply a fit note where applicable.
Managers will discuss any reasonable adjustments that may be needed to facilitate a return to work, taking into account medical advice received.
If a return to work program is agreed the manager will set out this agreement in writing.
On the first day back
On returning to work, employees should report to their line manager before they begin work.
8. Pay while off sick
8.1. The amount of sick pay employees receive will depend on their service and compliance with the expectations set out in this policy and procedure:
During 1st year of service
1 month’s full pay
During 2nd year of service
2 months’ full pay
During 3rd year of service
4 months’ full pay
During 4th and 5th year of service
5 months’ full pay
After 5 years service
6 months’ full pay
8.2. Shropshire Council reserves the right to refuse to pay sick pay (including SSP) if there is evidence that an employee is/has abused the sick pay scheme. This decision is subject to a right of appeal. Repeated, or serious abuse of the scheme will be dealt with as a disciplinary matter.
8.3. To aid flexibility for long term, serious absence cases; Employees, or their representative, may request, in writing to the Head of HR & Development, an extension to their sick pay. A half pay extension will be agreed, in conjunction with the Corporate Director, if on the basis of medical opinion(s) there is every likelihood of an employee’s return to work, within a period of three months. Any payment of half pay will be in accordance with the employee’s service and entitlement to full pay as outlined in 8.1.
8.4. Where a phased return to work is agreed, with effect from 1st June 2017 employees will return to their normal full pay upon their return to work. Which in any event shall not exceed 4 weeks in duration.
8.5. If any of the above requests are refused, a written appeal must be sent to the Chief Executive as Head of Paid Service.
9. Management interviews and investigations
9.1. Informal interview
In conjunction with the return to work discussions, absence management forms part of day to day management responsibilities.
After any episode of sickness absence, irrespective of length, all employees can expect to have a discussion with their manager.
9.1.1. These discussions are expected to:
- Establish the nature of the sickness.
- Establish if the employee is fully recovered and capable to carry out their role safely.
- Determine whether further support, assistance or counselling is required.
- Give the employee the opportunity to discuss their sickness record and any other relevant details.
- The likelihood of any further absences occurring.
- The impact of the absences on other employees.
- Draw to the attention of employees any management concerns relating to their attendance e.g. emerging patterns of absence, failure to follow absence management procedures and any expectations for improvements.
- Inform the employee that these concerns may result in further investigation and invitation to attend a formal interview.
9.1.2. At this stage the informal discussion may be sufficient to prevent a problem from developing further i.e. by implementing changes which may prevent further absence.
9.1.3. It is an employee’s responsibility to inform their manager if they have any health concerns which may impact on their ability to perform the duties expected of them within their role.
9.1.4. Managers must maintain accurate records and regularly monitor and review the absence of their team by using the Managers Reports available on MyView.
9.2. Trigger points for further action (formal procedure)
When the following trigger points are activated Managers are expected to draw together all relevant information and invite the employee to a formal interview. Early intervention is key in trying to identify any underlying medical explanation or whether other personal or domestic circumstances are causing the absence.
Although this is the first formally recorded interview, the discussion should be as relaxed and informal as possible. The objective is to clarify precisely the facts and circumstances surrounding the employee’s absence.
Employees may wish to invite a representative of their choice to formal meetings; a representative from Human Resources may also attend.
The process to follow can also be found at Appendix 1: Formal Procedure Flow Chart
a) A Doctors note certifying the employee will be absent for at least 4 weeks.
b) A continuous spell of absence of 4 weeks or longer covered by a series of Doctors notes.
c) 4 or more absences in a 12 month period.
d) Identified pattern of sickness "habits" emerging.
e) Where previous discussions with employees have not resulted in improvements.
f) Where there is evidence that an absence is not genuine.
9.3. Stage 1: First Interview
Before the interview:
9.3.1. At this stage managers will write to the employee inviting them to attend a formal interview; provide a minimum of 2 days’ notice to attend (Template in Manager’s Toolkit – template letter 2b).
9.3.2. In order to help the employee feel comfortable, he/she should be reassured that the purpose of the interview is to express management concerns and to explore any potential mitigating circumstances.
9.3.3. The Manager must gather the following information for discussion:
- The exact number of days/occasions of sickness in the last 12 months
- The nature of the illness(s) - list if necessary
- Details of any concerns regarding the way the employee has followed the reporting/certification procedures.
- Evidence of any absence patterns.
- Are there any workplace, personal or domestic circumstances which may be the cause and have been discussed informally?
- Evidence of any deterioration in job performance.
- Medical advice and action points where implemented informally.
During the interview:
9.3.4. Although this is the first formally recorded interview, the discussion should be as relaxed and informal as possible. The objective is to clarify precisely the facts and circumstances surrounding the employee’s absence. It is essential that the employee is given the opportunity to explain the reasons for their absences and any attempts they are making to resolve any issues.
9.3.5. Employees should expect managers to give details of the current level of absence, the impact on the work of the service and provide evidence to support any concerns.
9.3.6. Managers and employees should discuss any potential underlying medical explanation or whether other workplace, personal or domestic circumstances are causing the absence.
9.3.7. Managers must inform the employee of improvements expected and note the employee’s views of how they are trying to make improvements.
9.3.8. Where appropriate, changes in working arrangements should be explored, however these arrangements should not detract from the prime concern of absence improvement.
9.3.9. Where an underlying medical explanation is uncovered it may be agreed between Manager and Employee to make a referral to Occupational Health for further advice.
9.3.10. Employees should be given time to implement the proposed improvement plan. A review period will be agreed and should be held no more than 2 months from the date of the first interview. Details of the First Formal Interview should be recorded and a copy given to the employee (Template in Manager’s Toolkit – Template letter 2c).
Following a period of review:
9.3.11. A further interview will be held at the conclusion of the review period. The employee will be advised whether or not the attendance has improved to the level required, and the outcome confirmed in writing (Template in Manager’s Toolkit – Template letter 2d).
9.3.12. Where there has been significant sustained improvement the process will conclude.
9.3.13. If however there has been little to no improvement in attendance a medical report will be sought; the employee will be referred to Occupational Health to establish whether there are any underlying medical causes for the absences. Where there is no medical advice to support frequent short term absences and/or further absences have occurred, employee should be asked to consult a doctor to establish whether medical treatment is necessary.
9.4. Stage 2: Second Review Interview
9.4.1. On receipt of a medical report the manager will invite the employee to discuss the content of the report. Dependent upon this medical advice received the following actions may apply:
a) Where the absence may be long term and further time for treatment and recuperation is required, a further reviewing period may be agreed e.g. cases of long term absence where treatment is likely to exceed 8 weeks. The review period should be held no more than 2 months from the date of the second interview.
b) In cases where there is an underlying medical reason a plan for improvement should be agreed and implemented. A further review period will be agreed and should be held no more than 2 months from the date of the second interview.
c) Where a previous plan for improvement has been implemented but there have been insufficient improvements or improvements have not been sustained, the manager will inform the employee that the case will be referred to a senior manager and a manager report of the facts collated (move to stage 3).
d) Where there is no good reason for the absence(s) as determined by the medical report, the manager will inform the employee that the case will be referred to a senior manager and a manager report of the facts collated (move to stage 3).
In all cases details of the interview will be noted and a copy given to the employee. The employee should also be informed the expected improvements and warned of the likely consequences if it doesn’t happen. (Template in Manager’s Toolkit - Template letter 2d).
9.4.2. Where a period of further review has been agreed, an interview will be held at the conclusion of the review period.
a) Where attendance has improved and has been sustained, the process will conclude.
b) Following a period of formal review Stage 3: Case Review will be implemented where there has been:
- a deterioration;
- attendance has not improved;
- a medical report does not indicate any underlying causes for the absences;
- there is no prospect of a return to work;
- sick pay entitlements have been exhausted;
- there is evidence of repeated patterns of absence;
- Or a combination of these.
9.4.3. Where the decision has been taken to proceed to a Stage 3, managers must ensure an up to date medical reports is available (dated within two months of the Stage 3 Case Review Meeting).
In all cases the employee will be advised whether or not the attendance has improved and the agreed action(s) from the review meeting confirmed in writing.
9.5. Stage 3: Case Review Meeting
9.5.1. Managers are expected to collate their investigation findings and produce a report of the facts. The report should include evidence of all support measures offered to employees, the outcome of formal review meetings and any medical advice given in relation to the employees’ health.
9.5.2. This report should be submitted to a Senior Manager (with the authority to dismiss for cases which may result in the termination of employment) within 2 working weeks for the last review meeting.
9.5.3. On consideration of this report the Senior Manager will call a Case Review Meeting by inviting:
- The employee to attend giving them right to representation (Template in Manager’s Toolkit – Template letter 2e)
- The manager who will be expected to present their report
- A member of Human Resources
9.5.4. At this stage consideration will be given to addressing absence concerns by way of capability on medical grounds which may include termination of employment on grounds of capability due to ill health.
9.5.5. In cases where there is no good reason for the absences employees should be aware that a decision may include dismissal for unauthorised absence. Unauthorised absence is considered as Gross Misconduct in accordance with the Disciplinary procedure. In such cases Managers making the decision must follow the process set out in the Disciplinary procedure.
9.5.6. The Senior Managers decision will be communicated in writing to the employee within 2 working days of the meeting unless further investigation is required. The employee should be informed of their right to appeal within this letter. (Template in Manager’s Toolkit – Template letter 2f).
9.5.7. Managers must conduct a further review at the end of the sanction timescale. Where there have been no further concerns, managers will meet with the employee, inform them of the outcome and remove the sanction from file.
9.5.8. Whereby a current sanction is noted on file and additional concerns arise, Managers must review their concerns with the employee informally before using discretion to re-enter the formal stages above for further investigation.
9.5.9. Case Review Meeting Outcomes
The Council may consider all of the following sanctions.
These may be combined together with other additional sanctions or imposed in isolation. They will normally be combined with a warning issued at the appropriate level. The power to impose the following sanctions forms part of the employee’s terms and conditions of employment.
a) First written warning
If poor attendance is considered to be serious, or if deemed a breach of unacceptable conduct a WRITTEN WARNING will be issued to the individual by the supervisor or appropriate line manager. It will detail the complaint/concerns, the improvement required and the timescale. It will make reference to actions which may be taken if the desired improvements are not made.
A copy of the FIRST WRITTEN warning will be retained by the supervisor/line manager and disregarded for disciplinary purposes after 6 months, subject to satisfactory improvement.
b) Final written warning
If there is still a failure to improve attendance, or where attendance is of a sufficiently serious nature to warrant more than a written warning but is insufficient to warrant dismissal, then a FINAL WRITTEN WARNING will be given. This will detail the complaint/concern and will warn that, without the desired improvement in attendance within the timescale indicated, then further action in line with the policy may be taken.
A copy of the final written warning will be retained by the Supervisor/Line Manager and disregarded for disciplinary purposes after a specified period of 12 months, subject to satisfactory improvements.
c) Temporary or permanent transfer to another role, or location (with agreement of a manager with delegated authority to dismiss)
When an employee is not capable of undertaking their contractual role due to ill health, the employee may be transferred on a temporary or permanent basis to work in another role, or location. The duration of any transfer and the new role/location will be set out in writing in the decision notifying the employee of the outcome of the Case Review Meeting.
Where possible, transfer will normally be on the employee’s existing pay and benefits (or reasonable alternative agreed by HR). The Council will not normally transfer the employee to work at another location which they cannot reasonably reach from their permanent home address.
d) Temporary or permanent removal of some of the employee’s existing duties and/or re-assignment of new duties to the employee (with agreement of a manager with delegated authority to dismiss)
The Council may remove some of the employee’s existing duties and may require them to carry out other duties instead on a temporary or permanent basis as a reasonable adjustment. This will not normally involve any change to the employee’s pay and benefits. The duration of any removal/re-assignment of duties and the duties varied will be set out in the decision notifying the employee of the outcome of the Case Review Meeting.
e) Compulsory Training
The Council may require the employee to undergo compulsory training (at the Council’s expense) in relation to any area which has been highlighted as a contribution to ill health. For example, any employee found to have committed a breach of Health & Safety rules which resulted in an injury at work may be required to undergo appropriate Health & Safety training.
Failure to undergo the training or to participate in it fully and willingly may constitute a disciplinary offence. The nature of the training required and date by which it must be completed will be set out in the decision notifying the employee of the outcome of the Case Review Meeting.
10. Termination of employment on grounds of capability due to ill health
Whilst Shropshire Council will seek to support employees who are genuinely sick, it cannot offer indefinite support. This decision will be made by officers with delegated authority to dismiss.
10.1. Where the criteria for Ill Health Retirement is not applicable and there is no prospect of a return to work, the decision may be taken at the Case Review Meeting to terminate employment on grounds of capability due to ill health.
10.2. If the decision is taken to end employment, employees will be served notice (appropriate to their length of service) to terminate their contract.
10.3. Accrued annual leave may be paid on termination of employment inline with Shropshire Council’s Annual Leave Entitlement Policy.
11.1. The employee has the statutory right to appeal against the decision at any stage of the formal proceedings. The employee should notify the Head of HR and Development in writing within 10 days of receiving the letter of notification who in turn will convene the Appeal Panel.
11.2. An Appeal Panel will be convened and notifications of an appeal hearing will be shared with all the parties involved as soon as practicably possible.
12. Home visits
12.1. With the agreement of the individual, where employees are absent from work and are unable to attend a Formal Interview or Formal Review meeting, a home visit can be arranged.
12.2. Home visits should involve a minimum of two people, one of whom should be from HR. In addition the employee should be given the opportunity to have a colleague or trade union representative present if they so wish.
13. Annual leave
13.1. Employees are expected to utilise annual leave periodically throughout the year to maintain a healthy work life balance and to ensure they take adequate rest breaks.
13.2. Employees who are absent due to ill health continue to accrue statutory holiday entitlement whilst off work. Where sick pay entitlement have been exhausted and in exceptional circumstances, employees may request to take accrued annual leave during periods of ill health in line with the expectations of Shropshire Council’s Annual Leave Entitlement Policy.
13.3. Any statutory holiday entitlement that isn’t used because of illness may be carried over into the next leave year. However, employees are expected to make every reasonable attempt to take accrued leave periodically throughout the current leave year.
13.4. It may be agreed that employees returning from a period of long term absence may request annual leave during a phased return in order that full pay can be maintained during the phased return. Phased returns can be used for a variety of reasons when someone has been off sick and last for different lengths of time depending on the individual reasons for absence and balanced with the needs of the Service.
14. Ill health retirement
14.1. The Council’s policy is:
- To apply on a consistent basis the requirements of the Local Government Pension Scheme in relation to ill-health retirement issues.
- To monitor the number and causes of such retirements in line with national and audit requirements.
- To ensure that all possible alternatives to ill-health retirement are considered, where practicable.
- To ensure that employees whose retirement on grounds of ill-health is a possibility, are fully consulted before any such employer decision is taken, and are made aware of the pension implications of this outcome.
14.2. The following stages will arise in such cases:
14.2.1. If the employee’s absence from work becomes prolonged and there is no indication from medical opinions received of an early return to work, Occupational Health should be asked specifically by the employing Service whether the employee can be regarded as:
“Permanently incapable of discharging efficiently the duties of the relevant local government employment because of ill-health or infirmity of mind or body”
14.2.2. Where Occupational Health reaches the conclusion and notifies the service area concerned that the employee is deemed incapable of discharging their duties because of ill health, the employee will be referred to an independent medical practitioner in order to determine whether they are deemed medically incapable under Regulation 20 (5) of the Local Government Pension Scheme Regulations (LGPS). The practitioner will need to complete an “Independent Registered Medical Practitioner’s Certificate” in order to confirm that the employee can / cannot be regarded as incapable within the LGPS criteria.
14.2.3. The independent medical practitioner will receive information from the Occupational Health unit about the employee, and in due course, advise the employing Service as to whether the criteria for ill-health retirement have been met and within which tier the employees ill health would fall; those being:
- Tier One: If there is no reasonable prospect of the member of the LGPS obtaining any gainful employment before the age of 65.
- Tier Two: If the member of the LGPS is likely to be able to obtain “gainful” employment before the age of 65, but cannot do so within a period of three years of the estimated date of leaving.
- Tier Three: If the member of the LGPS is likely to obtain “gainful” employment within a period of three years of the estimated date of leaving.
In this instance, “gainful” is defined as “paid employment for not less than 30 hours per week for a period of not less than 12 months”.
14.2.4. Whereby the practitioner confirms that the employee does not meet the criteria for ill heath retirement as defined by the LGPS, yet Occupational Health has deemed the employee incapable of discharging their duties, then the employing Service, will need to contact their HR team to arrange for the employee to be dismissed on the grounds of capability.
The process to follow in the event of ill health retirement can be found at appendix 2.
15.1. If an employee’s absence is because of a disability or their illness leaves them with a mental or physical condition which falls within the definition of a disability, Shropshire Council will consider reasonable adjustments to support employees and enable them to carry on working.
15.2. Further detailed information relating to disabled employees can be found at Appendix 3.
Shropshire Council reserves the right to periodically review the Absence Management Policy and make changes upon review.