Managing Health and Absence: Policy & Guidance for Staff and Managers

1.0 Introduction

The University is committed to supporting the health and wellbeing of all staff. As part of this commitment, the University recognises the importance of creating a positive environment, whereby staff and managers feel able to talk openly and with trust about health problems (including mental and physical health). We also wish to support staff to seek help when necessary and provide a supportive environment for other difficulties that staff may experience.

Whilst recognising the wish to be reasonable and sensitive in cases of sickness absence, the University is very conscious of the fact that poor attendance at work can contribute to reduced efficiency and can impact the quality of service and team spirit. 

The aim of this policy is to incorporate several strands into one place for:

Support for staff experiencing mental health difficulties is particularly important given the rise in numbers of people affected by a mental health condition. As such, preventing circumstances which may lead to increased stressors and mental health problems, as well as managing the work environment more widely to support a reduction in the risk of exacerbating any existing conditions is a part of every manager’s role. The University also wishes to support staff to take a proactive approach towards enhancing their own health and wellbeing.

Support for staff who have caring responsibilities is also important given the number of working carers in the UK and an ageing population. The University recognises the pressure that can arise when combining work and caring and managers are encouraged to be sensitive to the issues that staff may face. Other policies are in place that support such circumstances: 

 There are several actions a manager can take to promote wellbeing at work including: encouraging good/clear communications; ensuring staff understand their roles; ensuring workloads are manageable, checking how engaged staff feel and encouraging them to take lunch breaks and further guidance has been developed to help managers recognise and manage mental health problems in the workplace should they arise. 

In relation to wider management of sickness absence, it is our expectation that a consistent approach will be adopted by managers and a balance struck between providing support to the employee, recognising individual circumstances, whilst ultimately facilitating either the employee’s return to work or a more regular attendance pattern. 

Staff also have a responsibility to do whatever they can to help improve attendance generally which may include consulting with their GP if appropriate. 

The policy and guidance should be considered in conjunction with procedures for reporting absence in sections A to D below in relation to: 

2.0 Responsibilities during sickness absence 

Responsibilities during sickness absence are shared between individual members of staff and the line manager and both have a responsibility to be proactive to support wellbeing in the workplace. 

Staff should alert their manager to any problems/issues which may have an impact on attendance/health or performance so that the manager can offer suitable support. In some circumstances, staff are encouraged to complete an individual Wellness Action Plan (Office document, 72kB) or WAP and discuss these with their line manager. Managers are also encouraged to consider when it might be appropriate to complete a stress risk assessment either on an individual or group basis.

A local school or service work related stress risk assessment should already be in place (https://www.bristol.ac.uk/safety/media/gn/stress-ra-gn.pdf). In addition, Managers are encouraged to consider completing an individual work related stress risk assessment. Further guidance can be found here: https://www.bristol.ac.uk/safety/media/gn/stress-gn.pdf

Staff should make themselves aware of the appropriate procedures to request time off from work for reasons other than sickness, such as dealing with family or home responsibilities and should seek advice from their manager when necessary. See:

Responsibilities for Managers: 

 Responsibilities for Staff: 

 The University has a duty of care in relation to supporting health, safety and wellbeing at work and would wish to explore any appropriate actions, support requirements or reasonable adjustments. Therefore, where a member of staff perceives that their absence is due to or aggravated by either a work related issue or disability (physical or mental health), they are encouraged to raise this with their manager as soon as possible, e.g. when initially reporting the absence or during any return to work discussion.

 

3. Return to Work (RTW) discussions/meetings

 The Health and Safety Executive recommend that return-to-work meetings are undertaken to support a member of staff returning to work after a period of absence regardless of the duration and that early intervention and support of an individual facing ill health can be very effective. As such the line manager should seek to speak to the staff member on their first day back, or as soon as possible thereafter, and after any episode of sickness absence regardless of duration. These will often be light touch informal discussions to establish the nature of the illness and to ensure that the staff member is feeling better and determine if any support is required.

However, Managers will undertake a more structured return to work (RTW) meeting where an individual’s absence levels are identified as a potential cause for concern. Potential triggers for a conversation may include any of the following: 

These concerns may be addressed in different ways but all with the aim of ensuring that the manager can gain a full understanding of the situation and is able to determine how best to respond to the circumstances. In some cases, this may result in further action such as the setting of a review period to monitor the situation, a referral to Occupational Health Services via Human Resources to gain further information or the implementation of possible reasonable adjustments. In some cases, it may be necessary to move to formal processes under the appropriate University Ordinances such as Capability (Performance) or Conduct. 

Whilst recognising the wish to be reasonable and sensitive in cases of sickness absence, the University is very conscious that poor attendance at work can contribute to reduced efficiency, impact on other staff and can disrupt the quality of service and team spirit and therefore appropriate effective management in these situations is important.

 

3.1 Purpose of the Return to Work (RTW) discussion/meeting

What is covered during such a conversation will be dependent upon individual circumstances, however, below are some of the issues that may be covered:

Following any such discussions, the manager should make a note of any agreed actions, responsibilities for implementing them and any review dates to support the process and this note should be copied to the member of staff. 

Where a cause for concern is identified in relation to attendance levels and there is no identified medical underlying cause or there is a reasonable belief that the absence is not genuinely due to ill health, the member of staff should be informed that such circumstances will be dealt with under the relevant Capability (performance) or Conduct procedure. 

It is important that managers monitor staff absence so that appropriate support and intervention can be considered. Human Resources may also periodically flag concerning levels of absence to managers.

 

4. Long Term Sickness 

Long term sickness absence is deemed to be continuous absence of 4 weeks or more and managers are required to maintain regular contact with an employee during prolonged periods of sickness absence. Actions taken during long term absence will vary depending on the reason for the absence, but the manager, together with a representative (if required) and HR, will normally arrange to meet the employee following 4-6 weeks of absence or as appropriate. This may be in the workplace, as a home visit or at another mutually agreed location. Such meetings help to ensure that the member of staff continues to feel part of the team and establishes whether the employee needs any ongoing or further assistance and therefore employees are expected to make themselves available for meetings. It may be necessary to refer the individual to the University’s Occupational Health Service and this may include a request for a written report from the individual’s General Practitioner, Consultant or Specialist to obtain further information regarding the impact on their state of health and prospects for return to work. This will be arranged via the Faculty/Divisions Human Resources team. Once this report has been received a decision will need to be made regarding possible future courses of action. Such cases should be managed under the Ill Health Procedure (Ordinance 31) where supporting guidance, further information and advice can be found.

 

A. Sickness Reporting Procedure

Individual Departments should have an established procedure for reporting absence. There should be a specified individual whom absent employees should contact on the first day of absence (either their line manager or Absence Co-ordinator). Ideally, Departments should identify an alternative in the event of that person’s own absence. It is essential that managers make all staff aware of the operation of this procedure.

Staff who are taken ill at work should be sent or taken home and this day will not count against their entitlement to contractual sick pay if they have completed at least 50% of their normal contracted hours for that day. On the first day of absence, staff (or someone on their behalf) are required to notify the identified individual as early as possible and by 10.00 a.m. at the latest. If a member of staff is unable to speak to the identified individual when they call in, the line manager may call the member of staff later in the day. Specific arrangements may need to be made for an employee who may live alone and/or does not have access to a telephone. Reporting initial absence by text or email is not acceptable other than in exceptional circumstances. When individuals report their absence, they must:

  1. provide information regarding the reason for their absence, e.g. back pain, flu symptoms. Please avoid ‘sick’ or ‘unwell’;
  2. confirm whether they intend to visit a doctor;
  3. provide an expected date of return or information on when they will be able to provide further information.

Absence details should then be entered into MyERP by the Absence Co-ordinator or Line Manager as detailed in the guidance at MyERP How-to Guide on sickness absence administration.

If a member of staff is unwell during pre-planned annual leave, the annual leave taken can only be reimbursed if the sickness absence is reported in line with these procedures and on production of a medical certificate regardless of the duration of the sickness. 

The University understands that at times, particularly during longer periods of absence, staff may benefit from time away to help with recuperation or rehabilitation. In these circumstances, staff should notify their manager if they plan to take annual leave during any period of sickness absence. During a period of booked annual leave, members of staff will not be expected to attend meetings or Occupational Health appointments. 

On return to work, all staff must complete and submit the Self Certification form in MyERP, or, if the absence is for 8 calendar days or more (including Saturdays and Sundays), provide a fit note from their G.P. as detailed below.  For more information see the MyERP How to Guide on reporting your own sickness

The Absence Co-ordinator in the Department will be responsible for keeping full sickness records in MyERP, which will be accessible by the appropriate manager, HR and Payroll. Employees who are absent for 8 days or more (including Saturdays and Sundays) must provide the Absence Co-ordinator or line manger with a doctor’s certificate (a “fit note” – see below).

Please note that the University has a right to request a private Medical Certificate if there are concerns regarding an individual’s absence, but this should be discussed with the Human Resources Manager and not enforced as a matter of routine. Any referral to an individual’s G.P. or to Occupational Health needs to be requested via Human Resources. Please note that staff who are employed as food handlers and have been absent from work with vomiting and/or diarrhoea, which has persisted for more than twenty-four hours MUST NOT return to work until they have been formally cleared to do so by their G.P. Further details are given in the University’s Food Safety Policy and Codes of Practice’ folder.

 

B. Fit Notes

 Fit notes (formerly known as sick notes) are the forms that are issued by G.P.s to people as evidence for their employer that the employee is ill or injured and unable to attend work as normal. 

Under the fit note system, a G.P may advise that the employee is either: 

i)  Unfit for work - this confirms that the employee is too ill to work at all for the stated period. 

or 

ii) May be fit for work taking account of the following advice 

This confirms that the employee’s health condition may allow them to work or undertake some duties with suitable support if available. 

On receipt of a fit note indicating that an employee may be fit for work taking account of certain support, managers should contact their HR Manager/Officer for advice. A decision will then be made jointly by the manager and HR, following discussion with the employee as appropriate, regarding whether it is possible to accommodate the recommended advice. Where the HR Manager/Officer judges that it is appropriate, further advice may also be sought from the Occupational Health Service before a decision is reached. Until a decision has been reached, the employee should remain on sick leave. 

The G.P may indicate on the form what support the employee may benefit from (e.g. amended duties or other workplace adaptations, a phased return to work or altered hours), and the period for which this will be the case. If the University is unable to facilitate a change or adjustment, the fit note will count as evidence that the employee has a health condition preventing them from carrying out their role and should therefore remain on sick leave for the stated period. 

The University is keen to support staff in a return to work wherever possible and will consider all recommendations carefully before a decision is reached, taking full account of any considerations under the Equality Act (2010) where appropriate.

 

C. Recording and Monitoring Absence

It is essential that sound absence monitoring procedures exist in all Departments. Records for all employees are kept within MyERP and include the number of days absent, the reason for the absence, together with a cumulative total over a rolling 12-month period. For more information on recording and reporting absence see the MyERP How-to Guide to sickness absence administration.

Individual managers must determine, in terms of duration and incidence, when an employee’s absence/s needs to be investigated further. Whilst it is important to adopt a consistent approach, each case must be considered individually, depending on the circumstances, before any action is taken. In most circumstances, 10 uncertificated days' absence in the last 12 months, or more than one month’s certificated absence, may need to be investigated to determine whether this might be due to a disability. Advice can be obtained from your HR Manager regarding appropriate action in individual cases or where there are general concerns regarding absence.

 

D. Sick Pay

All staff are entitled to paid leave of absence when they are unable to attend work due to illness. Details of sick pay entitlements are contained within the University's Terms and Conditions of Employment. The University has the right to suspend sick pay if employees do not comply with sickness reporting procedures including maintaining appropriate contact and providing required sickness certificates.