All you need to know in detail
When an employee’s absence continues for 4 or more calendar days, then the employee is required to provide you with a self-certificate within 7 days of the start of the absence.
If the absence continues for more than 7 days the employee must provide you with a fit note. Any subsequent fit notes should be submitted as quickly as possible covering all days in the absence period to avoid unauthorised absence which could affect pay.
The fit note will say the employee is either ‘not fit for work’ or ‘may be fit for work’.
If the fit note says the employee ‘may be fit for work” you should discuss any adjustments with the employee which may help them return to work such as different hours or tasks. Support and advice on reasonable adjustments can also be obtained from Occupational Health.
Keeping in Touch
The importance of regular communication with the employee during periods of long term sickness absence cannot be underestimated.
Maintaining regular contact:
- allows you to keep updated on the employee’s progress
- allows you to explore whether there is any additional support/adjustments which could allow the employee to return to work
- prevents the employee from feeling isolated
- relieves the employee’s anxiety about returning to work
Having regular updates on how the employee’s health is progressing and the likely duration of absence also enables you to make decisions on how the workload can be managed in the meantime.
At the outset agree an appropriate level and means of contact with the employee depending on their circumstances. You want the employee to feel that you are sympathetic to their situation, but that you are also keeping them under review so you can support them back into the workplace.
As their manager, you should be aware of what the next step is for the employee, such as a GP review or hospital appointment. Your aim should be to facilitate their return to work, and your staff member should understand this aim.
Where the employee perceives that their manager has contributed in some way to the employee’s absence (for example due to work-related stress) it would be appropriate to identify an alternative manager to maintain contact with the absent employee.
Know the Policies to Use and Where to get Support
Make sure you are familiar with the Board’s Attendance Management Policy and associated guidance. In addition consider any other policies that might be relevant to the circumstances of the absence (eg Stress in the Workplace; Mental Health and Wellbeing and Alcohol and Substance Policy).
Further advice on managing long term sickness absence is also available from the HR Support and Advice Unit.
In addition, you may wish to make a referral to Occupational Health for further guidance on supporting the employee during long term sickness.
There is also a range of Self Help support available on HRConnect which you can signpost the employee to.
What you should do if absence continues
If absence continues for more than 28 days, you need to meet with the employee to review their absence and discuss possible options (full guidance and template letters are available on the this site).
The purpose of the absence review meeting is to offer you and the employee the opportunity to discuss the nature of their absence, and next steps for returning to work or continued absence, in a positive and supportive way.
Tell the employee that they can be accompanied at the review meeting by their trade union representative or a colleague or friend (under NHSGGC Policy this cannot be anyone acting in a legal capacity). It is not necessary to have an HR representative present at the initial stage review meetings unless there are complicating circumstances (you can contact the HR Support & Advice Unit on 0141 278 2700 if in doubt).
Be open and supportive, and encourage the employee to bring forward any concerns that might be affecting their attendance. Also ask them for any ideas about what would help them return to work.
Usually employees will be able to return to their role and work environment. However, you may need to ask if any adjustments could be made to allow them to return to work and/or prevent further absences.
The sooner you have this conversation, the more time you will have to arrange for the support, equipment or adjustments needed. Making adjustments could also mean your employee could return to work sooner.
Where relevant, agree the content of an Occupational Health referral with the employee and discuss any subsequent OH reports including recommendations/ reasonable adjustments. Where a return is being contemplated agree a return to work plan with the employee.
In complex absences cases you may request a case conference with the Occupational Health Specialist who is reviewing the employee. This would be appropriate where you require further specific information or, wish to discuss the case in more depth so you have the information you require to make appropriate management decisions on the way forward. The case conference may involve yourself and an HR representative or, it may also include the employee and their trade union representative where you believe this would benefit the process. Your HR representative will provide you with guidance and advice.
If the absence is due to a work-related injury make the employee aware of the Board’s Injury Allowance Procedure.
If absence continues you should aim to hold a review meeting with the employee every 4 weeks to obtain an update on progress, to keep the employee informed of any changes within the department and to let them know of any changes to their pay.
In all circumstances you must hold a final review meeting with the employee before their sick pay expires.
Ending Employment on the grounds of Ill Health
Ending employment on the grounds of ill health should be a last resort when all other options for reasonable adjustments and redeployment have been exhausted. If a return to work is not possible, you will need to get advice from Occupational Health.
Be aware that discussions around ending employment can be very upsetting for the employee and therefore need to be handled in a sensitive and compassionate way.
Encourage your employee to seek support from their trade union representative where appropriate and give them time to come to terms with the situation before confirming the decision.
Within NHSGGC the decision to end and employee’s employment can only be made by a senior manager (Director or direct report to Director). Seek support from the HR Support and Advice Unit in advance of any meeting at which such a decision may be contemplated.
Click here for further guidance on the process to be followed when considering termination of employment on the grounds of ill health.
It is your responsibility to maintain records of sickness absence, including conversations with the employee while they are off sick and any meetings you have during and following their absences.
It is important that you keep accurate and up to date records as this will help to inform and support future decisions. It also ensures that the employee is paid appropriately. All absence must be recorded on the Board’s SSTS system using the appropriate reason for absence code.
Occupational Health reports and other sensitive information about the employee’s absence must be stored securely in line with Data Protection Legislation.
Keep up to date with our additional guidance and advice on topics like reasonable adjustments and remember to take advice from Occupational Health and HR when you need to.