The University of Sheffield Sickness Absence Management Procedure: A Guide for Staff

1. Introduction

This guide is intended to explain the sickness absence management process, your responsibilities in relation to this and the support mechanisms available. It is important that this guidance is read in conjunction with the University's Sickness Absence Management Procedure which also provides information as to:

  • the process you should follow to inform your department that you are sick and unable to attend work.
  • when you are required to provide a Statement of Fitness for Work (Fit Note) from your GP; the arrangements that apply to sickness and annual leave, medical appointments
  • the Management Referral policy, and the need for your informed consent for this to take place
  • the procedures that your manager will follow if you have been absent for 4 weeks or more, have repeated short term absences or your absence is identified as a potential cause for concern.

2. Your responsibilities in relation to sickness

Staff responsibilities include the need to:

  • Attend work when fit to do so;
  • Alert your manager to any problems/issues which may have an impact on your attendance/health or performance so that they can offer suitable support;
  • Follow correct notification/certification processes, ensuring your manager has as much information as possible about your absence to enable them to provide appropriate support and advice ;
  • Maintain regular contact with your manager whilst absent due to ill health, (the frequency and means of contact should be agreed with your manager);
  • Accept a referral (and provide consent) to Occupational Health Services or other appropriate specialist the University appoints to advise on an issue;
  • Accept reasonable adjustments to deal with the challenges created by disease, illness or injury in the workplace;
  • Ensure that you use the appropriate procedures to request time off from work for reasons other than sickness, such as dealing with family or home responsibilities; seeking advice from your manager when necessary;
  • Engage in any informal or formal procedural processes, which may include attendance at informal/formal meetings, e.g. return to work and ‘may be fit to work’ discussions, attendance at Occupational Health Services, and observing University processes and timescales.

Where you perceive that your absence is due to or aggravated by either a work or disability related issue you are encouraged to raise this with your manager as soon as possible, e.g. when initially reporting your absence or during any return to work discussion. If the sickness notification process within your department does not involve your manager, you may wish to request that either the disability or work related flag is ‘ticked’ on the staff system (see FAQs for further information). This will ensure that an automatic email is sent directly to your Manager requesting that they review the sickness records and take any appropriate support/intervention. This is important as the University has a duty of care in relation to ensuring your health and safety, as do you.

3. Return to Work (RTW) discussions/interviews

Research indicates that early intervention and support of an individual facing ill health can be very effective. As such your manager will seek to speak to you on your first day back or as soon as possible thereafter, after any episode of sickness absence, no matter its length. These will often be light touch informal discussions to ascertain the nature of your illness, if you are feeling better and if any support is required.

However, Managers will undertake a more structured Return to Work (RTW) interview where an individual’s absence levels are identified as a potential cause for concern. A potential cause for concern may include where:

  • absence reach 10 or more working day (pro-rated for part time staff) or 4 periods of absence in any 12 month rolling period
  • there is a possibility of a disability or underlying health issue
  • a pattern appears to be present e.g. regular non-attendance on a Monday or Fridays etc.
  • there are concerns that the absence is not genuinely due to sickness

This is to ensure that your manager can gain a full understanding of your 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 to gain further information, the implementation of simple reasonable adjustments etc.

3.1 The purpose of the Return to Work (RTW) discussion/interview

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

  • Welcome you back and give your manager the opportunity to check that you are fit enough to return to work;
  • Review your attendance record;
  • Explore the cause(s) of absence giving you an opportunity to voice any concerns that you may have, and to discuss any domestic, welfare or work related problems;
  • If appropriate, agree a review period and/or any actions required;
  • If applicable explore the option of a referral to the SOHS, a risk assessment and/or any reasonable adjustments to your work;
  • Give your manager the opportunity to update you on events which have occurred in your absence and if appropriate, how your work was covered.

Following any such discussions, notes will be made of any agreed actions, responsibilities for implementing them and any review dates, to support the process.

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, this will be dealt with under the relevant disciplinary procedure rather than under the sickness absence management procedure.

3.2 Provision of Management Information

To support managers in monitoring sickness absence so that appropriate support/intervention can be considered, they receive automatic prompts by email from uBASE (the staff system) requesting that they review a staff member’s situation with the individual via a RTW interview. These prompts are sent when your absence levels reach the above values (see para 3) or if you have ‘flagged’ that your absence is due to, or aggravated by, either a work or disability related issue, stress or is pregnancy related.

4. Returning to work following long-term sickness

If your fit note has the 'may be fit to return to work' box ticked you should promptly inform your manager that you are well enough to consider returning to work and consideration will be given to what assistance you might require. Depending upon the circumstances your manager may seek your consent to refer you to Occupational Health Services via a management referral.

Most individuals return to work after illness without needing any special adjustments to be made to their working arrangements. However, some individuals may need a rehabilitation/return to work plan to be devised. In general terms, such a plan may be helpful for staff well enough to do some of their work, but who may need some adjustments to help them return to their normal working pattern/duties within a prescribed period of time. Such circumstances may include:

  • You have been absent with a condition that impacts on your capability to undertake particular work activities;
  • You have been suffering from serious, long-term physical or mental ill health;
  • You have had surgery or a long stay in hospital;
  • You have a new disability or a new restriction to your physical capability;
  • You will continue to need treatment for your illness following your return to work.

As your individual circumstances will be unique you will be involved in these discussions, and consulted on any proposed adjustments before they are finalised and implemented to ensure that your needs are balanced with the operational needs of the department. When organising a return to work, 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.

4.1 Phased Return to Work

Phased returns are where an employee returns to their full duties/time at work gradually, over a defined time period, often for a week or two and not normally exceeding 4 weeks duration (except potentially where clinical recommendations are for a longer period). It should only be implemented on the basis of advice from a staff member’s GP/Consultant via a ‘fit note’ or an Occupational Health Professional with Occupational Health Services (e.g. following a referral), where it is deemed a reasonable adjustment, and after discussion with yourself.

During such an arrangement you would be paid for the hours worked, whilst the non worked contracted hours would be paid using sick pay provision based on your remaining entitlement. Where this entitlement has been exhausted, you may request the ability to use accrued annual leave, which should be considered and recorded in the normal way; otherwise the un-worked periods will be unpaid. For further information on phased returns including their potential structure, review, impact on sick pay entitlement, carry over of annual leave and potential pension implications please see additional guidance

5. Establishing the Facts

Before considering any formal action under the sickness procedure your manager will seek to promptly and sensitively establish the facts regarding your situation.

The nature and extent of any such exploration will depend on the specific circumstances and can simply be the gathering of the facts relating to your health situation and the previous in/formal management processes undertaken to address the absence and support you.

This may be supported by the use of a case management meeting, which is potentially very useful when considering complex cases of long term or persistent short term absence. The purpose of such a meeting is to assist your manager, via a coordinated approach, to obtain information, advice and guidance on how best to support and manage your situation, exploring all relevant options e.g. further review periods; reasonable adjustments; redeployment; ill health retirement and/or a capability hearing (further details can be found in section 9.10 and 10.8 of the procedure). This meeting may typically include your manager/Head of Department to lead the meeting and a Human Resources Adviser (to provide appropriate advice and guidance to the manager). It could also include other relevant individuals, for example: a Health & Safety Officer; a representative from Access to Work, yourself and your companion etc.
For further details in relation to reasonable adjustments, redeployment, ill health retirement and can be found within sections 11-13 of the procedure.

6. Formal Capability Hearing

Only once all options such as reasonable adjustments, redeployment, ill health retirement, implementation of rehabilitation plans etc. have been considered and either determined unsuccessful; unreasonable; unavailable; ineffective or inappropriate; will a manager, in liaison with Human Resources potentially seek to invoke a capability hearing to consider the termination of a staff member’s employment due to their incapability to perform their role. Details regarding the hearing can be found in sections 14- 17 of the procedure.

It is recognised that individual’s facing such a hearing may find this difficult; however, all participants are expected to make every effort to attend. Even where an individual is not fit to attend work they may still be able to attend a hearing. Where this is the case, support for appropriate travel arrangements can be offered, or in exceptional circumstances where an individual is unable to travel to the University a mutually agreed alternative location may be offered. The Hearing will also be arranged at a mutually acceptable date/time where possible, and if appropriate advice sought for Occupational Health Services to assess your fitness to attend or provide advice on any special requirements or adjustments for the hearing.

6.1 Appeal

You will have the right to appeal against the outcome of a Formal Capability Hearing. Full details of the appeals process can be found in Section 18 of the procedure.

7. Support during sickness absence management proceedings

The University provides a number of sources of confidential support/services which are available to you if you wish to use them.

Reasonable adjustments

The University is committed to ensuring that staff do not experience any disadvantage/difficulties in participating as appropriate in the procedure because of disability or any special requirements. As such, you are encouraged to raise any queries you may have relating to disability or other needs at the earliest opportunity. This will enable the University to accommodate your request, where reasonably possible.

Further information

If having read the sickness absence management procedure, the above guidance and referred to the Performance Management toolkit including the FAQs for Staff, you still have unaddressed queries, please do not hesitate to contact either your manager or your Faculty HR Team Contact.