1.1. North Ayrshire Council recognises the importance of high standards of attendance at work in maintaining high levels of service delivery to the community it serves. The Council also recognises that from time to time employees will be unable to work because of ill health.
2. Policy Purpose and Scope
2.1. The Wellbeing@Work (Supporting Attendance Policy) aims to ensure our employees are supported to maintain high levels of attendance, thereby minimising the detrimental effects of sickness absence on service provision, our service users and colleagues. The policy will ensure a fair, consistent and compassionate approach to supporting employee attendance, taking into account individual circumstances, whilst ensuring compliance with all associated legislation.
3. Why Manage Absence?
3.1 Addressing sickness absence effectively benefits employees by:
- Providing an opportunity for support and assistance from the Council through the absence
- Helping to identify work related and non-work-related issues
- Identifying clearly the attendance standards expected
3.2 Sickness absence is one of the Council’s Statutory and Key Performance Indicators and is used for performance review and benchmarking. High levels of sickness absence are costly and disruptive and can lead to:
- Additional pressures being placed on work colleagues leading to higher levels of stress and low morale
- Loss of continuity for service users
- Additional salary costs necessary to cover absences
- A poor reputation for the Council
4. Roles and Responsibilities
- Take responsibility for looking after their own health, safety and wellbeing
- Ensure familiarity with the Wellbeing@Work (Supporting Attendance Policy) and Sickness Absence Notification Procedures
- Report instances of sickness absence and updates promptly to their line manager
- Maintain reasonable contact with their line manager advising of progress and expected return to work dates
- Attend all Council arranged OH appointments, return to work, informal absence review meetings and Formal Stage meetings arranged under the policy, where their health permits
4.2 Line Managers
- Conduct regular and timely reviews of their employees’ absence to identify problem areas and develop constructive solutions to these problems
- Be supportive, treat every absence as genuine and be clear that this is not a disciplinary process (unless there is evidence that it is not genuine, when consideration should be given to the use of the Disciplinary Policy and Procedure)
- Conduct return to work discussions promptly with employees after every period of absence, regardless of duration
- Organise Formal Stage Meetings promptly
- Seek medical advice from the Council’s OH service, where appropriate
4.3 Occupational Health
- Provide advice and support as required to employees, line managers and HR
- Obtain medical reports from GPs or specialists where appropriate
- Arrange appointments for employees with the OH Physician and other service providers and follow up any subsequent actions
- Advise line management if an employee fails to attend for any medical appointments
4.4 HR Team
- Provide advice and support to line managers or employees on implementation of the policy and procedure as required
- Provide advice prior to a Stage 3 meeting at a case review
- Provide appropriate training in the management of sickness absence
- Monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of this policy and associated guidance
5. Return to Work Discussion
5.1 After each spell of sickness absence, line managers must engage in a Return to Work discussion with the employee. Ideally, this discussion should take place in person, prior to the employee undertaking duties on their day of return or as soon as is reasonably practicable. This discussion will focus on the reasons for absence, fitness to return to work and any support required.
5.2 The Return to Work discussion must be undertaken to ensure that the employee
- Is aware of the support available
- Is provided with a brief on workplace issues which have occurred during their absence
- Is aware that there are concerns regarding their absence
- Is aware of the consequences of any continued periods of absence and therefore given the opportunity to improve, where appropriate.
Please refer to the HR Guide: Wellbeing@Work (Supporting Attendance Policy) for further guidance.
6.1 An employee may represent themselves, or choose to be represented, at any of the Formal Stages of the Procedure. Please refer to the HR Guide: Representation for further information.
7. Corporate Management Prompts
7.1 Corporate Management Prompts are used to identify points at which the line manager will discuss an employee’s absence record. They also identify when an employee’s absence has reached a level of concern. When an employee’s absence reaches the Corporate Management Prompts, a process of Informal and Formal Meeting Stages will take place, as identified below.
7.2 The table below details the Corporate Management Prompts. A more detailed Flow Chart is provided at Appendix 1 which provides more guidance to assist in understanding how an employee would move through the Stages – taking into account occasions where the absence may be characterised by short term, long term or intermittent periods of long-term/short-term absence.
|Stage||Meeting||Corporate Management Prompts||Meeting Chaired by||Appeal heard by|
Absence Review Meeting
3 instances or 9 working days OR 2 continuous weeks within a rolling 12-month period
Supervisor/line manager/Member of School SMT
First Formal Meeting
Further 3 instances or 9 working days during the 12-month fixed monitoring period
6 weeks continuous or cumulative absence in the last 12 months
Supervisor/line manager/Member of School SMT
Manager Senior to Stage 1 Meeting Officer
Stage 1 Review
Review Meeting (optional)
At 6-12 weeks continuous absence
Supervisor/line manager/Member of School SMT
Second Formal Meeting
Further 3 instances or 9 working days during the 12 month fixed monitoring period
12 weeks continuous or cumulative absence in the last 12 months
Appropriate supervisor/line manager
Manager Senior to Stage 2 Meeting Officer
Stage 2 Review
Review Meeting (optional)
At 18-24 weeks continuous absence
Appropriate supervisor/line manager
Third Formal Meeting
(and possibility of termination of employment on grounds of capability due to ill health)
Further 2 instances or 6 working days during the 12 month fixed monitoring period
24-36 weeks continuous or cumulative absence in the last 12 months
Nominated Senior Manager (Grade 14 or higher) or Head of Service/Executive Director
Appeals Committee of North Ayrshire Council (in the event of dismissal)
(Head of Service/ Executive Director if employee not dismissed)
7.2 Moving within the procedure from the First to the Second and the Second to the Third Stages has a 12-month time limit between each Stage during which the Stage remains “live”. Within that period of 12 months a Meeting can be linked to the next Stage. Where an employee improves their attendance in the 12-month period, they will normally no longer be in the procedure.
7.3 However, there may be occasions where an employee’s absence is satisfactory, only to lapse very soon after the 12-month period. In this event, where the manager continues to be concerned about the levels of absence, the manager may decide to reinstate the previous Stage or to move to the next Stage of the procedure.
8. Reasonable Contact during Absence
8.1 It is important that contact is maintained with an employee throughout an absence to gain an understanding of when the employee expects to be back at work and to assist in providing any support the Council can provide to assist their recovery. A sensitive and consistent approach should be taken when contacting employees absent due to illness. Consideration may be given to the possibility of working from home, in some instances, to maintain contact with the workplace.
8.2 The responsibility to maintain contact rests equally with the line manager and the employee. Employees must remain contactable during periods of absence and respond to letter, email or phone messages. The amount of contact will depend on the reason for absence and a balance of reasonable contact is expected from both the employee and manager.
8.3 Keeping in contact is particularly vital where employees are experiencing problems with mental health as it helps to prevent individuals feeling isolated and can be a starting point for recovery and return to work. In certain cases, home visits may be more appropriate to keep in touch and a record should be kept of the contact made with an employee. In cases of serious mental health problems, managers may need to adopt a slightly different approach to maintaining contact, such as electing to maintain contact through a representative. In all cases, the manager should take account of what the absent employee wishes the manager to convey about their sickness absence to colleagues.
8.4 Where it becomes apparent that there is a problem or potential problem regarding alcohol, drugs/solvent abuse or gambling addiction, an employee may be referred or self-refer to Occupational Health for specialist advice. Please refer to the Alcohol, Drug/Solvent Misuse & Gambling Addiction Policy & Procedure for further information.
9. Occupational Health (OH) Referrals
9.1 An employee can be referred to OH at any point during the Wellbeing@Work (Supporting Attendance Policy) process. However, employees should only be referred where the OH report will assist with any decision making, for example where the employee states that they have an underlying medical condition as the reason for absence. Unrelated absences would not necessarily require a referral.
9.2 A referral must be made in all cases where an employee has been or is likely to be absent for 6 calendar weeks or more and there is no date identified for a return to work. Muscular-skeletal and stress cases should be referred immediately. A stress management meeting should also be arranged to be undertaken.
9.3 It is a term and condition of employment that an employee may be required to attend an appointment with the Council’s OH Advisor. Please refer to the Occupational Health Information SharePoint and Optima online portal for further information on making referrals.
10. Supporting Employees Back to Work
10.1 The Council will consider advice given by an employee’s GP on the Statement of Fitness to Work (GP Fit Note). Where a GP advises that an employee may be fit for work, the line manager should discuss any changes that may be possible to help support the employee back to work. Please refer to the HR Guide: Wellbeing@Work (Supporting Attendance Policy) for more guidance.
10.2 Under the Equality Act 2010, a person is disabled if they have a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities. Impairment means condition. It may be physical, mental or both. Whether a condition is a disability will, in most cases, depend on all the facts and circumstances of the individual case. Long-term means lasting at least a year, or likely to be for the rest of the person's life or recurring.
10.3 Disability discrimination legislation places a duty on employers to make reasonable adjustments to remove or minimise disadvantages experienced by disabled people. The duty to make reasonable adjustments only arises where the employer knows, or reasonably ought to know, that an individual is disabled. The aim of an adjustment is to take away or minimise the disadvantage because of the person's disability so they can do their job or apply for one.
10.4 An employer must make adjustments for a disabled worker or job applicant if they are deemed “reasonable”. What is “reasonable” will depend on all the circumstances. Where an OH report indicates that the employee is likely to meet the criteria that defines a disability under the Equality Act 2010, the Council is required under the Act to make reasonable adjustments and take positive steps to ensure that the disabled employee can access and progress in employment.
10.5 Under the Wellbeing@Work (Supporting Attendance Policy), the use of “Discretion”, (see section 13), may be regarded as a form of reasonable adjustment. In addition, planned Disability Leave, as a form of Special Leave may also be considered as a reasonable adjustment, where a disabled person needs to be absent for “rehabilitation, assessment or treatment” for a fixed period of time known in advance. Where possible, planned disability leave appointments should be made outside of working hours, however, it is recognised that scheduling such appointments is sometimes out of the employee’s control, in these cases, paid time off will normally be granted. Some examples of reasons for planned disability leave include (but are not limited to):
- hospital, doctors or complementary medicine practitioners’ appointments
- hospital treatment as an outpatient
- delivery, training and/or time to adjust in relation to adaptive equipment
- assessment for such conditions as dyslexia
- hearing aid tests
- training with guide or hearing dog
- counselling/therapeutic treatment
- appointment time and recovery periods relating to blood transfusion or dialysis treatment
- physiotherapy (sessional or residential)
10.6 A longer block of disability leave might be also appropriate. This could be so that a newly disabled employee can make changes inside and outside of work, while physical or environmental adjustments are being made. Please refer to the HR Guide to Disability and the Workplace for further information.
11. Wellbeing@Work Meetings
11.1 Wellbeing@Work meetings will be arranged with employees whose absence record reaches the Corporate Management Prompts. Meetings must be arranged promptly following the absence to which they relate to ensure that decisions taken are current and relevant.
11.2 The aim of the meeting is to discuss the employee’s absence record, identify possible contributing factors, explore ways in which the absence can be improved by the employee, identify any support the Council can provide and make the employee aware of the impact of any absences and the potential consequences of any further absence.
11.3 The Informal Stage (Absence Review Meeting) is considered an appropriate approach to provide early intervention, support and coaching of an employee and precedes the Formal Procedure. This process is a positive step in preventing absence issues ‘going formal’, through advising, offering support and restating expected standards of attendance. The meeting will be followed up in writing so that employees are clear about expectations going forward.
11.4 To emphasise the less formal nature of the Informal Stage Absence Review meeting, accompaniment of the employee by a TU representative or colleague is not normally required. However, in circumstances where the employee requests accompaniment to allay concerns, this will not be unreasonably refused.
11.5 Formal Stage meetings may give rise to feelings of concern or anxiety for some employees, therefore it is important to reassure employees that the meetings are to ensure that everything possible is being done to support an employee back to work and that regular and meaningful communication is maintained about absence and its implications for their employment.
11.6 All situations will vary depending on the circumstances, the prognosis of any health conditions, the nature of the employee’s job role and whether the application of discretion may be appropriate. The meetings may also consider the employee’s future employment prospects and other options such as lighter duties, change in hours, change to work environment or location, working from home, reasonable adjustments, phased returns to work, redeployment and ill health retirement. Managers should ensure that they have a full and up to date understanding of the employee’s current health status, if necessary, with the support of OH.
11.7 The employee must be advised at each Formal Stage Meeting that they are in a fixed monitoring period for the next 12 months from the date of the last day of absence and will be invited to a next Formal Stage meeting if they have further absence that meets the relevant Corporate Management Prompts. The employee must be advised that their attendance will be closely monitored over the 12-month period and informal review meetings may also be arranged, where appropriate.
11.8 The manager should complete the Stage Meeting Form or ensure there are notes taken for the meeting and ideally obtain a signature from those in attendance. A Stage Outcome Letter must be issued to the employee as soon as possible following all Formal Stage meetings, highlighting the nature of the discussion, any support provided, the Stage the employee is at, the Corporate Management Prompts that will apply going forward and their right of appeal.
12. Stage 3 Meeting
12.1 The Stage 3 meeting is normally the final stage of the procedure. While there will always be a preference to retain employees, there may be circumstances where this may not be feasible. Depending on the circumstances, where it is felt that all reasonable options including support mechanisms, changes to the job or environment, reasonable adjustments, retraining, redeployment and ill health retirement have been exhausted, the employee’s contract of employment may be terminated due to continuing incapability to undertake their duties effectively because of ill health or persistent intermittent absence. HR advice should always be sought prior to moving to Stage 3 meeting and a Stage 3 case review must be undertaken in advance in consultation with an HR Advisor. Please refer to the HR Guide to Wellbeing@Work (Supporting Attendance Policy) for further guidance.
12.2 Where changes cannot be made to the employee’s current job or an individual is incapable of undertaking a suitable alternative job, or no suitable job is available, or the employee refuses to accept a suitable alternative job, or does not qualify for ill health retirement or is not a member of the LGPS, or they are unable to maintain the required standards of attendance then consideration will be given to termination of employment.
12.3 The purpose of the Stage 3 meeting will be to consider whether there are any further actions that can be taken to assist the employee in continuing their employment. The Nominated Senior Manager or Head of Service will consider any relevant information, including the following:
- The impact of the employee’s absence on other employees and service delivery
- The employee’s absence record and the OH advice received
- Representation made by the employee and/or their representative
- What actions have already been considered and taken to enable the employee to continue in employment.
12.4 Where an employee is dismissed on the grounds of incapability, this will be confirmed in writing along with their right to appeal.
13. Application for Discretion
13.1 In exceptional circumstances, a manager may consider that a particular case warrants discretion to vary from the standard procedure. In these cases, a manager must consider what is reasonable and justifiable in relation to the particular circumstances of the case and formally request discretion from the Head of Service or Nominee using the Discretion Request Form.
13.1 Discretion Criteria
13.1.1 Examples of circumstances which may lead to the application of discretion are as follows:
- Life threatening or terminal illness
- Absence due to a chronic illness and requires treatment which has an expected timescale of recovery
- Planned medical procedure which has an expected timescale of recovery
- Planned disability leave
- Bereavement of a close family member
- Where the employee is likely to be covered by the disability provisions of the Equality Act 2010 as advised in an OH report and where an extension to the timeframes within the procedure would be deemed a reasonable adjustment in the circumstances or varying the attendance targets where there is an underlying medical condition affecting their attendance intermittently.
This list is not exhaustive, however, there may be circumstances above where progression through the stages in the policy would be considered appropriate.
13.2 Process to Apply for Discretion
13.2.1 It is the line manager’s responsibility and decision whether to request discretion from the Head of Service/Nominee. The line manager may request discretion prior to or at any Formal Stage in the procedure. The line manager should not wait for or seek a request from an employee or their TU representative at a Formal Stage meeting in order to make a formal request. If a line manager does not apply for discretion then the employee can appeal on this basis following the Stage 1/2/3 meeting. The HR Team monitor discretion applications across all services to ensure consistency and compliance with the procedure.
13.2.2 There is no limit on the number of times that discretion can be applied. However, in considering the application of discretion, consideration may be given to the employee’s attendance record over the last three years and this record will include any previously granted discretion.
13.2.3. Managers should consider all the circumstances of the case within the context of the policy, including the employee’s absence record, the reasons for absence, the expected length of the absence and request discretion when they feel it is most appropriate. Occupational sick pay is calculated in the normal way should discretion be applied.
13.2.4 In specific cases, discretion may be requested before a Formal Stage 1 meeting, for example, where an employee requires a set period of time to undergo an operation with an expected recovery period, or where providing an extension to the Corporate Management Prompts will allow for a relapse or particular treatments or be deemed to be a reasonable adjustment under the Equality Act 2010 in the event of an employee having an underlying health issue.
13.2.5 In other cases, the Formal Stage meeting should take place and discretion requested at a later date if appropriate, for example: where the reason for absence is unclear or varied and further information is required. If, following the Formal Stage meeting, further information becomes available about the reasons for absence, discretion can then be requested.
13.2.6 Requesting and approving discretion in a timely and considered manner can result in reduced stress and anxiety for employees already concerned about their ill health and will reduce management time spent convening and conducting an avoidable Formal Meeting. Managers must notify employees of the outcome of any request for discretion in writing as early as possible.
13.2.7 Where discretion has been approved, an informal review meeting, or Formal Stage meeting, as appropriate, should be arranged immediately following the expiry of the discretion. During the period of discretion, it would be considered best practice for line managers to meet the employee for informal reviews, in line with the timeframes of the Corporate Management Prompts to ensure appropriate support and contact is maintained. The meeting should seek to understand whether the employee’s situation has changed and depending on the circumstances, a further period of discretion may be requested, or the employee should be progressed to the next Formal Stage.
13.2.8 Where the employee returns to work within a time period allowed for discretion then no formal action should be taken at this time. This period of absence may not contribute towards future Formal Stage meetings, depending on the discretion requested. Where the employee does not return to work within the time period allowed for discretion, then the formal procedure should be reinstated, unless further discretion is granted.
13.2.9 Pregnancy related absences will automatically qualify for discretion under the procedure. All absences that have had discretion granted must still be recorded as sickness absence. The decision whether to approve discretion rests with the Head of Service or nominee and their decision is final.
14.1 An employee will have a right to appeal against any decision taken at any Formal Stage in the procedure. The appeal can be against either the facts (which led to their being seen under the procedure) or the outcome of their Formal Stage meeting. The appeal must be made in writing stating fully the grounds for appeal. A Notification of Appeal Form is available on Connects. For appeals at Stage 1 and Stage 2, the appeal must be sent to the manager who conducted the meeting and at Stage 3, to the Head of Service (People & ICT). The appeal must be made no more than 14 days commencing from the day after the date on the letter notifying the employee of the result of the meeting. The employee will be given notice in writing of the time and venue of the appeal hearing.
14.2 At the Appeal Hearing, the Senior Manager/Head of Service, Service Director or Appeals Committee has the authority to revoke, confirm or vary the decision previously issued. The result of the Appeal Hearing will be notified in writing to the employee as soon as possible after the appeal. There is no further right of appeal.
15.1 Where job or environment changes or reasonable adjustments cannot be made to the employee’s working environment, advice will be sought from OH regarding the employee’s ability to carry out an alternative role. Managers should explore all opportunities for retraining and suitable alternative employment within their own service as well as placing the employee on the Council’s Redeployment register to seek suitable alternative employment out with their service. Managers are required to support employees as appropriate, to enable them to apply for potentially suitable roles. Please refer to the Redeployment Policy and Procedure on Connects for further information.
16. Ill Health Retirement
16.1 Where an employee is deemed unfit for their current role, they may be considered for ill health retirement (provided they are a member of the Local Government Pension Scheme). The manager must refer the employee to OH and ask for the employee’s eligibility for ill health retirement to be assessed. Where an employee is under consideration for ill health retirement by OH, action under the Wellbeing@Work (Supporting Attendance Policy) should be suspended until a decision had been made, however review meetings may take place in line with the corporate prompts.
17. Terminal Illness
17.1 Employees diagnosed with a terminal illness will be managed in a dignified and compassionate manner. Employees will not be subject to any Formal Stage action under the policy. Any medical referrals will be to assist with the employee’s wellbeing. HR advice should be sought with regard to dealing with employees with diagnosed terminal illness and the options to be considered.
Appendix 1 - Wellbeing@Work Corporate Management Prompts