Sickness Absence Review Process

Conducting Informal Discussions

Sickness absence concerns are most effectively managed as early as possible.  In most cases informal discussions between the manager and the employee will help to understand the issues and assess what support might be needed.  A summary of the informal process is provided in the relevant policy flowchart [insert link].

Whilst employees only have the right to be represented at formal Absence Review Meetings by a trade union representative or work colleague, by agreement with all parties, the request to be accompanied may be extended to informal discussions.  Accompaniment at the informal stage will only be permitted where it is deemed to be in the interests of an early resolution and where there are particular circumstances in which an employee needs additional support.  In such cases an independent note-taker may also be present.

During an informal discussion the employee should be advised of any sickness absence concerns.  Feedback should be constructive, with the emphasis being placed on finding ways to support the employee and improve attendance wherever possible.  The employee should be given the opportunity to provide feedback and to respond to any questions from the manager.

Moving to the Formal Process

Sickness absence will be managed informally in the first instance.  However, if an employee’s absence due to sickness is of concern or informal action has not succeeded in improving attendance to an acceptable level, consideration will be given to whether there are grounds for undertaking formal action under the Sickness Absence Policy.  The formal process can be applied to either cases of frequent short-term or long-term sickness absence.

The Sickness Absence Review Process has three formal stages, with provision for an appeal at each stage.  A summary of the formal process is provided in the relevant policy flowchart [insert link].  The aim is to resolve issues at Stage 1 wherever possible.  Timescales for each stage will depend on individual circumstances and some sickness absence issues may be dealt with over a longer or shorter period than others.  The point at which a manager decides to move an employee to the next stage of the formal process will vary from case to case.  Factors to take into account include:

  • What the issues causing the absence are;
  • What affect the absence is having on service delivery and/or colleagues;
  • What additional support could be given; and/or
  • Whether attendance has improved as a result of the informal processes.

Where there are grounds for undertaking formal action, a staged approach will be adopted as detailed in the Sickness Absence Policy.  The Sickness Absence Review Process will seek to establish:

  • The level of sickness absence;
  • The attendance target set if applicable;
  • The causes of the sickness absence;
  • The impact the sickness absence is having;
  • The actions to be taken;
  • Who has responsibility for the actions; and
  • The support to be given to the employee.

The focus of the formal process will be to give an employee support to help them to achieve the expected attendance levels.  Where an attendance target is set, regular review meetings should be held with the employee.  At the end of the review period, the employee's progress will be reviewed to assess if any further action and/or support is required.  If the employee's attendance levels have not improved to an acceptable standard, consideration will be given to the next stage of the formal Sickness Absence Review Process.

At any stage of the formal process, a manager may consider a range of other options including:

  • Reverting to an informal approach;
  • Taking action under an alternative University procedure;
  • Providing appropriate support including a referral to Occupational Health;
  • Extending an attendance target and/or review period; and/or
  • By agreement, investigating the possibility of alternative available roles.

Formal Stage 1 and 2 Absence Review Meetings

At an Absence Review Meeting at Stage 1 or Stage 2 of the formal Sickness Absence Review Process, the manager (accompanied by a member of the HR Division) will outline the sickness absence concerns that have led to the meeting and will review the circumstances of the case and the actions taken to date.  The employee will be given the opportunity to state their case and raise any factors they wish to have considered.  The manager should identify if there are measures, such as an Occupational Health referral, which may be beneficial, discuss any attendance targets for improvement and a timescale of review.

If as a result of the meeting and the evidence presented it is considered that no further action is required, this will be confirmed to the employee in writing within ten working days.

If as a result of the meeting and the evidence presented the employee’s attendance is considered to be unsatisfactory, the manager will write to the employee issuing a formal Improvement Notice.  The Improvement Notice will state the improvement in attendance required, the timescale for improvement, any support to be provided and the consequence of not meeting the attendance target within the review period.  It will also set out the employee’s right of appeal.


Formal Stage 3 Absence Review Meetings

If the employee's attendance does not improve, as specified in the Improvement Notice issued at an Absence Review Meeting at Stage 1 or Stage 2 of the formal Sickness Absence Review Process, the employee may be required to attend a formal Stage 3 Absence Review Meeting.

The meeting will be conducted by the Head of Institution (or nominated deputy) who will be accompanied by a member of the HR Division.

  • Preparation

The employee will be notified in writing and will be given at least five working days’ notice of the meeting.  The invite letter will:

  • Explain the purpose of the meeting;
  • Provide details of the sickness absence concerns and the reasons for those concerns;
  • Explain that one possible consequence of the meeting may be the termination of employment;
  • Specify the manager/Head of Institution who will conduct the meeting and identify any others who will be attending;
  • Invite the employee to make any written submissions; and
  • Advise the employee of their right to be accompanied.

Where there is additional information to provide to the employee, this should be sent with the letter and may include:

  • A summary of relevant information e.g. attendance records;
  • A copy of relevant documents which will be used at the sickness absence meeting e.g. Occupational Health assessment.

Prior to the meeting the employee must inform the manager conducting the meeting of:

  • Any written submissions they wish to have considered; and
  • Any documentary evidence they intend to rely on at the meeting and explanation of the relevance.

The employee should provide this information as soon as reasonably practicable and at least three days before the formal meeting.

  • Introductions

At the start of the meeting the person conducting the meeting will introduce those present and explain the purpose of the meeting and the process that will be undertaken, encouraging those present to speak openly.

  • Presentation of the case

The presenting manager (normally the manager who has dealt with the case up to this point) will present the history of the employee’s sickness absence, its effect on the Institution and any actions previously taken to resolve the concerns.

  • The employee’s response

The employee or their representative should state their case and respond to any issues raised.  They will have an opportunity to ask any questions and present any evidence in support of their case.

  • Consideration by the manager conducting the meeting

The Head of Institution (or nominated deputy) conducting and hearing the case should:

  • Go through any relevant evidence presented at the meeting;
  • Use questions to clarify the issues and to check that what has been said is understood;
  • Encourage the employee to speak freely to establish all the facts;
  • Establish if there are any underlying causes for the sickness absences;
  • If dismissal is a possibility, establish whether there is any likelihood of a significant improvement being made within a reasonable time and whether there is any practical alternative to dismissal, such as redeployment support;
  • Summarise the main points of the discussion after questioning is completed;
  • Ensure all evidence and points for all parties have been put forward, including if there are any special circumstances to be taken into account; and
  • Ask the employee if they have anything further to say or to be taken into account.

The person conducting the meeting will consider all representations before deciding what outcome or support is appropriate.

  • Adjournment

If new facts have emerged or there is any dispute over facts that have not been properly investigated, it may be necessary to adjourn the meeting in order to investigate them and reconvene the meeting at a later date.  Any new evidence should be shared with both parties prior to reconvening the meeting.  Requests for an adjournment by either side should be made to the manager leading the meeting.

  • Meeting Outcome

The employee will be informed of the decision in writing within ten working days of the meeting.

If, as a result of the meeting and the evidence presented, it is considered that no further formal action is required, this will be confirmed to the employee in writing.

If, as a result of the meeting and the evidence presented, it is considered that further formal action is necessary further advice should be sought from the relevant HR Business Manager of their team, particularly if dismissal on grounds of ill-health is under consideration.

The correspondence shall also notify the employee of their right to appeal against any sanction.  In the event that the decision is taken to dismiss the employee, the correspondence will include the reasons for dismissal and the date that their employment will terminate, together with details of any notice arrangements and right of appeal.  Dismissal will always be a last resort after consideration of all other options.  The Director of HR should be consulted in advance of the proposed dismissal of any employee.

Accompaniment and Representation

Employees can be represented at formal Absence Review Meetings by a trade union representative or a work colleague.  In exceptional circumstances, an individual may wish to request to bring a second representative to a formal meeting or hearing, for example, a representative from the organisation Mind.  Where this is allowed, it must be confirmed in advance which representative will actually be presenting the case.

The employee’s representative will be allowed to address the meeting or hearing to put and sum up the employee’s case, respond on behalf of the employee to any views expressed at the meeting and confer with the employee during the meeting.  The representative does not, however, have the right to answer questions on the employee’s behalf, address the meeting if the employee does not wish it or prevent management from explaining their case.

Being accompanied is different from being represented.  The companion will not be allowed to speak on the employee’s behalf, but may ask for clarification on the questions asked. At the end of the meeting, the companion may raise any other issues that are important to the case, but the employee must answer any questions that result from this.

Where an employee is to be accompanied or represented, they should provide relevant details to the manager convening the meeting sufficiently in advance of the meeting.  It is the employee’s responsibility to supply copy documentation for their representative or companion.

Where possible, the manager will seek to consult with the trade union representative in advance of scheduling a formal meeting to ensure his or her availability. 

Postponements

When a formal meeting is scheduled, both parties, including the representative, should make every effort to attend.

Where the employee is unable to attend an Absence Review Meeting on the date scheduled they should inform their manager at the earliest opportunity.  In the first instance the meeting will usually be rearranged for an alternative date.  Where an employee fails to attend a rearranged meeting without good cause, a decision may be made to go ahead with the meeting in the employee's absence, and a decision will be reached based on the evidence available.  The employee will be informed where this is the case.

The employee can request for a formal Absence Review Meeting to be postponed by up to five working days (beginning with the day after the day on which the meeting was originally convened), only for reasons of non-availability of a chosen representative or companion.  One postponement of a formal meeting on these grounds may be allowed.  Where possible, the manager may wish to consult with the employee’s chosen representative or companion on their availability before scheduling a Stage 1, 2 or 3 Absence Review Meeting, which may avoid the need for a postponement.  Before making any such contact, the manager should be satisfied that the employee will be represented at the meeting by that individual.

In exceptional circumstances, other reasons for postponement may be considered.  However, there is no entitlement and it cannot be guaranteed, and the manager would consider the circumstances and may arrange to have the meeting or hearing at a neutral venue.  If a meeting is held at a non-University venue, it is recommended that the manager be accompanied.  If the employee fails to attend a meeting, it may be held in his or her absence.

If an employee’s trade union representative or work colleague cannot attend on a proposed date, the employee can suggest another date so long as it is reasonable and is not more than five working days after the date originally proposed.  Whilst every effort will be made to find a time that is suitable for all parties, if the companion is not available at the rearranged time the University can insist that the employee choose a different companion, or attend the meeting unaccompanied.

Where an employee is unable to attend an Absence Review Meeting due to ill-health, consideration will be given to making reasonable adjustments, such as holding the meeting at a different location or allowing the employee to make written representations.

Authority to Act

Meetings at Stages 1 and 2 of the formal Sickness Absence Review Process are conducted by the employee's manager or a more senior manager, as appropriate.  Meetings at Stage 3 are conducted by the Head of Institution (or nominated deputy).  A nominee selected to act on behalf of a Head of Institution should be agreed in conjunction with HR and will be a senior colleague.

There may be exceptional circumstances where it would not be appropriate for the Head of Institution to act in a case e.g. the Head of Institution is compromised in some substantial way.  In such circumstances the case will be referred to the Director of HR who may refer the case to an alternative Head of Institution or Senior Officer of the University.