Sickness Absence Review Process

7.1.Conducting Informal Discussions

7.1.1.In the first instance it may be appropriate for the manager to have an informal discussion with the employee. This may arise, for example, where an employee's pattern of absence gives cause for concern or where matters discussed at a return to work discussion require further investigation.

7.1.2.Informal discussions should:

  • Review the employee's sickness absence record;
  • Highlight any patterns or concerns (for example, if an employee has repeated sickness absences on a Monday, Friday or following a period of authorised annual leave);
  • Offer support and advice as required;
  • Give the employee the opportunity to inform their manager of any health issues or any other factors which have contributed to their absence; and
  • Consider any mitigating factors (for example, pregnancy or disability-related absences).

7.1.3.If appropriate, an attendance target over a specific period of time will be set. If the employee's absence levels reduce, the target is met and the desired improvement is made, no further action will be taken. However, if the employee fails to meet the agreed attendance target, it may be appropriate to hold a formal Absence Review Meeting. Further advice on setting and reviewing attendance targets is provided in the Sickness Absence Guidance document.

7.1.4.If, during the informal or formal Sickness Absence Review Process, there appears to be an underlying health issue, the manager should offer appropriate support and a referral to Occupational Health, in consultation with the employee and Human Resources.

7.2.The 3-Stage Formal Process

7.2.1.The Sickness Absence Review Process has three formal stages, with provision for an appeal at each stage.

7.2.2.Timescales for each stage will depend on individual circumstances and some sickness absence 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 Sickness Absence Review Process will vary from case to case.

7.3.Conducting Formal Meetings

7.3.1.Managers should seek to resolve sickness absence issues informally wherever possible. However, if informal action is not considered appropriate or has not succeeded in improving attendance to an acceptable level, the employee will be required to attend a formal Absence Review Meeting. Further advice on moving to the formal process is provided in the Sickness Absence Guidance document.

7.3.2.All meetings should be approached in a caring and supportive manner, demonstrating an understanding of what might be a difficult time for the employee.

7.3.3.The employee should receive at least five working days written notice of the formal Absence Review Meeting and be sent a copy of their sickness absence / attendance record, Occupational Health report (where appropriate) and any other relevant documents. The letter inviting the employee to the meeting will outline the purpose of the meeting, the date, time and location and the employee's right to be accompanied.

7.3.4.The employee may be accompanied to formal meetings by either a trade union representative or a colleague. The employee must confirm their companion's identity to the manager conducting the meeting at least two days before it is due to take place.

7.3.5.Formal meetings will be held by the employee's manager or a more senior manager and may be attended by a representative from Human Resources. In the case of a Stage 3 Absence Review Meeting, it will be conducted by the Head of Institution (or nominated deputy) and will be attended by a representative from Human Resources.

7.3.6.The employee must take all reasonable steps to attend a meeting. If the employee or their companion are unable to attend at the time specified the employee should immediately inform the manager holding the meeting, who will seek to agree an alternative time. If the employee feels unable to attend for a reason related to their health, they should inform the manager holding the meeting. Consideration can then be given to holding the meeting at a neutral venue or alternative arrangements made where appropriate, such as holding the meeting over the telephone. Failure to attend a meeting without good reason may be treated as misconduct, or may result in the meeting proceeding in the absence of the employee. Guidance should also be sought from the relevant HR Business Manager or their team.

7.3.7.During the course of a formal Absence Review Meeting, it may be decided that a further period of monitoring is necessary or additional information is required. In such circumstances, the meeting will be adjourned and reconvened at a later date. When determining an appropriate monitoring period, the manager will discuss with the employee what is considered reasonable in the circumstances, taking into account the nature of the employee's illness.

7.3.8.A decision will be made when the manager leading the meeting is satisfied that both the employee and/or their representative have had sufficient opportunity to state their case and that no further information is required.

7.3.9.The outcome of the Absence Review Meeting will be communicated to the employee verbally wherever possible. The employee will also receive written confirmation of the outcome, which will explain the reasons for the decision reached and the right to appeal. This should be provided within ten working days of the meeting (unless this timescale is not practicable, in which case it will be provided as soon as possible).

7.3.10.There is a right of appeal against a decision at any formal stage of the Sickness Absence Review Process.

7.3.11.If at any time the employee's manager considers, based on reasonable evidence, that the employee has taken or is taking sickness absence when they are not unwell, or is not following the required sickness absence reporting procedure, they may refer the matter to be dealt with under the relevant disciplinary procedure.

7.3.12.Further advice on conducting formal meetings is provided in the Sickness Absence Guidance document.

7.4.Formal Stage 1 Absence Review Meeting

7.4.1.A formal Stage 1 Absence Review Meeting may be held when an employee's absence due to sickness is of concern and informal action is no longer appropriate or has not succeeded in improving attendance to an acceptable level.

7.4.2.The purpose of a Stage 1 Absence Review Meeting will depend on the type of sickness absence being investigated but may include:

  • Discussing the reasons for absence and giving the employee the opportunity to explain their absence and any mitigating circumstances;
  • Where the employee is on long-term sickness absence, determining how long the absence is likely to last, taking into account any available medical evidence;
  • Where the employee has been absent on a number of occasions, determining the likelihood of further absences;
  • Considering whether medical advice is required, including a referral to Occupational Health if this has not already been arranged;
  • Considering whether the employee has a disability that may necessitate reasonable adjustments being made in the application of the formal process;
  • Considering what, if any, measures might improve the employee's health and/or attendance;
  • Agreeing a way forward, any action that will be taken and a timescale for review and/or a further meeting under the Sickness Absence Review Process; and/or
  • Consideration of the impact of the absence on the work area and service provision, and arrangements put in place as required.

7.4.3.Possible outcomes may include:

  • Adjourning the meeting to obtain further medical evidence;
  • A return to work programme, possibly with a phased return to work (where the employee has been absent for a long period);
  • Issuing a First Improvement Notice setting out the required improvement in attendance (where the employee has been absent on a number of occasions). The employee should be advised that if the requisite improvement is not achieved this may result in further formal action, which may include attending a Stage 2 Absence Review Meeting; and/or
  • No further action at this stage.

7.4.4.A First Improvement Notice will establish the commencement of a formal absence monitoring period and will set out any required attendance levels, the implications for not meeting those levels, the review process during the monitoring period and the employee's right of appeal against the decision.

7.4.5.A copy of the First Improvement Notice will be retained on the employee's personnel file. The First Improvement Notice will remain active for a specified period (e.g. six months) after which time it will be disregarded. Further advice on issuing improvement notices is provided in the Sickness Absence Guidance document.

7.4.6.The manager will monitor the employee's attendance during the review period. On completion of the review period, the manager will write to the employee to inform them of the outcome that either:

  • The employee has met any required attendance levels set and no further action will be taken;
  • Progress has been made towards meeting the attendance levels set, but they have not been achieved fully (or other factors have been present e.g. leave) and the review period will be extended or other options considered; or
  • The employee has not met the attendance levels set and the matter will be progressed to the second stage of the Absence Review Process.

7.5.Formal Stage 2 Absence Review Meeting

7.5.1.A formal Stage 2 Absence Review Meeting may be held when an employee has been unable to return to work, a return to work programme has been unsuccessful or an employee's absence levels have continued to be in excess of those set out in the formal absence monitoring period and/or remain a concern.

7.5.2.The purpose of a Stage 2 Absence Review Meeting will depend on the type of sickness absence being investigated but may include:

  • Discussing the reasons for and impact of the employee's on-going absence(s);
  • Where the employee is on long-term sickness absence, discussing how long the absence is likely to last;
  • Where the employee has been absent on a number of occasions, discussing the likelihood of further absences;
  • If it has not been obtained, considering whether medical advice is required. If it has been obtained, considering the advice that has been given and whether further advice is required;
  • Considering the employee's ability to return to/remain in their job in view both of their capabilities and the University's business needs and any adjustments that can reasonably be made to the job to enable the employee to do so;
  • Considering whether redeployment support is appropriate and whether any adjustments can reasonably be made to assist with redeploying the employee to a suitable available vacancy;
  • Where the employee is able to return from long-term sick leave, to their existing job or a redeployed job, agreeing a return to work programme; and/or
  • Agreeing a way forward, action that will be taken and a time-scale for review and/or a further review meeting(s).

7.5.3.Possible outcomes may include:

  • Adjourning the meeting to obtain further medical evidence;
  • A return to work programme, possibly with a phased return to work (where the employee has been absent for a long period);
  • Issuing a Final Improvement Notice setting out the required improvement in attendance (where the employee has been absent on a number of occasions). The employee should be advised that if the requisite improvement is not achieved this may result in further formal action, which may include dismissal;
  • Consideration of other options such as redeployment support or retirement on ill-health grounds; and/or
  • No further action at this stage.

7.5.4.A copy of the Final Improvement Notice will be retained on the employee's personnel file. The Final Improvement Notice will remain active for a specified period (e.g. twelve months) after which time it will be disregarded. Further advice on issuing improvement notices is provided in the Sickness Absence Guidance document.

7.6.Formal Stage 3 Absence Review Meeting

7.6.1.A formal Stage 3 Absence Review Meeting may be held when an employee has been unable to return to work, a return to work programme has been unsuccessful or an employee's absence levels have continued to be in excess of those set out in the formal stage two absence monitoring period and/or remain a concern.

7.6.2.The employee must be informed in writing that an outcome of the Stage 3 Absence Review Meeting could be dismissal.

7.6.3.The Stage 3 Absence Review Meeting will be conducted by the Head of Institution or nominated deputy who will be accompanied by a member of the HR Division. The employee's manager will also attend the meeting to provide details of the sickness absence and steps taken to address it.

7.6.4.The purpose of a Stage 3 Absence Review Meeting may include:

  • A review of the meetings that have taken place and matters discussed with the employee to date;
  • A review of the history of the employee's absence, its effect on the Institution and any actions previously taken to address the situation, including any support provided to the employee;
  • The consideration any medical evidence obtained;
  • in the case an employee remains on long-term sickness absence, considering whether there have been any changes since the last meeting under stage two of the procedure, either as regards a possible return to work, permanently reduced hours or opportunities for return or redeployment support;
  • Considering any matters that the employee wishes to raise such as mitigating factors;
  • Considering whether there is a reasonable likelihood of the employee returning to work or achieving the desired level of attendance in a reasonable time;
  • Considering alternative options or ill-health retirement; and/or
  • Considering, after all other options have been considered, the possible termination of employment.

7.6.5.Following the meeting, the Head of Institution or nominated deputy, may consider one or more of the following options (this list is not exhaustive):

  • To extend a Final Improvement Notice and set a further review period (where a substantial improvement in attendance is likely within the review period);
  • To consider other options such as redeployment support, ill-health retirement or other appropriate action short of dismissal;
  • To dismiss on grounds of capability (ill-health); or
  • No further action.

7.6.6.If dismissal is recommended, Statute C, Schedule, Chapter IV should be followed for established officers. For all other University employees, the decision to dismiss on the grounds of unsatisfactory attendance is made under the Sickness Absence Policy. The Director of HR should be consulted in advance of the proposed dismissal of any employee.

7.6.7.The decision will be confirmed in writing within ten working days of the meeting. The letter shall also notify the employee of their right to appeal. In the event that the decision is taken to dismiss the employee, the letter will include the reasons for dismissal, the date that their employment will terminate and the right of appeal.

7.7.Ill-Health Retirement

7.7.1.Ill-health retirement should be considered before any decision to dismiss is taken under this policy. Guidance and advice on Ill-Health Retirement should be sought from the relevant HR Business Manager or their team.

7.7.2.The option for ill-health retirement is subject to meeting the eligibility criteria set out by the relevant pension provider and advice should be sought from the Pensions Office and Occupational Health.

7.8.Concerns and Appeals

7.8.1.Employees who feel that they have been treated unreasonably under any section of the Sickness Absence Policy can, in the first instance, raise the matter with their manager, Head of Institution, HR School Team and/or Trade Union. Ultimately employees have the right to raise the matter through the relevant grievance procedure for their staff category.

7.8.2.Employees have a right to appeal against a decision to issue an improvement notice, other sanction or dismissal in accordance with the relevant procedures.