Managing sickness cases and other matters

This section provides guidance for managers on non-routine sickness-related matters.

Managing frequent short-term sickness absence

The University recognises that there are a number of genuine reasons for an employee’s absence from work. Whilst occasional absence from work due to sickness may be acceptable, frequent short-term absence may indicate that further issues need to be explored with the employee. It can also cause operational difficulties and may become unsustainable. It is important to take action early and identify whether there are any underlying reasons for the absence. The University is committed to providing support for employees to ensure a successful return to work at the earliest stage possible.

It is advisable to review recent episodes of sickness absence of the employee as an indicator as to whether there may be underlying issues, notable patterns or simply to see whether the employee's absence may be improving or worsening. Typically, three or more separate instances of absence within a six month period potentially indicate a problem. In such cases, any concerns should be discussed with the employee through an 'informal discussion' (an extended return to work meeting) and intervention may be necessary, so that the employee can be supported as required, and any other issues can also be addressed. It is important to consider all of the circumstances surrounding each individual case and assess each case on its merits.

Where the individual’s absence levels are considered to be high, or the manager has good reason to believe that sickness absence might not be genuine, the 'informal discussion' procedure should also be followed in the first instance.

Managing long-term sickness absence

Continuous absence due to ill health lasting for four or more weeks is considered long-term sickness (and must be covered by a current Fit Note).

Managers are responsible for retaining regular contact with any employee who is on long-term sick leave. The frequency and the type of contact will depend on the individual circumstances.

It is important to stay in touch with the employee to:

  • identify the nature of illness (without seeking personal/confidential details);
  • discuss the potential length of absence;
  • identify any support that can be provided by the University that could enable the employee to return to work at the earliest stage possible;
  • keep the employee updated about their job.

When holding such discussions with the employee, the line manager should try to support and encourage the employee to disclose any concerns that might be affecting their absence and explore options that would aid them in their return to work. It is important to highlight to the employee that these discussions do not constitute part of the disciplinary process and should not be seen this way by either party. Retaining contact and building up a relationship in this manner will make discussions regarding returning to work and how this can be achieved much easier.

Return to work steps can be planned in cases of a more straight-forward nature (for example, a shorter working day for a set period). However, where the reason for sickness or the length of sickness is uncertain, management of such cases can be complex, and the advice of the relevant HRBP and the UOHS should be sought.

Where sickness continues beyond a reasonably sustainable level, the following measures may be considered:

See also:

Employees on a visa

Please note that under Home Office regulations, the University must report events and changes in circumstances for employees on a Tier 2 or Tier 5 visa, and one such event is a period of unpaid leave. A period of more than one month’s unpaid leave is only permitted, for a Tier 2 or Tier 5 visa holder, in the case of maternity, paternity, adoption or long-term sick leave. If a Tier 2 or Tier 5 visa holder’s period of sickness absence is likely to result in unpaid sickness absence, you should liaise with the Work Permits Desk in order that they are aware of the situation as it develops.

Where a Tier 2 or Tier 5 visa holder takes unpaid leave of any duration, due to sickness or in any other circumstances, this must be reported to the Work Permits Desk within five working days of the start of this period in order that they can report this to the Home Office as required. Further information in relation to Tier 2 and Tier 5 reporting requirements can be found in the relevant Work Permits Desk guidance.

See also the guidance for employees with a Tier 2 or Tier 5 visa in cases of unauthorised absence.

Sickness during annual leave

If an employee is taken ill whilst on annual leave, arrangements will apply under which, provided the employee satisfies the department by production of a self-certification form or doctor's certificate (Fit Note), he or she will be able to take the balance of his or her annual holiday (but excluding any allowance for sickness on days of public holiday) at a later date after he or she returns to work. This leave should normally be rearranged during the same holiday year, but, if this is not possible, the affected leave may be carried forward to the next year.  The normal reporting requirements for sickness still apply when an employee is taken ill whilst on annual leave.

PLEASE NOTE: Although the relevant manager should ask, where appropriate, about illness on weekends and other rest days, there should be no attempt to request certification in respect of them.

Work-related sickness absence

If there is any possibility that sickness absence may have been caused or exacerbated by work, or working arrangements (including, for example, conditions such as asthma, musculoskeletal disorders, or stress-related illnesses), the circumstances should be notified without delay to the University Occupational Health Service. The Service will seek to establish a diagnosis, in conjunction, as required, with the individual's medical advisers.

Full guidance on the management of work-related stress, including guidance on identifying signs of stress can be found here.

Where appropriate, the UOHS will involve the Safety Office, as certain medical conditions may be reportable under the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 1995 (RIDDOR), and may in any case indicate the need for a safety investigation. Further details are provided in Accident, incident and near miss reporting policy statement.

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Ill-health retirement

Guidance on ill-health retirement can be found here.

Managing mental health issues at work

Where an employee has any known or suspected mental health issues, advice should always be sought from the University Occupational Health Service and the HRBP in the first instance. All such cases should be handled with a lot of sensitivity and care.

See also:

See also:

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