Procedure

1. Policy statement

The University is committed to promoting the health, safety and welfare of its staff: that commitment includes having in place procedures to offer support to those suffering sickness or ill health. This is to enable employees to maintain an acceptable level of attendance, so they can fulfil the conditions of their employment contract.

2. Scope

2.1 This procedure provides a framework for dealing with sickness absence. This includes dealing with frequent short-term sickness absence and long-term sickness absence (or a combination of both), caused through ill-health or injury. It is intended to apply when the line manager considers that the employee’s ability to perform their duties is affected by health issues and the level of sickness absence.

2.2 This procedure applies to all employees employed by the University of York under a contract of employment.

3. Aims

The aim of this procedure is to ensure prompt, consistent and fair treatment for all staff, and to enable both the individual and the University to be clear about the expectations of each other in cases involving sickness absence.

4. Principles

The following general principles will apply to the application of this procedure:

4.1 Confidentiality – All parties involved in these procedures must ensure that they maintain, as appropriate, the confidentiality of the process within and outside the University. Disclosure may be necessary when this is required under law, or where there is a duty of care, e.g. a manager has a concern for the well-being of an employee or others.

4.2 Movement between procedures – There may be occasions when, as a consequence of information obtained under one procedure, it is appropriate to use that information to inform or transfer a case to, another procedure.

4.3 Timescales – Every effort will be made to comply with timescales outlined in this procedure. If the complexity or specific circumstances of a case mean timescales need to be extended, then the employee and/or nominated attendee will be advised of the reasons for any delay.

4.4 Attendance at meetings – If an employee does not attend a meeting convened under this procedure, without good cause, the appropriate manager may make a decision in their absence based on the information available.

4.5 Equality and diversity - To ensure fair treatment and, where appropriate, provision of support by the University in the application of this procedure, employees should be encouraged to provide information about any equality or diversity issues which may be relevant.

4.6 Disability - In some cases ill-health may be related to a disability or disabilities. Appropriate regard will be given to the Equality Act 2010. In particular, consideration will be given to whether there are reasonable adjustments which could be made to the requirements of a role, workplace, or to other aspects of working arrangements in order to support an employee’s return to work or achieve acceptable levels of attendance.

4.7 Suspension - In certain cases an employee may be suspended from work on medical grounds. Such suspension will be on full pay and shall be reviewed in line with any medical advice received. The decision to suspend will be taken by a Head of Department or Director of a Support Service Department, or a member of the University Executive Board after consultation with an HR Partner/Adviser.

4.8 Medical advice – When using this procedure, medical advice may be sought by the line manager via the University’s Occupational Health Service. It will always be sought before considering dismissal, when a physician’s advice will be obtained. The OH service may, if appropriate, also consult the employee’s general practitioner or another specialist consultant. The employee may also provide additional medical information produced by a medical expert which she /he considers to be relevant.

4.9 The University’s contractual terms of employment require an employee to agree to a request to undergo a medical examination by a suitably qualified medical officer, nominated by the University, and to authorise the person responsible for the examination to prepare a medical report for disclosure to, and discussion with the University.

4.10 Where an employee refuses consent for such medical reports to be obtained or disclosed, the relevant manager will make their decision on the appropriate course of action using the information available at the time. The employee should be made aware of the potential implications of refusing consent.

4.11 Right to be accompanied – At all Formal meetings employees have the right to be accompanied by a trade union representative or work colleague.

4.12 In cases involving sickness or ill-health where the employee is unable to attend Formal meetings due to their illness, they may nominate a family member or other person appropriately connected with their affairs (nominated attendee) to attend and act in their place. If an employee is incapable of nominating an attendee, the Director of HR may nominate another person on their behalf. The nominated attendee may then choose to be represented at the meeting by a trade union representative or work colleague of the employee.

4.13 Involvement of Human Resources – A member of the human resources team should be consulted for advice at all stages of the formal process.

4.14 Retirement on health grounds – The use of this procedure does not imply that the relevant pension scheme will accept an application for the employee to receive a pension on health grounds. Any decision to dismiss on grounds of incapacity due to sickness/ill-health is separate from any application or decision to award an ill-health pension.

4.15 Dismissal – In the event that the circumstances of a case lead the manager to contemplate the termination of the contract of an employee on grounds of incapacity due to ill-health, this will be carried out in accordance with Section 9 of this Procedure.

4.16 Appeals against dismissal - The employee has the right of appeal against a decision to terminate his/her employment under this procedure. Any dismissal will remain in force pending the outcome of any appeal.

5. Sickness absence definitions

For the purposes of this procedure sickness absence is considered as follows:-

5.1 Frequent short-term sickness absence

5.1.1 Frequent short-term sickness absence is considered as three or more instances of sickness absence (or a continuous period(s) of absence) amounting to 10 or more days (pro-rata for part time employees) within a 12 month rolling period.

5.1.2 The frequent short-term sickness absence trigger stated above (10 or more days) will be pro-rata for employees who are shift workers. See section 5.4 of the guidance for information on calculating shift worker sickness absence.

5.1.2 Frequent short term sickness absence involves patterns of absence due to illnesses that are usually not connected. Such patterns could be, but are not limited to:

  • a number of single days of sickness absence
  • a mixture of individual days and longer periods of sickness absence.

5.2 Long-term sickness absence

Any period of absence from work because of sickness or ill health lasting more than four weeks (28 days, or pro-rata for part time employees) may be considered as long-term sickness. This includes, but is not limited to:

  • Long-term absence because of a single illness or disability;
  • Repeated periods of absence arising from a single illness or disability.

5.3 Combined long-term and frequent short-term sickness absence
It is recognized that some employees have a combination of both long term and frequent short term absence. In these cases the line manager who should seek advice from the HR Partner/Adviser.

6. Sickness absence procedure

6.1 Frequent short-term sickness absence

Where managers identify concerns in terms of attendance at work as a result of short-term and frequent sickness absence they should seek to address this at the earliest opportunity. Concerns relating to sickness absence should be resolved informally where possible, by providing appropriate support to enable the employee to attend work on a consistent basis. Prior to any meetings being held the manager should ensure that they have full and accurate details relating to the periods of absence under review.

6.2 Informal meeting

6.2.1 The informal approach is aimed at bringing concerns to the attention of the employee, exploring causes, identifying responsibilities and agreeing actions to be taken.

6.2.2 Where there are concerns about an employee’s sickness absence/level of attendance, their manager will meet with them to reflect those concerns and explore ways of addressing them. There is no right to Trade Union representation at an informal meeting. The employee will be advised of the improvement required and a review period will be set.

6.2.3 Managers should make a note of the details of these informal discussions.

6.2.4 Following improved attendance using the informal procedure, the matter will be considered resolved.

6.2.5 The employee will be made aware that a continuation or further absence may lead to on-going monitoring or moving to the Formal procedure.

6.2.6 Before initiating the Formal procedure, the manager should:

  • Consider whether the employee should be referred to the University’s Occupational Health service to advise whether there is any underlying medical condition that is giving rise to the level of sickness absence; and
  • Seek advice from an HR Services

7. Formal procedure

7.1 First formal meeting - If the attendance targets set at the informal meeting have not been met, the employee will be invited in writing to a Formal Meeting, normally with at least five working days’ notice. The letter inviting the employee to the meeting shall set out the issues to be considered, advise the employee that they may provide a written submission of their case for the meeting, and advise them that they may be accompanied by a Trade Union representative or colleague.

7.2 The meeting will be conducted by the manager, who will outline the level of sickness absence that has led to the meeting and will review the circumstances of the case and the actions taken to date. The manager will consider any written or verbal information presented by the employee

7.3 If, having considered any representations made by the employee the manager determines that the level of attendance is not satisfactory, the employee will be issued with written notice of:-

  • The improvement in attendance required
  • The timescale for improvement
  • Any support to be received
  • The consequence of not meeting the required level of attendance

7.4 The letter confirming the notice of required improvement, and containing the above details will be sent to the employee within five working days.

7.5 A copy of the letter will be retained on the employee's personal file until a satisfactory level of attendance is achieved.

7.6 Second formal meeting - If there has been a failure to meet the attendance targets set at the first Formal Meeting, the employee will be invited in writing to a second Formal Meeting, normally with at least five working days’ notice. The letter inviting the employee to the meeting shall set out the issues to be considered, advise the employee that they may provide a written submission of their case for the meeting, and advise them that they may be accompanied by a Trade Union representative or colleague.

7.7 The meeting will be conducted by the manager, who will outline the level of sickness absence that has led to the meeting and will review the circumstances of the case and the actions taken to date. The manager will consider any written or verbal information presented by the employee.

7.8 If, having considered any representations made by the employee the manager determines that the level of attendance is not satisfactory, the employee will be issued with final written notice of required improvement and advised of:-

  • The improvement in attendance required
  • The timescale for improvement
  • Any support to be received
  • The consequence of not meeting the attendance targets i.e. that the employee may be dismissed if no acceptable improvement in attendance is achieved within the given timescale

7.9 The letter confirming the final written notice of improvement required, and containing the details above will be sent to the employee within five working days.

7.10 A copy of the letter will be retained on the employee's personal file until satisfactory levels of attendance are achieved.

7.11 If the attendance Targets set at the second Formal Meeting have not been met then a further final Formal Meeting should be arranged, at which dismissal may be considered. This action is outlined at Section 9 of this procedure.

8. Long-term sickness absence

Once a manager is aware that an employee has a state of health that could result in long term sickness absence, the manager should discuss the situation with the employee at the earliest opportunity. The purpose of this initial discussion is to understand the nature of the employee’s condition, to establish what support can be offered and to help and support them to prepare for their return to work. Further meetings may be arranged as required.

8.1 Communication

8.1.1 A key part of the process in managing a person on long-term sickness absence is to ensure that regular contact with the employee is maintained. The timing and nature of that contact will be appropriate to the situation of the member of staff and their medical condition and may be in the form of email, telephone, letter or personal visits

8.1.2 The purpose of this on-going contact is to consider what support, if any, can be provided to assist the recovery and a return to work, as well as to ensure that the employee is kept updated on any developments in the workplace. It is expected that there should be contact at regular intervals, but these intervals may vary depending on the nature of the illness and to the individual circumstances of staff who are absent from work.

8.2 Informal action

8.2.1 When a manager has concerns about a period of long term sickness absence or an employee’s long-term health condition, or when absence exceeds 28 days (pro-rata for part time staff), they should discuss this with the relevant HR Partner/Adviser. If it is agreed that it is appropriate to meet with the employee then the manager should invite them to attend an informal meeting. There is no right to have a TU representative or colleague present at informal meetings.

8.2.2 The purpose of the informal meeting is to consider the period of absence under review; the nature of the employee’s illness; and the potential implications of this for their return to work (i.e. the potential length of the absence and any longer-term impact of their condition); whether an occupational health referral is appropriate, what mechanisms are in place to support the employee during their absence, and any support that will help them prepare for their return.

8.3 Formal action

8.3.1 If during a period of long term sickness it becomes clear that a return to work within a reasonable time frame is unlikely, then the manager should arrange a Formal meeting.

8.3.2 The employee must be invited in writing to the Formal Meeting, normally with at least five working days’ notice. The letter inviting the employee to the meeting shall set out the issues to be considered, advise the employee that they may provide a written submission of their case for the meeting, and advise them that they may be accompanied by a Trade Union representative or colleague.

8.3.3 The meeting will be conducted by the manager, who will outline the level of sickness absence that has led to the meeting and will review the circumstances of the case and the actions taken to date. The manager will consider any written submission or verbal information presented by the employee, and will consider if any further support can be reasonably offered to enable the employee to return.

8.3.4 Where the information considered suggests that there is a likelihood of recovery and return to work within a reasonable timeframe, then the outcomes of this first Formal long-term sickness absence meeting may include:

  • Arranging a further informal meeting or meetings to allow a longer period of rehabilitation
  • A provisional date for return to "normal working", (i.e. when the employee will be fit to undertake the same range of duties and responsibilities they had before they went on long-term sickness absence). A phased return to their normal duties will usually be considered.
  • A provisional date for return to their previous role, but with temporary or permanent adjustments in working arrangements, in recognition of the individual’s health condition. Such adjustments will be made in order to ensure compliance with the Equality Act (2010) as well as the University's wider commitments to equality and diversity;
  • Consideration of redeployment to an alternative post which may be at a different grade or different terms and conditions of employment;

8.3.5 The manager will write to the employee after the meeting, summarising the discussion and outlining next steps.

8.3.6 Where the information considered suggests that there is not a likelihood of recovery and return to work within a reasonable timeframe, then Formal meeting should be arranged to consider whether dismissal on the grounds of capability/incapacity because of ill health is appropriate. (Please refer to Section 9 of this Procedure).

8.3.7 The manager will write to the employee after the meeting, summarising the discussion and outlining next steps. This will include advising the employee that termination of their contract of employment may be considered at a Final Formal Meeting, if this is to be arranged.

9. Final formal meeting (dismissal)

9.1 The paragraphs under this section (9) will apply when:

  • Frequent Short Term sickness absence: the attendance targets set at the second Formal Meeting have not been met, or
  • Long Term Sickness Absence: if a Formal meeting under the long term absence procedure has established that the long term issues of incapacity appear unlikely to be resolved.

9.2 The employee shall be invited in writing to a Final Formal Meeting, which will take the form of a Hearing and will be conducted by the Head of Department or other Senior Manager. An HR Partner/Adviser must also be present.

9.3 The letter inviting the employee to the meeting shall:

  • give ten days’ notice of the meeting,
  • advise the employee of their right to be accompanied by a TU rep or a work colleague,
  • set out the issues to be considered,
  • invite the employee to provide a written submission of their case at least five days prior to the meeting,
  • Advise that a possible outcome of the meeting is termination of their contract of employment.

9.4 The employee will be provided with copies of all papers that will be considered at least five days prior to the meeting.

9.5 At the meeting, the employee’s manager will outline the level of sickness absence that has 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.

9.6 The Head of Department conducting and hearing the case will be able to question those involved in the case and will consider all representations before reaching a decision. The decision may include (but will not be limited to) the following outcomes:

  • That there are insufficient grounds to terminate the employee’s contract under this procedure and that further consideration should be given to the possibility of making reasonable adjustments to enable the employee to continue in employment. This may include allowing a longer period for improvement in attendance or recovery.
  • That matters should be considered under an alternative procedure.
  • That consideration might be given to redeployment to an alternative role, within a reasonable timescale (usually one month).
  • That where supported by medical evidence, consideration might be given to supporting ill health retirement, where the employee has submitted an application for ill health retirement to the relevant pension scheme.
  • That the employee’s employment should be terminated with appropriate notice or pay in lieu of notice

9.7 The decision may be given verbally at the hearing and will in any event be conveyed or confirmed in writing normally within five working days of the hearing. In the event that the decision is taken to dismiss the employee, the letter shall also notify the employee and/or any nominated attendee of the employee’s right to appeal against that decision. The correspondence will include the date that their employment will terminate, together with details of any notice arrangements and payment for any outstanding annual leave.

10. Appeals against dismissal

10.1 The employee has the right of appeal against a decision to terminate his/her employment under this procedure. Any appeal should be sent in writing to the Director of HR within ten working days of the employee receiving the written decision to dismiss. The appeal must state the grounds for appeal.

10.2 The appeal will be heard by an appeal panel consisting of three senior managers of the University appointed by the Vice-Chancellor and will include academic representation where appropriate. The appeal panel will have had no prior involvement with the case and the appeal hearing will be a review of the decision to dismiss.

10.3 The decision may be given verbally at the appeal hearing and will in any event be conveyed or confirmed in writing within ten working days of the hearing.

10.4 The decision following the appeal shall be final and there will be no further internal right of appeal.

Further details

Approval - Policies Development Group

Monitoring: This procedure will be reviewed periodically to ensure compliance with changes in employment law and equality and diversity legislation.

Related Documents - Guidelines and template letters are available and should be referred to in the application of this procedure.


Document control

  • Last reviewed: 31 January 2014