Managing sickness cases and other matters

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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 RTW 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 RTW 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.

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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 RTW 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 retuning 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 HR Business Partner and the University Occupational Health Service should be sought.

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

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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 4 weeks’ 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 Staff Immigration Team in order that they are aware of the situation as it develops.

If the salary of a Tier 2 or Tier 5 visa holder changes as a result of taking sick leave (for example, if they move to reduced pay or unpaid sick leave), this must be reported to the Staff Immigration Team 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 Staff Immigration Team guidance

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

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If an employee is taken ill whilst on annual leave, or on a fixed-closure day, they may request to take such leave at a later date after they return to work, but this is a matter of personal choice for the individual who may prefer not to have the days marked down as sick leave. 

Provided they satisfy the department by producing a self-certification form or doctor's certificate (Fit Note), departments should re-credit the appropriate amount of leave back into the individual's holiday balance. Wherever possible the leave should normally be rearranged during the same holiday year. However, if this is not possible, the leave may be carried forward to the next year, and in such circumstances the normal limit of maximum 5 days for carry-over will not apply. The normal reporting requirements for sickness still apply when an employee is taken ill whilst on annual leave.

This arrangement only applies to personal (bookable) annual leave and fixed closure days.  It does not apply to bank holidays, or other, exceptional, days when colleagues have not been required to work for unforeseen circumstances, for example the closure of a place of work for emergency maintenance work, etc.


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.



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 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, is available on the website.

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.

See also:

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

See also:  

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Part-time employees

Part-time employees who have regular working patterns and work regular hours should have their sick pay pro-rated accordingly.

Part-time employees who have irregular working patterns (varying from week to week) and whose working hours are also irregular will need to have their sick pay calculated based on the average working pattern (days/hours) over a reference period of 12 weeks, immediately prior to the beginning of the latest sickness period.

Employees whose posts are being externally funded

Where an employee with significant sickness absence is employed on an externally funding award, the terms of the award should be carefully checked, to ensure compliance with the sponsor terms. For example, the sponsor may need to be advised of the absence, particularly if the absence may impact of completion of the project.

Employees on variable hours contracts

Any employee who is on a variable hours contract has full entitlement to the sickness benefit, as per the guidance outlined under Sick Pay.

In order to work out the exact payment of sick pay, calculations should be based on a reference period over the last 12 weeks, immediately preceding the beginning of the current period of sickness. If the employee's work is primarily based around term-times, calculate sick pay based on the last 12 weeks at the end of the previous term.

Any future planned work that is unable to be undertaken due to sickness should also be paid as sick leave.

Employees who have not carried out any work for the University and do not have any planned work in the near future, who go on sick leave, will not receive any sick pay.

Casual workers

Casual workers are only entitled to statutory sickness leave and pay.

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An employee on long-term sickness absence can be fairly dismissed only when the medical position has been thoroughly and carefully investigated, and (wherever possible) the following has been established:

  • all alternatives to dismissal have been considered, for example workplace adjustments to allow the employee to RTW and redeployment on the grounds of ill-health
  • the type of the medical condition
  • expected RTW date

The specific procedure to follow is outlined in the staff handbooks:

  • For support staff, section 8.2 of the staff handbook should be followed in all such cases.
  • For academic and academic-related groups of staff, Part E of Statute XII must be followed in all such cases. The relevant HR Business Partner should be consulted throughout this process.

The employee must be notified of the reasons for the proposed dismissal, and have an opportunity to put forward their case before a decision is finalised.

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